MLS is back for its 25th season. The league is bigger, better and more fun than ever before. It feels like the night before the first day of school, all nerves and excitement.
There’s no better way to experience soccer than to attend a game. Go if you can. Bring a friend. Bring your kid. Bring your spouse or that new person you’re dating (or want to). Go alone and a start a conversation. Barring that, fire up ESPN+, watch on Twitter, tune in to TSN, TVAS, ESPN, FS1 and FOX. Put your phone down for a couple minutes and just watch.
If you’re looking for more than my rapid-fire thoughts ahead of Week 1, fire up Thursday’s Extratime — predictions with The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal, five glorious minutes with David Beckham and a chat with PRO’s Howard Webb — and open Doyle’s annual Tiers of MLS column in another tab. I highly recommend Susannah Collins and Calen Carr’s weekend preview show (watch above), too.
One thing I’m watching for every single team, in 50 words or less. Enjoy the games.
D.C. United vs. Colorado Rapids
Watch: Saturday, 1 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
DC: Yamil Asad, Edison Flores and Julian Gressel. It’s a brand-new-ish attacking three behind Ola Kamara. I say “ish” because Asad went for nine goals and eight assists in 2018, including the golazo that opened up Audi Field. Their chemistry will, in large part, fuel Kamara’s production. How quickly can they click?
COL: Younes Namli. This was the much-awaited offseason of Designated Player turnover in Colorado. The 25-year-old is the club’s long-awaited No. 10, on loan from Krasnodar. Early reports: sick left foot and explosive dribbler. The Rapids had time to scout and find their man. Time to see how they did.
Montreal Impact vs. New England Revolution
Watch: Saturday, 3 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; TVAS and TSN4 in Canada)
MTL: Now what, Thierry? Every lineup, every decision will be dissected. That’s natural: Henry’s trying to prove himself as a coach, and Montreal are trying to figure out who they are and who they’re going to be. Right now, thanks to injuries and CCL, the Impact are just surviving. How will their coach handle his first crucible?
NE: Who starts in central defense and central midfield? The Revs attack, even without Carles Gil for the time being, looks quite scary, but this team has a high ceiling and uncertain floor because it’s hard to predict what Bruce Arena will get in the middle of the backline and midfield.
Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy
Watch: Saturday, 3:30 pm ET (Univision, TUDN, Twitter in the US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
HOU: Boniek Garcia. This is the Honduran’s ninth season in MLS. Last year, at 34, he played the most minutes of his Dynamo career (2,584, 30 starts). He’s a projected starter for Tab Ramos, too. On Saturday, BBVA Compass Stadium will be jammed. Give the man a standing ovation.
LA: Chicharito. As if there wasn’t already enough pressure, the Galaxy named their new No. 9 club captain following a goalless preseason, which follows a couple relatively dry years in Europe. The expectations, and not just from Galaxy fans, are huge. He’s got to deliver, starting with a sold-out game in Houston.*
*Calen Carr and I will take you field-side at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday in Houston LIVE on the MLS Twitter account.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Toronto FC
Watch: Saturday, 5:30 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; TSN4/5 in Canada)
SJ: Oswaldo Alanis. Quiet offseason in San Jose. The big move was bringing Alanis north on loan from Chivas, where he was a starter when Matias Almeyda was manager and the club was winning things. In theory, he ought to make the man-marking system more effective. What about in practice?
TOR: Liam Fraser. Michael Bradley’s long-term absence is a bummer, but it does finally open a path for Fraser to get consistent minutes. He’s been tipped for big things for a couple years now, and he’s finally got a chance to prove his ability is commensurate with his reputation.
FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union
Watch: Saturday, 6 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
DAL: Which Zdenek Ondrasek will we get? Before August, Luchi Gonzalez didn’t play the Czech international. Once Kobra figured out what his coach wanted, from August on, he scored seven goals in 747 minutes. All but one came at home. Dallas are at Toyota Stadium on Saturday. It’s Kobra time.
PHI: How will the Union’s big-little striker combo fare? Kacper Przybylko did most of his damage (15 goals) last year without Sergio Santos (limited to 644 minutes because of injuries). They’ll pair up top in Philly’s 4-4-2 diamond to start 2020. Will working together get the best from both of them?
Orlando City vs. Real Salt Lake
Watch: Saturday, 6 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
ORL: Mauricio Pereyra. He did not perform like a DP No. 10 last season, with blame falling on a midseason fitness gap thanks to the schedule difference between MLS and the Russian Premier League. No such excuse this year. With Nani out, the responsibility to create chances falls to the Uruguayan.
RSL: Giuseppe Rossi. How could it be anything else? Rossi’s resume sparkles, but he hasn’t played a game since 2018 thanks to injury. Best-case scenario, he’s a Golden Boot contender. Worst-case scenario, he plays a handful of games before succumbing to injury. I want to see every touch he takes in MLS.
Nashville SC vs. Atlanta United
Watch: Saturday, 8 pm ET (FOX, FOX Deportes in the US; TSN4 and MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
NSH: Who is the No. 9? The rest of this XI is pretty settled. I have no idea who Gary Smith will go with between Daniel Rios, Dom Badji and perhaps Abu Danladi. Whoever starts has an opportunity to make history in front of 50,000-plus fans and hold onto the spot.
ATL: Ezequiel Barco. Josef Martinez is Josef Martinez. Pity Martinez is scoring goals, creating chances and speaking in third person. Those guys are the alphas. What is Barco? To live up to his price tag and reputation, he’s got to show a little alpha, too. Final product, let’s see it!
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Sporting Kansas City
Watch: Saturday, 10:30 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; TSN1/4 in Canada)
VAN: Inbeom Hwang. I don’t question his talent. I question whether the ‘Caps have enough talent to get the best out of the South Korean international midfielder. The answer to that question will determine where Vancouver falls in MLS in 2020 and whether Hwang can earn his move to Europe.
SKC: Roberto Puncec. Would be easy to go with Alan Pulido here, but the bigger worry for Sporting KC is still on the backline (more accurately, the back six). Puncec’s performances could either nip the “Trading Ike Opara ended the championship window” narrative in the bud or amplify it.
Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
Watch: Sunday, 12:30 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; TSN5, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
CLB: Lucas Zelarayan. The Crew’s record signing follows in the footsteps of Pipa Higuain and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, two of the best playmakers this league has ever seen. Zelarayan was tired of being one of the crowd with Tigres. In Columbus, he’ll be the main event.
NYC: Who starts on the wings? Ronny Deila has to figure out his preferred attacking four. Heber and Maxi Moralez seem like shoo-ins, which leaves Alexandru Mitrita, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jesus Medina, Gary Mackay-Steven to battle for two starting spots. So far it’s been Medina and Mitrita. Will that hold on Sunday?
New York Red Bulls vs. FC Cincinnati
Watch: Sunday, 1 pm ET (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
NY: Is the system the star? That’s the plan, and there’s still talent here. Aaron Long could be Defender of the Year. Cristian Casseres could be 2020’s 22 Under 22 climber. Kaku could go for 10 and 15. Daniel Royer could lead the team in goals. Josh Sims could be a perfect fit. All of that could happen. Or not.
CIN: Will Jurgen Locadia get his visa in time to play? The Dutch forward was the crown jewel of Cincinnati’s offseason. Missing him for the first game would be a bit deflating, but that’s out of Yoann Damet’s hands. Mostly, I want to see if this team can stop leaking goals at a historic pace.
Seattle Sounders vs. Chicago Fire
Watch: Sunday, 3 pm ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes in the US; TSN5, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
SEA: How will the Sounders respond to CCL failure? Big clubs, which Seattle consider themselves, don’t lose that series, especially after prioritizing the competition and holding multiple leads. Two days ago, I didn’t think this team wanted to chase a Shield. Now, why not? Time to take that frustration out on the Fire.
CHI: Everything. Literally everything. There is nothing about the Fire that I’m sure about. Neither of their new DPs – d-mid Gaston Gimenez and winger Ignacio Aliseda – will be available on Sunday. You only get one first impression, and this is it for Chicago.
LAFC vs. Inter Miami
Watch: Sunday, 5:30 pm ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes in the US; TSN5, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
LAFC: Francisco Ginella and Jose Cifuentes. I think Bob Bradley will rotate after Thursday’s epic comeback against Leon. Bradley might make me look dumb and start Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye on short rest, but I hope not. I want to see Ginella and Cifuentes get a run.
MIA: Rodolfo Pizarro. I’m a sucker for the hype that’s swirling around Inter Miami and Pizarro. He’s got style. He’s crazy technical. He’s the marquee player for the league’s most intentionally glamorous team. The environment is going to be goosebump-inducing. How will Pizarro introduce himself to MLS?
Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United
Watch: Sunday, 7:30 pm ET (FS1, FOX Deportes in the US; TSN5, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
POR: Felipe Mora. Gio Savarese isn’t going to change things up if Mora is scoring. He’ll get chances with Sebastian Blanco, Yimmi Chara and, I presume, Diego Valeri behind him. Mora is TAM in name only. He could be a 20-goal scorer, and if he starts hot, Jeremy Ebobisse and Jaroslaw Niezgoda are gonna have to wait.
MIN: Kevin Molino. There’s a universe in which Molino can be a 20-plus goal and assist player in MLS. That universe might only exist in my own head. If Molino comes anywhere close to that, Luis Amarilla might just hit his lofty goal prediction and there’ll be no Bebelo Reynoso regrets.