The schedule for the opening weekend of the 2017 MLS season is here, with all 22 clubs set to begin the league’s 22nd season on the weekend kicking off Friday, March 3.
Here are five (very) early Week 1 storylines I’m keeping an eye on:
No easing in for Minnesota
Expansion club Minnesota United FC and the Portland Timbers will kick off the 2017 season on Friday, March 3, with the Timbers set to host the Loons at Providence Park, starting 9:30 pm ET.
Playing a talented Portland squad in front of the rabid Timbers Army will be a difficult opening test for Adrian Heath and Minnesota, who – despite only being a month away from opening preseason – still have plenty of roster spots to fill. Leaving Oregon with a surprise point would be a positive start for MNUFC.
High-powered home opener for Atlanta
Like Minnesota, Atlanta will face a tough test in their MLS opener, as they’ll play the first official match in club history against the always stout New York Red Bulls, who finished atop the Eastern Conference in last year's regular season.
Unlike their expansion brethren, Atlanta will have the benefit of opening at home. They’ll host the Red Bulls at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, where they’ll be buoyed by what will likely be a massive crowd.
Atlanta, naturally, still have some work to do in filling out their roster, but the quality they’ve already assembled – and the money they’ve already spent – should make this one wildly entertaining.
New stadium in Orlando
Orlando City's "Purple Wall" under construction.
Minnesota and fellow expansion club Atlanta United FC will draw most of the opening weekend attention, but 2015 expansion clubs Orlando City and New York City FC will command serious headlines, too.
In a rematch of their inaugural MLS match, Orlando will open their new state-of-the-art soccer stadium against NYCFC. Orlando’s downtown facility is far from the only draw in this one. Lions head coach Jason Kreis will no doubt want to start well against NYCFC, the team he managed in 2015, while reigning MVP David Villa and Kreis' replacement, New York manager Patrick Vieira, will be looking for a solid start as they look to build on their stellar 2016 season.
Dallas begin double defense vs. Onalfo's Galaxy
FC Dallas will begin their Supporters’ Shield defense in the same place they clinched the trophy in 2016: at the LA Galaxy (Saturday, March 4 at 4 pm ET). FCD should look similar to the group that won the Shield and Open Cup double in 2016, while LA will have a hugely different feel.
Gone, of course, are LA's head coach of eight-and-a-half seasons Bruce Arena, Designated Players Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard and club legend Landon Donovan. LA have replaced Arena with former LA Galaxy II head coach Curt Onalfo, a familiar face who will be leading a team that should be centered around Giovani dos Santos. What his supporting cast will look like – expect a decent amount of youth – is, of course, very much to be determined. Dallas will seriously test them in the opener.
Defending champs start 2017 at new-look Houston
The defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders will begin their 2017 season at the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, March 4 (8:30 pm ET).
It’ll be an instructive match for Seattle, who will likely be replacing several key pieces from their title team this winter. It’ll also be an intriguing match for the Dynamo, who will be breaking in a new head coach in Wilmer Cabrera, a new Designated Player in Alberth Elis and perhaps another big signing or two as they look to rebound from a tough three-year stretch.