The wait is finally over, after a couple of months away, the MLS season returns tomorrow in what will be a long weekend of footballing action. Ahead of the league’s 23rd season here are all the games for you to look forward to along with their talking points:
Saturday 3rd March
Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew
Picking up where the MLS left off last season, 2017’s champions Toronto FC kicking off this year’s campaign in a rematch of last year’s Conference final with Columbus Crew.
That game saw just one goal separate the sides as Jozy Altidore sent the Canadian side to the MLS Cup final after finishing an intricate passing move on the hour mark.
This time around, Columbus Crew will be hoping to make amends with the boost of new signings such as Gyasi Zardes who joined from L.A. Galaxy in in January amongst others.
Houston Dynamo vs Atlanta United
Saturday’s second game sees a meeting between two sides who both made the play-offs last season.
Eastern Conference side, Atlanta United caught the attention of many MLS fans in their first season in the league as they stormed to a 4th place finish under manager, Gerardo Martino.
After finishing in a play-off place however, United weren’t able to get past the Knockout Round as they were beaten on penalties by Columbus Crew.
As for Houston, the Western Conference side went a couple of steps better and reached the Conference Finals but were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Seattle Sounders.
Sunday 4th March
Philadelphia United vs New England Revolution
Sunday’s first game sees a very recognised face in football return as Brad Freidel takes charge of his first game as New England Revolution manager.
The goalkeeping legend will be hoping to improve on the side’s 7th place finish last year and try and push for a spot in the play-offs this season.
However, Philadelphia finished just three points behind New England last season in 8th place so Freidel may not be in for the easiest first day at the office.
Orlando City vs D.C. United
The next game sees the two rock bottom clubs from the Eastern Conference last season do battle in sunny Florida.
Unfortunately for Orlando they will be without Brazilian legend Kaka this season as he retired from playing in December 2017.
As for D.C. United, they’ll be hoping that the arrival of Yamil Asad who netted seven times during Atlanta United’s impressive season last year. The Argentinian joined the side on loan from Vélez Sarsfield.
FC Dallas vs Real Salt Lake
In the first all-Western meeting of the 2018 MLS season there’s potential for another hard-fought game as last year’s 7th and 8th placed sides.
Having drawn 13 games last season and missing the play-offs on goal difference, Dallas will be hoping to change that for the chance to push for play-offs this year.
As for Real Salt Lake, they came up short last season as a result of tallying the third most losses in the conference with 15.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Minnesota United FC
This meeting sees the first mismatch in this year’s MLS opening weekend in terms of last season’s standings.
San Jose Earthquakes did well last season as they snuck their way into the play-offs on goal difference ahead of Dallas. The Earthquakes were sent packing in the first knockout stage as they were thrashed 5-0 by Seattle Sounders.
Looking to ensure the San Jose start this year the way last year ended, Minnesota, who finished 9th in their inaugural MLS season last year, will hope that the strike partnership of Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi will be a fruitful one.
Seattle Sounders vs LAFC
Sunday also sees the introduction of the newest club to enter the MLS in Los Angeles Football Club who have spent the past few years building up to this moment.
The West Coast club will be travelling north for their first game in the league but under the guidance of former USMNT coach Bob Bradley along with players of the calibre of Carlos Vela, the side will hope they make a good first impression.
Standing in their way is a Seattle Sounders side who will be entering this season with confidence despite losing their MLS Cup title to Toronto FC last December with US footballing legend Clint Dempsey likely to help them to challenge for trophies again this season.
The MLS Cup runners up will also be hoping that they aren’t too fatigued after making it to the Champions League semi-finals with their 4-0 (5-2 aggregate) win over Santa Telca on Thursday.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Montreal Impact
Sunday’s action also sees the first all-Canadian affair of the season as Vancouver look to do one better than last year and clinch a Western automatic Conference semi-final spot.
Despite the loss of Fredy Montero, who scored 13 goals for the Whitecaps during his loan spell last season, the club can go into the season opener with some confidence having brought in MLS verteran striker, Kei Kamara from New England Revolution.
From a veteran to an up-and-comer, Whitecaps fans will also be excited with the prospect of Alphonso Davies making a mark this season as the 17-year-old starlet will look to keep maturing in what will be his third season in the league despite his young age.
On the other hand, Montreal Impact will try to improve on their 9th place Eastern Conference finish last season.
Sporting Kansas City vs NYCFC
Heading back down to the States, Patrick Vieira’s side are on the road looking to replicate their regular season performance from last season of sealing an Eastern automatic Conference semi-final spot.
However, making the trip to Kansas won’t be easy for the sky blues from the big apple as Sporting Kansas City also managed to make the play-offs last season, with Sunday’s hosts falling by the wayside in the first knockout round against Houston Dynamo.
After that loss, the club’s chairman fired out this tweet to ensure Kansas City will challenge further this season:
Sorry..kind of taken me all day 2 process it. You're support is incredible. Guarantee we'll fix it. We will invest in #9 and #10..sorry
— Robb Heineman (@RobbHeineman) October 28, 2017
The result of this tweet was positive for Kansas as they brought in playmaker Yohan Croizet from KV Mechelen in Belgium’s first division.
For NYCFC, they will be without footballing legend Andrea Pirlo and Jack Harrison this season, however, David Villa remains at the club for the new year and Vieira will push to take this side further into the play-offs.
L.A. Galaxy vs Portland Timbers
The final game of the season-opening week will see the Western Conference’s top and bottom sides from last season meet as the sleeping giant that is L.A. Galaxy hope to wake up.
This season hangs very much in the balance for the historic club as an improvement on last year’s performance is much needed.
Along with that, star man Zardes is taking on a new adventure with Columbus Crew this season and there’s a new kid on the block in the shape of LAFC.
With all this going on though, Galaxy will need to put it all to one side and pull together in an effort to overcome the best in the west from last season in Portland Timbers.
New York Red Bulls
The opening weekend of the season will go on without the New York Red Bulls as this season will see one team take a rest from playing.
This is because the introduction of LAFC brings the amount of teams in the league up to the odd number of 23, meaning not every team would be able to play each weekend.
Red Bulls also had a Champions League round of 16 fixture on Thursday which saw them come out 2-0 winners over Olympia thanks to goals from Bradley Wright-Philips and Sean Davis to send them to the semi-finals.
German legend, Bastien Schweinsteiger will have to wait a week before his MLS season starts this year as Chicago Fire are yet to finish their pre-season.
Their last warm up game takes place this Saturday as they host Tulsa Roughnecks FC who play in the United Soccer League.