By RYAN TOLMICH
After a busy offseason complete with blockbuster signings and a contentious labor negotiation that narrowly avoided a strike, Major League Soccer is back with a series of marquee matchups to start the 2015 campaign.
Headlining the opening week of the 2015 regular season is a matchup between two newcomers, as Orlando City hosts New York City FC. Pitting Kaka against David Villa, the two sides will play their inaugural MLS game in front of a sold-out crowd in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl.
Meanwhile, a pair of teams that are veterans of success collide Sunday night as the Seattle Sounders take on the New England Revolution. Despite achieving plenty last season, both teams will enter 2015 with a chip on their shoulder after falling just short in last year’s postseason.
In addition, the LA Galaxy open their title defense against the Chicago Fire, the New York Red Bulls take on Sporting KC in a playoff rematch, and Toronto FC takes on Canadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps.
Here is a rundown of the Week 1 schedule:
LA GALAXY vs. CHICAGO FIRE (Friday, 10 p.m., UniMAS)
Following last season’s MLS Cup triumph, the LA Galaxy kick off their title defense Friday against a new-look Chicago Fire.
The Galaxy will start a season without Landon Donovan for the first time in a decade, but the reigning champions still have plenty of firepower in the form of forward Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane.
While the Galaxy generally remain in tact, the Fire promise a new look, boasting three new Designated Players to watch in Shaun Maloney, David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike.
D.C. UNITED vs. MONTREAL IMPACT (Saturday, 3 p.m., MLS Live)
Both D.C. United and the Montreal Impact enter the MLS season following CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal action, albeit with much different results.
D.C. United enter on a low after being knocked out by Alajuelense, while the Impact are riding a Cameron Porter finish into the semifinals of the tournament.
In league play, the two fared quite differently last time out, as D.C. established themselves as one of the league’s contenders last season on the heels of spectacular goalkeeping from Bill Hamid. The Impact, meanwhile, struggled through last season, but have overhauled the roster full with veterans in Laurent Ciman, Eric Alexander, Nigel Reo-Coker and Dom Oduro.
PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 4 p.m., MLS Live)
Following disappointing conclusions to 2014, the Philadelphia Union and Colorado Rapids will be looking to get off to a quick start in 2015.
The Union rebounded quite nicely from a tough start last season, but fell just short of making the postseason last time out. In response, Jim Curtin’s side has made some acquisitions in C.J. Sapong, Fernando Aristeguieta and Steven Vitoria to plug some of last season’s holes.
The Rapids, meanwhile, collapsed down the stretch last season to the tune of 14 straight losses. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni enters his second season with a strong midfield that boasts recently acquired veterans Sam Cronin and Marcelo Sarvas.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 6 p.m., MLS Live)
Toronto FC’s latest rebirth begins Saturday night.
Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco have been brought in to replace Jermain Defoe and Gilberto, as Toronto FC finally looks poised to make a true run towards the club’s first postseason appearance.
That push begins with another postseason contender in the form of Canadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps, who boast a young roster that will look to rebound from last season’s playoff loss to FC Dallas.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. COLUMBUS CREW (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
The Columbus Crew are poised to join the East’s elite, but the first step toward that goal will come with a team that recently moved to the Western Conference.
The Houston Dynamo are now members of the ever-improving West and are now under the leadership of former Premier League boss Owen Coyle. With Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres currently in Mexico with Chivas de Guadalajara, the Dynamo will rely on the returning duo of Will Bruin and Giles Barnes.
Meanwhile, the Crew look to build on the team’s strong run to the postseason last season, which saw the young squad humbled at the hands of the New England Revolution. The Crew will take that experience into 2015, as Wil Trapp and Federico Higuain lead the midfield once more.
FC DALLAS vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Dominic Kinnear is ready for his second go around in San Jose.
The team Kinnear has inherited is much different than that he departed years ago, but the Earthquakes still feature a potent front line of Chris Wondolowski and new Designated Player Innocent Emeghara.
The first test comes in the form of FC Dallas, whose young core, including Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele, returns following an away goal postseason defeat at the hands of the Seattle Sounders.
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., MLS Live)
Nat Borchers didn’t have to wait long to take the field with Real Salt Lake once again.
After being acquired by the Portland Timbers in the offseason, Borchers will lead the Timbers backline against a Real Salt Lake team that has seen an exodus of some key players, including Chris Wingert and Ned Grabavoy.
The Timbers, meanwhile, feature a depleted midfield, as Diego Valeri and Will Johnson remain sidelined with injuries.
ORLANDO CITY vs. NEW YORK CITY FC (Sunday, 5 p.m., ESPN 2)
Orlando City and New York City FC are set to kickoff their MLS lives in style.
The two expansion franchises are set to collide in Orlando just weeks after a heated preseason matchup in the Carolina Challenge Cup. This matchup takes place on a much bigger stage, as the game is set to be played in front of more than 60,000 fans in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl.
Both teams feature plenty of firepower in David Villa and Kaka, but questions still remains about how each team will gel as a unit going forward.
SPORTING KC vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Sunday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
After an offseason full of controversy, the New York Red Bulls finally have the chance to prove the doubters wrong on the field.
The departures of Mike Petke, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill headlined the Red Bulls offseason, but the club has brought in pieces in Sacha Kljestan and Felipe Martins. Head coach Jesse Marsch will face his first test in the form of Sporting KC in a matchup that took place in last year’s postseason.
Sporting KC, meanwhile, field a familiar lineup that features stars Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer. In addition, a familiar face will return to the midfield in Roger Espinoza, who returns to the club following a stint with Wigan Athletic.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Sunday 9:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
In a matchup of two teams with legitimate MLS Cup aspirations, the Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution look to stake their initial claim with a marquee early victory.
The Revs fell just short last season, falling in extra time to the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final. Led by Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones, the Revs are back again, this time featuring re-acquired forward Juan Agudelo.
In contrast, the Sounders captured a pair of trophies last season with the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup, but Clint Dempsey and co. are still chasing the club’s first MLS Cup.