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Saturday 10 March 2012

Foresight – MLS Round 1 Weekend Preview

Four questions to be answered in this the first weekend of MLS action.

Who will take the initiative in the quest for Canadian supremacy and how will the historic bad-blood manifest itself as Vancouver open against Montreal?
    Though the two cities’ clubs have met many times over their various incarnations dating back to the old NASL this will be their first ever meeting under the bright lights and media spotlight of MLS. Recent battles have had an edge of nastiness and despite several key protagonists having exited the stage the dislike should remain prevalent.

    Does Vancouver make a statement and announce their intentions for the season or can Montreal come together and surprise all onlookers who have predicted a rocky road for them with a result?

In a series of one-off matches which clubs can steal all three points on opening day to give themselves a points-boost in the conference races?

    The unbalanced schedule means opponents from opposite conferences will only be meeting on one occasion this season. While that reinforces the need to do well against local rivals, it also provides the opportunity to steal points from the other conference that could prove crucial come season’s end.

    Exactly three-quarters (six) of the eight matches this weekend pit foes who will not have a return match this season; a chance to steal points, say goodbye, and earn the bragging rights in an effort to promote a solid start to the campaign.

With a handful of managers and squadrons of players making their debuts in the league this weekend, just how will the opening stanza progress?
    Oscar Pareja in Colorado, Jay Heaps in New England, Martin Rennie in Vancouver, and Jesse Marsch in Montreal; four new coaches with visions yet to be realized. With three radical style transformations in the works and another hoping to build an entirely new franchise, it should prove to be interesting watching to say the least.

    Aside from questions of tactics, each new season brings in a veritable legion of new faces to MLS. Injuries – only Houston have emerged from preseason unscathed; visas – looking at you Mr. Rodgers; ITCs – International Transfer Certificates; and suspensions – Rafa (headshake); have decimated several teams who must now field those new acquisitions in lieu of cohesive units.

    There is a risk that it could affect the quality of play to take such a decision, but a forced hand makes up its mind more easily. Opening weekend is the time for surprises.

Vancouver-Montreal is not the only grudge match this weekend, as former playoff foes tangle will revenge be sought and found?
    Three matches – Columbus v. Colorado, Los Angeles v. Salt Lake, and Dallas v. New York – see teams come up against the opponent that ended their season last year.

    Columbus lost to Colorado in their wildcard meeting, as did Dallas to New York in theirs. LA can Salt Lake have a history that goes beyond that, not only did they meet in the Western Conference final last season – the Galaxy progressing 3-1 – but also in the 2009 MLS Cup Final, which Real took on spot kicks.
    Projected to be the class of the league again, this clash, despite LA’s short rest from a midweek contest against Toronto FC in CONCACAF and Salt Lake’s lengthy injury list, should set up a good race to the end.

    To the victor, the spoils… and perhaps some sweet revenge.

It’s MLS First Kick, a grand opening to what should be another excellent season. Every team has a chance – things are looking up; it’s a tough slog, but well-worth the journey.

Colorado v Columbus; Vancouver v Montreal; DC v Kansas City; San Jose v New England; Los Angeles v Salt Lake; Dallas v New York; Chivas v Houston; Portland v Philadelphia.

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