Saturday, March 19, 2011

Toronto FC 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Darryl Dyck

Is there a team in more disarray than Toronto FC? In the club’s fifth year of existence it will be playing under its sixth different coach. Its star-player wants out and its 2010 team MVP left preseason camp because of a gripe about his contract. The team has still never made the playoffs.

And now there’s another team in Canada to steal talent and fans from the Reds.

Things can only get better from here for Toronto, right?

Aron Winter is the new head coach, a former Dutch National Team member. He promises Toronto fans that the team will play an attacking attractive style of soccer. And after having Preki, who some criticized as a drill sergeant coach, this new system should seem more fun and inspiring, especially as they finished fourth in the league in fewest goals scored (33).

He’ll have arguably one of the best midfielders ever in MLS, Dwayne De Rosario. He’s a two-time league MVP and he’s a clutch performer in both regular season and the playoffs. Last season he scored an MLS career-high 15 goals to go along with three assists. He’s the club’s all-time leading scorer.

The leading man, however, is unhappy. He says he feels he has outperformed his contract and deserves a new, more deserving deal. Part of that dissatisfaction could be because of how he has played and produced far more than Toronto’s two Designated Players (Julian de Guzman and Mista—now released). After scoring a goal in September last year, he mimed signing a check and mouthed “Pay me.”

This offseason he went on trial with legendary Scottish club Celtic. He did so, however, without the knowledge or permission of Toronto FC or MLS. They let him stay on trial once they found out though, but when De Ro asked for a short-term loan they immediately said no.

He isn’t the only one to want more from TFC management. Last season’s team MVP—who made around $65,000 in base salary—left training camp demanding a new contract. He returned eight days later, but there seems to be a problem here between the team’s top players and ownership. Did De Ro’s situation make it easier for Cann to make his statement? This is the kind of off-field extracurricular activity that could tear teams apart.

On the field, apart from these two, the Reds have a great starting goalkeeper in Stefan Frei. A good athlete in net, Frei improved upon his rookie numbers in 2010 posting a 1.32 goals against average and a 70 percent save percentage.

Frei will need to continue to improve because the defense has been pretty weak. Once again TFC allowed over 40 goals throughout the season. The team made a nice move in an attempt to improve its backline, trading for Nathan Sturgis, the 23-year-old defender that was on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.

Along with Sturgis is Nana Attakora. The 21-year-old has been a member of the team since its existence. The hope is that his presence, although a young player, will be a stabilizing force as the team rebuilds and attempts to make the playoffs for the first time ever.

There is talent on this team, but there has been a lot of instability and in-house arguing. De Rosario says he won’t be a distraction, that he will play as if there was no problem, but if the team isn’t winning how happy will he remain?

The team has fallen short and underachieved with some solid lineups. With so much going on off-the-field it’s hard to imagine things straightening themselves out.

Aron Winter talks about taking the Toronto FC coaching job. Video from YouTube.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Vancouver Whitecaps 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Elise Amdendola

One of two expansion teams in 2011—and the second team in Canada—the Vancouver Whitecaps seem to have a squad set-up for more success in the future than right now.
Only three players are in their thirties, and only five more are over the age of 26. The Whitecaps held the first overall selection in the MLS Super Draft and chose a player they were familiar with, but cannot play with them until he turns 18-years-old in September. Also, only five players played in MLS last season.

If Vancouver is going to be competitive, let alone surprise the league and sneak into the playoffs, they will rely heavily on veterans on defense: goalie Joe Cannon and defender and captain Jay DeMerit.

DeMerit has enjoyed a Cinderella-like soccer career. After being turned down by MLS he moved to England and briefly joined teams in the ninth and seventh-tiers of English soccer, until in 2004 he impressed Watford coaches in a scrimmage and was invited to a trial with the team. He signed with the club and was a regular in the lineup until this past summer. He also was a starter for the USMNT during the previous World Cup.

Named team captain, DeMerit brings valuable soccer experience, toughness, determination and will anchor the backline.

Cannon is a 12-year MLS veteran. He became the face of the San Jose Earthquakes the past few years and got them off to a hot start last season, but an ankle injury ended not only his season, but his tenure with the club. He will be a stabilizing force when he is fit to play, but currently he is still recovering from that ankle injury. Jay Nolly will hold down the fort for him.

A lot of players will really need to step up for Vancouver to win games. The corps of forwards is extremely thin. No. 1 draft pick Omar Salgado—who trained with Vancouver last year—has played well in the preseason and is an exciting prospect, but due to FIFA age restrictions will not be able to suit up for the team until September.

The Whitecaps management made Frenchman Eric Hassli its first-ever Designated Player. The forward came from FC Zurich in Switzerland and has a strong build (6’4”, 200 pounds) and seems to be a physical force to be reckoned with, but his ability to score goals is suspect. In the past two seasons he only scored seven goals, which is pretty poor for a forward, let alone one signed as a DP.

John Thorrington and Shea Salinas are midfielders that bring a lot of MLS experience and are solid players, however, like Cannon, have long injury histories that make what kind of impact they have on the field questionable.

The team has retained 11 players from its USSF Division-2 side—including defender Wes Knight, midfielder and former Juventus product Davide Chiumiento and 18-year-old midfielder Russell Teibert—and it will be interesting to see how they adapt to the new league.

With a tremendous lack of experience and the large potential for injuries, opportunities for playing time will be wide open. Will the young guys step up and compete hard for the chance to get on the pitch, or will it be a situation where someone is playing by default because there is no one else?

The learning curve must be quick, or the Whitecaps first season—despite the great support from its fans—could be a rocky road.

Omar Salgado talks after being selected No.1 overall to the Whitecaps. Video from YouTube.

Real Salt Lake 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Los Angeles and New York get a lot of the glitz and glamour, but is there a better team, a team more well-rounded than Real Salt Lake?

The team was unsuccessful in defending its MLS Cup championship, but as a team they looked as dangerous as ever. Finishing second in the Western Conference, Salt Lake had the Newcomer of the Year award winner, surrendered the fewest goals in the league (20) and had the best goal differential (plus-25).

The best thing to like about the 2011 version of this club? It returns practically everyone from the core of last year’s team. Actually, an impact player was added to its roster. An elite team with continuity from year-to-year is very dangerous.

Alvaro Saborio made a huge impact on the team in his debut season in MLS, scoring 12 goals and winning the Newcomer of the Year award. He was rewarded for his efforts with a new Designated Player contract. He’ll need to be just as strong this year, with Robbie Findley leaving and trying his hand in Europe.

Findley wasn’t a major contributor last year, struggling with form and injuries and missing time because of his inclusion on the World Cup squad. But when he was around teams still had to think about him. Now, however, it’s all up to Saborio.

He’ll have plenty of support in the midfield, though. Javier Morales is the stand-out of this unit. He’s a playmaker in the center of the midfielder who can both get his own shot off and create for others. He’s also aided by Andy Williams, a playmaker himself with good pace, and newcomer Arturo Alvarez.

Alvarez is an offensive-minded player who many think will thrive with this club. He’s a bit temperamental at times, but he has been a prominent player on all his teams while in MLS and will only improve RSL.

Backing them up is midfielder and team captain Kyle Beckerman. He is a tenacious player who always goes in hard in his challenges on the ball, and he is a good leader.

The stingy defense is led by goalkeeper Nick RImando. His quick reflexes helped him post the second best goals against average in the league (0.67) and the most shutouts (14). He also finished third in save percentage (78%).

In front of him is as solid a group as any, headed by Jamison Olave. The centerback is the best player on the backline. He is joined by Nat Borchers, Robbie Russell and Chris Wingert.

Like any team, avoiding injury will be the biggest issue this team has. It will be a little more difficult to do with so many games. There are MLS matches and US Open Cup matches. The team also qualified for Superliga and is currently in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Depth and overwork will test this team.

A second strike partner will need to be found to support Saborio. Cody Arnoux came to the team in a special draft and he impressed Everton enough to earn a one-year contract with Everton in 2009. Fabian Espindola had a goal and an assist in the team’s recent 2-0 victory over Saprissa in the Champions League. So options are there.

This is a very dangerous team with talent, key players signed to long-term contracts and youth to develop. They won the 2009 MLS Cup as a heavy underdog, but now this club will aim to become a dynasty and win another trophy, this time as a legitimate threat.

Real Salt Lake prepares for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League. Video from YouTube.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

D.C. United 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/J. Pat Carter

In 2010 the New York Red Bulls went from worst record in MLS to first place in the Eastern Conference. Their Atlantic Cup rival D.C. United is poised to make a similar ascent up the standings.

After finishing last season with the worst record in MLS, and failing to qualify for the playoffs for a third consecutive year, D.C. made a lot of changes to its roster, picking up some very recognizable names.

Joseph Ngwenya, Josh Wolff, Pat Onstad, Dax McCarty and Charlie Davies will all represent the Black and Red on the pitch this season.

Ngwenya, Wolff and Davies were all brought in to help an impotent offense that was the only team in MLS last season to not score 30 goals (21). All the attention will be on Davies however.

It seems like ages ago Davies was a promising USMNT forward that wowed fans with his blistering speed, earned their respect with his tireless hustle and got their attention with his “Stanky Leg” goal celebration. Then a car accident not only almost took his soccer career, but his life as well.

Davies has persevered, though, and has done his rehab. His parent club, FC Sochaux, thought he was unfit for first team action with them so he needed a fresh start. In a surprising twist he wound up exactly where it all fell apart for him.

Fans around the world, especially American fans, will watch Davies closely; Is he still as fast? Can he score? What’s going to happen if someone comes in with a hard challenge? Can he be the great player we thought he would be before the accident?
It’s a lot to live up to, but leading up to things Davies seems to realize what he’s gotten himself into, relishes it and just wants to focus on getting first-team fit again.

He’ll have plenty of support behind him in the midfield. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Andy Najar will be joined by Designated Player Branko Boskovic, Santino Quaranta and Dax McCarty. Najar was the team’s leader in goals scored last season and the team’s lack of talent really thrust him into a starring role. But it won’t be all up to him this year.

The majority of the team is young, so McCarty will provide the leadership this squad lacked last year. He’s only 23-years-old, but he’s been in the league since 2006 and last year with FC Dallas he made it to the MLS Cup final. He’s getting increased looks from the USMNT and was the team’s captain in its January friendly against Chile.

The big names have come on offense but the defense is a bit thin. It was supposed to be homegrown product Bill Hamid’s time to shine in net, but he suffered a shoulder injury early in preseason. Backup Steve Cronin was also injured, so it’s up to 43-year-old Pat Onstad—who retired and signed with D.C. to be an assistant coach, only to unretire to fill out the goalie position—to lead a relatively unfamiliar unit. Outside of rookie Perry Kitchen, the team’s first round pick, the rest of the defense is a bunch of unknowns.

A big problem for United is that while the additions are of high-profile names, do they still bring talent or are they working on name alone? Teams get rid of players for all different reasons, but make no mistake about it Ngwenya, Wolff and Onstad were all let go by their respective teams. Wolff only scored two goals last season, Ngwenya netted only one goal and Onstad retired. And can Davies stay healthy?

The defense looks to be the weakness but the other positions are full of potential and promise. Things may start out a little rocky, but this team does have the talent to at least sneak into the playoffs.

If anything, this team gives the faithful fans something to be optimistic about despite the performances over the past few years and the possibility that the team may be moved.

Charlie Davies talks about the car accident and D.C. United. Video from Fox Sports.
<a href="" target="_new" title="Exclusive Interview: Charlie Davies">Video: Exclusive Interview: Charlie Davies</a>

Monday, March 14, 2011

New York Red Bulls 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

All eyes will be on the New York Red Bulls in 2011. A worst-to-first season in 2010, a great stadium and big name foreign players to go with promising young Americans has everyone talking about the possibilities for this team. But this squad is far from a lock on winning it all.

Consistency has always been an issue for this club. While soccer seems to have more player movement compared to other sports in the country, the Red Bulls—going back to when they were the MetroStars—has had a constantly revolving door of players and coaches.

Born in 1996, current head coach Hans Backe is the twelfth man to lead the club. No coach has lasted more than three seasons, and only two have done that. So while Backe gets another crack at things, assistant coaches Richie Williams—who had been with the team since 2006—and Des McAleenan—the goalkeepers coach since 2002—were fired.

The two have been with the club for long periods of time and have been through it all. Williams, for the past couple of years, has been a hot commodity for a head coaching position in the league. To fire those two only a few weeks before the season begins is a perplexing move and could be indicative of larger issues within the club.

Also not returning is the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer Juan Pablo Angel. In four seasons with the team he scored 61 goals in all competitions. His contract expired however and the team decided to go in another direction.

As peculiar as it was for the team to so easily get rid of one of its best players ever, there is some consolation in that the expected forward tandem could be the most hyped about duo in the league: Thierry Henry and Juan Agudelo.

Henry was the marquee designated player signing last summer for the Red Bulls. There was a lot of excitement about him coming to MLS after the FIFA World Cup, yet his performance didn’t match it. He scored only two goals in only 11 league games, missing three of the team’s final four games—including the first leg of the playoffs—and coming on as a late-sub in the match that eliminated them from the playoffs.

Henry trained with Arsenal over the winter in order to regain fitness and health. If he can stay healthy, his first full season in the league should be noteworthy.

Agudelo has rocketed to the forefront of the American soccer scene. A rising prospect, Agudelo didn’t actually play in MLS until October, and only played in four games (two regular season and two playoff matches). However, that was enough to make USMNT coach Bob Bradley bring him in for a friendly, in which Agudelo came off the bench and scored the game-winning goal.

With no Angel in New York, Agudelo should get a lot more playing time this season. Also, with no real established forward in the national team pool (with the exception, possibly, of Jozy Altidore) many USA fans will have a close eye on the development of Agudelo.

The team has a similar situation on the backline as well. DP Rafa Marquez will team with 2010 Rookie of the Year candidate and rising national team player Tim Ream.

Marquez brought a lot of presence and patience to the Red Bulls lineup and could be even better moving from defensive midfield to his preferred position of center back. Ream enjoyed a great rookie campaign, showcasing his poise and technical ability on the ball. These two will anchor an otherwise shaky defense.

Left fullback may be the biggest weakness on the club right now. Roy Miller is the incumbent starter, but after a good first half of the season his form dipped drastically towards the end and he was especially rough in the playoffs. If he cannot regain his form, he could very well lose his position to Danleigh Borman.

On the right side, Chris Albright had a solid season but he is 32-years-old with a strong injury history and the club is worried about his durability in the short and long-terms.

The goalie position is still unsettled as well. Last year’s starter Bouna Coundoul had a career year, starting all but three games (which he missed because of national team duty) and setting the franchise record for shutouts (11). However, he sometimes loses focus and makes ridiculous mistakes, and he could be in the dog house for spending January with his national team of Senegal rather than with the Red Bulls.

So Greg Sutton has been seeing a lot of first team action in preseason. He has solid fundamentals, but last time he was the first choice goalkeeper, he had a disastrous season.

Linking the suspect defense with a growing offense is the midfield, a solid group. Joel Lindpere leads the way after having a wonderful season with the team, scoring three times, assisting on a team-best six goals and displaying a tireless work effort. He is joined by Dane Richards, the Jamaican speedster who scored five goals last season (second-best on the team) and seemed to be a revived player with the arrivals of Henry and Marquez.

New to the unit will be international transfers Jan Gunnar Solli and Teemu Tainio. Tainio, a Finish International player, has played at extremely high levels of soccer his entire career, playing for clubs like Auxerre, Tottenham and Ajax.

Solli, a member of the Norway National Team, can play the wing and was very successful at SK Brann. Red Bulls management hopes that these two under-the-radar signings can be just as fruitful as the Lindpere one was last season.

This Red Bulls team is one with a lot of talent, a seemingly high amount of offensive potential and the ability to be one of the best teams in the league.

They will be the favorites to win the East and reach the MLS Cup final.

The franchise, though, has a tough history of not meeting expectations and with some instability, especially in the coaching ranks and on defense, the threat of another lost season still looms over the club.

Hans Backe previews the team's preseason in Mexico. Video from YouTube.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Seattle Sounders 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

In the franchise’s second season, the Seattle Sounders proved that its great 2009 season was no fluke and that this team was a true contender. They didn’t improve on their first year campaign, despite all of the preseason buzz.

The team won its second consecutive U.S. Open Cup, the first club to do so since 1983. However, they couldn’t escape the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs for the second straight time.

The season was salvaged after the team started off to a disappointing record of 4-8-3. Over the team’s final 15 games, the Sounders only lost twice.

The biggest addition to last year’s squad didn’t come from a trade or transfer. Instead, the Sounders will be glad to have defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado return to the lineup after spending the majority of last season on the disabled list.

A valuable piece, Hurtado’s presence should solidify the backline and give the team a bit more presence. What was a huge strength in 2009 dipped in form in 2010. The Sounders gave up the most goals out of all eight playoff teams (35). Hurtado should help them get back to form.

Even more discouraging for Seattle was the offense. Seattle scored 39 goals last season, seventh in the league. Four of the five other playoff teams from the Western Conference—including all three that finished ahead of Seattle—scored more goals than they did. Adding insult to injury was the fact that former Sounder Sebastian Le Toux scored 14 goals with the Philadelphia Union.

Again, the Sounders are hoping an entire season from one of their own players helps the cause. After joining the team after the World Cup last season designated player Blaise Nkufo scored five goals in 11 games and became the first player in the club’s MLS existence to score a hat-trick.

Adding him to the ever dangerous Freddy Montero and Steve Zakuani for a whole season should improve the offense. That being said, the three have had to work a lot of kinks out this preseason, failing to score up until the final game when Montero scored twice.

So that, for now, leaves the midfield as the dependable unit. Alvaro Fernandez, another designated player signing that joined the club after the World Cup, will lead the way in his first full MLS season. He is joined by Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans, two players that, while unsung, have been crucial to the team’s stability and success.

The midfield unit will be rounded out by rookie Michael Tettah and Swedish signing Erik Friberg.

The biggest question coming into this season will be what kind of depth will the Sounders have?

The team lost defenders Tyrone Marshall and Nate Sturgis and midfielders Peter Vagenas and Sanna Nyassi—who scored both goals in the U.S. Open Cup final victory. It is a difficult time to lose guys who have contributed to the team with an upcoming appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League to go with MLS and Open Cup play.

There is also a sense of urgency to make the most of the team’s talents before Nkufo and goalkeeper Kasey Keller, one of the best Americans to ever play the position, retire at the end of the season.

Seattle seems to be relying on the lack of drama from former DP Freddie Ljungberg and whether he will stay or go as well as getting full seasons of production from Hurtado, Nkufo and Fernandez. They have a smart ownership group and have made smart in-season signings, so Seattle should have enough to get through the beginning of the season.

With a loaded schedule though, will the team be able to stay healthy?

It’s hard to imagine Seattle not making the playoffs for a third straight season, but can they get past the first round?

2011 Seattle Sounders commercial. Video from YouTube.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Los Angeles Galaxy 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The 2010 season was another year the Los Angeles Galaxy fell short.

Again with one of the most loaded teams in the league, the Galaxy was the top-seed in the Western Conference for the second consecutive season and won the Supporter’s Shield. However, they were bounced in the semifinals of the MLS Cup playoffs.

It appears management won’t settle for anything short of the franchise’s third championship, so the team brought in several big-name acquisitions over the offseason.

The team was dealt a rather large blow when breakout star and 2010 leading goal scorer Edson Buddle left Los Angeles for Germany. Who would pick up the goal scoring slack?

The organization acted quickly in not only replacing Buddle, but improving its entire stable of forwards. The Galaxy traded for Adam Cristman and Chad Barrett and acquired Designated Player Juan Pablo Angel—the New York Red Bulls’ all-time leading goal scorer—in the Re-Entry draft.

Angel may be 35-years-old and have some injuries that have bothered him in recent years, but he still was New York’s leading goal scorer not only last season, but all four years he was with the franchise. He is deadly as a penalty-kick taker.

Barrett is a nice-pickup for the squad. He’s only 25-years-old and put together a few solid seasons with Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire. With more experience and a better supporting cast to serve him up top, Barrett could be in store for a big year stat-wise.

The defense also got a new addition this year, adding Frankie Hejduk through the Re-Entry draft. He’s 36-years-old and hasn’t been relied on by the Columbus Crew or the U.S. National Team recently like he was in years past, but he can still play. He should help solidify the backline as well as continue to help young defensive standouts Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin mature.

The front office has done extremely well drafting players the past few years and has a good mix of youth and experience on the roster. Make no mistake about it though, the Galaxy are in a win-now mode. Angel, Hejduk and defender Gregg Berhalter are all towards the end of their careers. Landon Donovan, arguably the best player in league history, has been flirting with a move to Europe for a few years now. Also, David Beckham, the league’s first Designated Player, is in the final year of a five-year contract he signed with the team.

Maybe more important than the new additions, though, is the health of Donovan and Beckham. After multiple years of nonstop soccer with the Galaxy, their respective national teams and going on winter-loans, both of them finally slowed down this past offseason.

After playing year-round, Donovan, with his stock higher than ever thanks to his performance in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, decided he needed time to rest. He did not go out on another loan and did not play in any of the U.S. National Team’s games. Looking at his Twitter account, one could tell he was itching to be on the field. But the rest should serve his body well, and refresh him for the MLS season.

Beckham didn’t willingly sit out the winter months, but the Galaxy—fearing for his health after he tore his Achilles tendon with AC Milan last year—refused to let him out on loan. Beckham trained with Tottenham and the Galaxy hope the last season of his contract—and maybe with the Galaxy ever—will be his best.

So the team’s leading men are rested and should have their legs under them for the entirety of the season as the team makes one final push to the top.

The Galaxy resemble the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA. They should dominate the regular season and be a favorite for the championship heading into the playoffs. What will it take for them to get over the hump though?

They have lots of players with MLS experience on this team and plenty of leadership—Angel and Hejduk were captains of their clubs—to potentially rectify that reoccurring problem.

David Beckham joins the L.A. Galaxy in preseason. Video from YouTube.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MLS 2011 Schedule Preview: Must-See Games

AP Photo/Alex Gallardo

Anticipation is building for soccer fans in America with the 2011 edition of the Major League soccer season less than two weeks away. There are a lot of new faces in new places as well as two new teams: the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Each team will play 34 games in 2011, with each team playing everybody twice. That means there are a total 612 games. There will be some very entertaining soccer to be played, but here are the top 15 regular season games that you need to watch.

Tuesday, March 15: Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

The MLS season kicks off with a great matchup. 2011 opens in Seattle, which has had arguably the best fan support in the league in their short two years of existence. Facing the Sounders will be the media darlings of the league and perennial contenders Los Angeles Galaxy.

Both these teams figure to be favorites to win the West and they should get the season off to a nice bang.

Saturday, March 19: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Toronto FC

Toronto, you have company. With Vancouver joining MLS through expansion, Toronto is no longer the lone Canadian franchise through the league. Which also means that the underachieving Reds will have competition vying for the Canadian fan base’s approval.

This will also be the first home game for Vancouver and it will be exciting to see how the fans come out to support the new home team.

Saturday, April 9: FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids

A rematch of the 2010 MLS Cup. These two teams surprised many to get that far and this season they’ll have to work that much harder to get there since they’ll have targets on their backs, especially Colorado.

With FC Dallas season ticket sales reportedly up 300 percent, the new fans at Pizza Hut Park should make this interesting, supporting their club as they look for revenge for the loss in the title game.

Saturday, April 16: New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes

The New York Red Bulls went from last in MLS in 2009 to first in the East in 2010. Hopes were high heading into the playoffs, and even higher when they went up 1-0 after the first leg of the opening round of the playoffs against the Earthquake.

Then everything went terribly wrong for New York when they returned to Red Bull Arena. A 3-1 loss at the hands of the Earthquake (3-2 on aggregate) knocked them out of the playoffs and left everyone in shock.

This game won’t have nearly as much riding on it that the November one did, but it’s a start for New York to amend what went wrong last year.

Thursday, April 21: DC United vs. New York Red Bulls

One of the oldest rivalries in the league will have a new wrinkle to it this season. DC will be looking to take a page out of the Red Bulls’ book going from worst to first. They made a lot of moves, bringing in some big names to try and help Rookie of the Year Andy Najar win more games. In are Dax McCarty, Josh Wolff, Joseph Ngwenya, Perry Kitchen, Pat Onstad and Charlie Davies.

No matter the records, it’s always a fight between these two teams. The new players thrust into this rivalry will just make it that much more entertaining.

Saturday, May 7: Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union

Not only will this game be two young franchises squaring off, but it will also pit two of the more intriguing young forwards in the league against each other. Last year’s No.1 overall draft pick and Rookie of the Year finalist Danny Mwanga of the Philadelphia Union had a good first year, and with the departure of Alejandro Moreno, his role with the team should increase significantly.

Portland has a stable of forwards at its disposal, but their selection of Darlington Nagbe in the 2011 MLS Super Draft has gotten a lot of praise. Nagbe is a top prospect and an early favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Having these two on the field at the same time will certainly be exciting.

Saturday, May 14: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers

The cities of Seattle and Portland are huge rivals in any sport they play each other in and their experience in MLS will be no different. The Sounders have been a huge success in the league since their inception in 2009 and they’ve become the model all expansion clubs look at now.

Without playing a single game, the Timbers have already intensified the rivalry when they put a billboard up blocks away from Seattle’s home at Qwest Field stating that Portland was “Soccer City, USA.” The many Sounders fans will surely be in full force helping to prove otherwise.

Saturday, May 21: Chivas USA vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

The SuperClasico. The matchup between Chivas and Galaxy is the only true local derby, with both teams playing not only in the same city, but the same stadium. It has been pretty one-sided though: the Galaxy has won five of six derby series, Chivas has won only three times in 21 games and they haven’t beaten the Galaxy since 2007.

This year though Chivas has made considerable improvements along their backline, bringing in Heath Pearce, Jimmy Conrad and rookie Zarek Valentin. The defensive mindset comes from new head coach Robin Fraser, a former MLS defender who has been an assistant coach with the very successful Real Salt Lake squad since 2007.
It remains to be seen if this new backline is really improved and if they can help Chivas in the battle of Los Angeles.

Thursday, June 9: Sporting KC vs. Chicago Fire

The rebranded Sporting Kansas City plays its first 10 games of the 2011 season on the road. It will be a welcome homecoming for the team when they open their brand-new, state-of-the-art $180 million dollar project Sporting Park.

For the second year in a row, Chicago will help a team open their new stadium. Last year Chicago lost in the debut of Red Bull Arena.

Saturday, July 30: Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus Crew

These two teams have been at the top of the MLS standings the past couple of years, and they’ve also made some waves in the CONCACAF Champions League. RSL recently beat Columbus to reach the semifinals of the tournament.

The Crew look like they are set up for a little bit of a down season with the departure of a lot of talent, including midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but they still have a solid foundation and organization that plays good soccer. It should be a good battle.

Wednesday, August 17: New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo

Relocated to Houston, the Dynamo won back-to-back MLS Cup championships in 2006 and 2007. The team they beat both years? The New England Revolution.

Both teams have fallen down the standings a little, with neither making the playoffs in 2010. For this season (and probably this season alone) Houston has moved to the Eastern Conference. This late-summer tilt between two of the league’s best teams will be a good dogfight for a playoff position in the East.

Saturday, August 20: Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

The two newest MLS franchises won’t face off until the end of August, but a battle of expansion teams will certainly be interesting, especially since they are a part of the Cascadia Cup and have been rivals since the days of the NASL.

Portland gets the honor of hosting the first meeting of the two clubs in MLS, certainly a milestone moment in the rivalry.

Sunday, August 28: New York Red Bulls vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

It seems like MLS has always pushed for these two teams to have a rivalry worthy of the highest stage, something akin to what the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have in basketball. It has never developed, mostly to the underperformance of the Red Bulls on a yearly basis, but these games are always exciting.

Big markets, star players and entertaining matches on the pitch always make this match up a must see. Add to the mix RBNY All-Time leading goal scorer Juan Pablo Angel making his first appearance at Red Bull Arena as a member of the visiting team and it becomes that much more of an emotionally-charged event.

How will the fans in New Jersey respond to their former idol?

Saturday, September 10: New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

This is the first day that Omar Salgado, the Whitecaps No.1 draft pick and first selection ever, will be eligible to play for Vancouver.

Due to FIFA age restrictions, Salgado will be unable to play for the Canadian team until his 18th birthday, which is this very day. Whether he plays or not will depend on how fast the Whitecaps want to integrate him into the lineup as well as what paperwork needs to get done when.

Anticipation for his debut will build as the season goes on.

Saturday, October 1: Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake

The two best teams in the Western Conference the past two seasons will play in a critical late-season matchup that could very well decide the top seed in the Western Conference as well as possibly who wins the Supporter’s Shield.

Both teams added talent to their already stacked rosters and anything short of a championship will be a disappointment. This game will have a great playoff atmosphere.