NY Red Bulls and Toronto FC clash on MLS Opening Day, early test for L.A.
Sunday marks the beginning of the 2016 Major League Soccer season. After a long winter of reflection, the quest begins to take MLS Cup away from the defending champs, the Portland Timbers. Our writers look ahead to the games that matter most.
Red Bulls, TFC offer plenty of intrigue
It's probably fitting that on an opening day during which all 20 MLS clubs are in action, the game that officially kicks off the new season is Sunday's matinee between the Red Bulls and Toronto FC. After all, New York won the 2015 Supporters' Shield with the league's best regular season record while TFC boasted its best player in MVP Sebastian Giovinco. Now we'll see the second act.
It's only the first of 34 regular season games for both sides, of course, but Sunday's curtain-raiser at Red Bull Arena promises to offer clues about what's to come for both squads in the months ahead. Plenty of questions linger.
Will the hosts' high-press continue to pay dividends when it comes to unsettling ill-prepared foes? Or after watching Columbus flip the script and upset Jesse Marsch's men in the 2015 playoffs, does the rest of MLS now have the blueprint to circumvent that game plan?
Will Giovinco pick up where he left off last season -- perhaps the best campaign any individual player has produced -- or did the magic evaporate when the calendar flipped? And what of the Reds' defensive reinforcements? Can MLS journeymen like Steven Beitashour and Will Johnson help TFC become something other than the woefully unbalanced, highly dysfunctional pretenders they've been throughout their nine-year history?
It's a long season, to be sure, but the answers to these questions will begin to reveal themselves soon.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
LA Galaxy's new veterans get their first test
With each passing week of the MLS offseason, it seemed like the LA Galaxy got older. First there was the signing of 35-year-old left-back Ashley Cole, followed by the acquisitions of central defender Jelle Van Damme (32) and holding midfielder Nigel de Jong (31). Not even the signing of 21-year-old winger Emmanuel Boateng could take the focus off the aforementioned trio; when combined with 35-year-old duo of Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, the question of how much the Galaxy was gambling on aging legs was openly debated.
For manager Bruce Arena, there is no debate and he bristled at the suggestion that the Galaxy's winter additions are too old to play, calling them "accomplished" during a preseason interview with ESPN FC. There is no doubting the quality and experience of the new arrivals, but it will bear watching how well these players hold up over the course of the campaign even as under-the-radar acquisitions like Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz provide the Galaxy with a level of depth it didn't have last year.
On Sunday, the Galaxy's reconstituted side will get its first test run in an MLS regular season encounter when it takes on D.C. United at StubHub Center. Fans will get the first indications of just how accomplished this side will be.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
New coaches square off
No matter what happens on Sunday in Bridgeview, Illinois, one or both of the league's newly installed foreign coaches will have their first point (or points) come the final whistle at Toyota Park when the Chicago Fire host New York City FC.
Getting off to a good start could go a long way towards helping Veljko Paunovic, Patrick Vieira or both build into a season that is not only the first year of coaching in MLS for each man, but the first year of coaching at the senior level as well.
This is a league that doesn't make life easy on foreign coaches, especially those who come from Europe; the process of team-building and the difficulty of travel are just so different from what they are used to. Throw the significant adjustment of coaching full-fledged professional men on to the considerable pile, and both benches will make for fascinating viewing all season long.
Since there's no substitute for experience, we won't really know how well Paunovic or Vieira have adjusted until at least some of the 2016 MLS season in behind us. What Sunday's clash might tell us, however, is how each coach hopes to have his team play -- and perhaps more importantly, how their respective groups have responded to the messages given through preseason.
We can be reasonably sure that neither the Fire nor NYC FC will much resemble the sides we saw finish out of the playoff picture in 2015. New year, new coaches, new approaches.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)