MLS Week 1 Preview: It All Kicks Off Sunday

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by RYAN BRISTER

Major League Soccer’s 2016 season kicks off in a big way this Sunday. In the past, MLS has spread out its season-starting games across an entire weekend, but for 2016, the league has scheduled every team to play on Sunday for a full day’s worth of soccer, much of it on national TV.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC, Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

After winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2015, the Red Bulls will take part in kicking off the 2016 season. Red Bull Arena will host a Toronto FC side that appears poised to contend after a surprisingly quiet offseason. Stars Jozy Altidore and Gonzalo Veron are out for this encounter. However, this may very well be a preview of battles atop the Eastern Conference to come, and so while the season is lengthy, this is a match of some import.

Orlando City vs. Real Salt Lake, Sunday at 2 p.m.

The Lions and new signing Antonio Nocerino will begin their second season in MLS against RSL. Without the hype that surrounded last year’s home opener, Orlando City has sold more than 55,000 tickets for Sunday’s game. Salt Lake had a CONCACAF Champions League game on Wednesday, two time zones away, so Orlando will have more than just home field advantage here.

Chicago Fire vs. New York City FC, Sunday at 2 p.m.

Only two teams changed coaches over the offseason. They will face each other to begin 2016. Chicago, now under the leadership of Veljko Paunovic, can only go up after posting the league’s worst record in 2015. Patrick Viera will be hoping to draw more out of NYCFC’s squad than Jason Kreis was able to. A good start will be important for both teams to avoid a repeat of last year.

FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union, Sunday at 3 p.m.

A young FC Dallas begins what should be a bright year by hosting Philadelphia on Sunday. Jim Curtin has been given another year in charge of the Union, and Earnie Stewart helped revamp the team on the field in hopes of producing better results. Still, it would be a surprise to see the Union come away with points on opening day.

Houston Dynamo vs. New England Revolution, Sunday at 3 p.m.

Further south, another East vs. West matchup is taking place in Houston. The Dynamo host the Revolution in a battle between teams with something to prove in 2016. Owen Coyle, in his second year as Houston’s head coach, has to show progress and improvement. New England, meanwhile, is tasked with adjusting to life without Jermaine Jones.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Colorado Rapids, Sunday at 3 p.m.

It’s a high noon kickoff in California for the Earthquakes and Rapids. Neither team reached the playoffs in 2015, but San Jose has reasonable hopes of accomplishing that in the year ahead. Pablo Mastroeni remains in charge of Colorado despite the team appearing to stagnate and even decline under his watch. Tim Howard remains across the Atlantic, for now.

Portland Timbers vs. Columbus Crew SC, Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN

The schedule-makers wasted no time with this one. The Portland Timbers will be able to celebrate last year’s MLS Cup victory at home against the team they defeated. Columbus will presumably be out for revenge, and the Crew were able to keep more of their team intact over the winter than the Timbers. It all makes for a very enticing start to the national broadcasts.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Montreal Impact, Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

An all-Canadian matchup highlights opening day north of the border. Both Vancouver and Montreal have reasons for optimism coming off of making the playoffs last year. Vancouver made a couple moves this offseason designed to lift them over the hump and into title contention. More good news for the Whitecaps: Didier Drogba will not play on the turf at BC Place.

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City, Sunday at 7 p.m. on FS1

Jordan Morris’ MLS debut will be on national television as a Seattle side in transition hots Sporting Kansas City. The Sounders just a couple weeks ago sold Obafemi Martins, who had been one of the league’s best players in recent years, so this marks an opportunity to see how Schmid will go forward. SKC will be the more rested side, having not traveled to the Azteca in midweek.

LA Galaxy vs. DC United, Sunday at 10 p.m. on Unimas

LA and DC enter the opening weekend with the sour taste of CCL disappointment. United played across the country on Tuesday, and the Galaxy were trounced in Mexico on Wednesday. The short turnaround will presumably have an effect on both teams, especially as they are just getting into their season fitness. Signs so far suggest that the Galaxy will need time to sort out their new-look lineup, but they are certainly the more talented side here.


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