The 2013 season is finally upon us. Here are the top 11 questions for MLS fans heading into opening weekend...
11) Can John Hackworth and the Union win back hearts and minds in Philly?
The Union's steady rise from their 2010 MLS debut hit the skids in a big way last season, and the process of picking up the pieces might not be finished yet. Aware of the inherent challenges of rebuilding, most of their demanding fans have cut Hack a break – but his men must reflect the city's trademark heart and hustle, starting tomorrow afternoon with a daunting home opener against Sporting KC at PPL Park (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
10) Can new-look Toronto FC cut through the gloom and doom on their visit to Vancouver?
WATCH: Scouting Report: Toronto FC
It's hard to find much optimism among hardcore TFC fans these days. With a greenhorn head coach and myriad turnover in the locker room and front office, the Reds faithful are expecting another season of struggle, an all-too familiar feeling along the north shore of Lake Ontario. It's up to Ryan Nelsen and his squad to change the narrative as they visit their cross-country rivals Saturday evening (6:30 pm ET, TSN/RDS2 in Canada, MLS LIVE in the USA).
9) How can D.C. United halt their Houston horror-show history?
Saturday night's rematch of the 2012 Eastern Conference Championship (8 pm ET, NBC Sports, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) looks like a great matchup, except that the Bayou City traditionally offers nothing but pain for the visitors from the nation's capital. The Dynamo have yet to lose an MLS match at their gorgeous BBVA Compass Stadium home, and United have never, ever won in Houston in seven years of trying. It will take something special for the Black-and-Red to notch three points, especially with star playmaker Dwayne De Rosario suspended.
8) Can Colorado slow down FC Dallas' wealth of new attacking riches?
This weekend FC Dallas Stadium plays host to a clash of two sides fresh from offseason facelifts. The Rapids have reeled in a range of new faces in an effort to improve on a trying 2012 campaign, while Dallas may have stocked up on more proven MLS goalscoring talent than anyone with their acquisition of Eric Hassli and Kenny Cooper to help out Blas Pérez up top (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
7) Will Seattle get their ambitious 2013 off on the right foot?
WATCH: 2013 MLS Roundtable - Who will win MLS Cup?
It's a mark of their ascension into the MLS elite that the Sounders expect to contend for honors every season, no matter what. But this year looks particularly significant given their impending CONCACAF Champions League bout with red-hot Mexican club Tigres UANL and their ongoing pursuit of Nigerian hitman Obafemi Martins, whose acquisition would add to the “MLS Cup or bust” vibe around the Rave Green. The Montreal Impact are their first test (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Do the Impact have a chance at the C-Link?
Montreal acquitted themselves well in their inaugural season, yet were ultimately undone by poor results on the road, where their minus-18 goal differential ranked second-worst in the league. Now they open their sophomore campaign in a deafening, but inspiring setting: a tangle with the Sounders in front of a massive crowd at CenturyLink Field.
5) What will Chivas USA's “Chelís Experiment” look like on opening day?
Columbus visit the Home Depot Center for an intriguing SoCal Saturday nightcap (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) featuring two teams who could be full of surprises this year. The question is, what kind of surprises? Charismatic new Goats boss José Luis “El Chelís” Sánchez Solá made himself the media personality of the offseason and has promised big things from a roster some see as pedestrian, while the Crew think they've quietly made the tweaks necessary to contend for their second MLS Cup title.
4) Will it be business as usual for the trophy-collecting Galaxy?
No Beckham, no Donovan, no problem. At least that's the general feeling among LA partisans who have grown comfortable tossing the word “dynasty” around in the wake of their second straight MLS Cup. There's still plenty of talent for coach Bruce Arena to choose from, though the Chicago Fire have the weapons to complicate Sunday afternoon's coronation at the HDC (5 pm ET, UniMas).
WATCH: Scouting Report: POR vs. NY
3) Who will triumph in Sunday's clash of new coaches in Portland?
Nationally televised TV games at intimate JELD-WEN Field are always fun, and this one will have an extra edge as a contest between the league's freshest gaffers, Timbers debutant Caleb Porter and New York boss Mike Petke (7:30 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Given that both teams have diverse attacking options and fairly skimpy backlines, this one might turn into a shootout in a hurry.
2) Can Mike Fucito serve as an effective partner in crime for Chris Wondolowski out in San Jose?
Thanks to injuries, the Earthquakes are bereft of their classic “big men up top,” Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, at the moment. That means Fucito, a diminutive poacher who is still new to the San Jose way, will likely pair with the defending MLS Golden Boot winner when Real Salt Lake visit this weekend (Sunday, 10 pm ET, MLS LIVE). They've found the net together in preseason, but no one is quite sure how things will play out in full combat.
1) Are your MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager squads ready to rock?
This year's version of FSM offers more options and features than ever, and leagues of all shapes and sizes have been filling up for the past week or so. MLSsoccer.com is sharing plenty of knowledge and know-how to help give you the best shot at Monday morning bragging rights.