Sounders-Galaxy highlights 2011 MLS openers

Think it's too early to talk 2011? Think again. Editor-in-Chief Greg Lalas takes a look at the home openers slated for next season, with an eye on some heavyweight matchups, the birth of the league's first all-Canadian rivalry and all the storylines that should make these matches worth the wait.

Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy

Thursday, March 15, 9:30 pm ET

Go Northwest, young men. Again, the first kick of MLS’ First Kick will take place in front of the throngs at Qwest Field. The Sounders and their fans don’t care who they play—they’ve won both home openers of their MLS existence.

Then again, every club cares about playing the Galaxy, especially when LA swagger in with the previous year’s Supporters’ Shield on their backs and a roster of bold-faced names like Landon Donovan, David Beckham and possibly Juan Pablo Angel. I’m predicting a game as good as the atmosphere. Maybe better (gasp!).

Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Toronto FC

Saturday, March 19, 7 pm ET

Oh boy. Batten down the hatches and damn the torpedoes. This one is going to be a doozy. Not only is it opening day for the Whitecaps’ MLS franchise, but if you ask me, the Vancouver-Toronto rivalry could wind up being the most intense in MLS. After all, they are battling for Canada. (Does this rivalry have a name yet, by the way?)

D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew

Saturday, March 19, 7:30 pm ET

Two teams that are undergoing massive renovations will square off at RFK Stadium. Will Ben Olsen’s new-look United—early indications are they will reflect Olsen himself pretty well—be able to handle Robert Warzycha’s revamped Crew side? And, if he comes to an agreement with Columbus, will Jeff Cunningham explode for a brace to pass Jaime Moreno on the latter’s longtime home field?

New York Red Bulls vs. Seattle Sounders FC

Saturday, March 19, 7:30 pm ET

It’s a short week and a long flight for the Sounders, but Sigi Schmid’s side seems to like the taste of the Big Apple: They’ve posted a draw (2009) and a win (2010) in their only two trips to Gotham. But neither of those games featured the likes of Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez, both of whom will have a full offseason to rest and really gel with their teammates.

FC Dallas vs. Chicago Fire

Saturday, March 19, 8:30 pm ET

[inline_node:325287]Will we actually see Brek Shea line up at center back? He was a defensive sensation during the recent Generation adidas tour in Spain and his coach seems to think he has the makings of a world-class central defender (as do a few technical directors in Madrid). The Fire better hope he isn’t as good as the hype, because they will presumably be working in a few new strikers after the departure of Brian McBride and Collins John.

Houston Dynamo vs. Philadelphia Union

Saturday, March 19, 8:30 pm ET

Two clubs on opposite sides of the hill. The Dynamo are on the backside of one of the greatest runs of success in MLS history and now must rebuild. (Hunter Freeman is a good start.) FC Peter Nowak, er, the Union sure seem primed to be a juggernaut … in 2014! Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Roger Torres and Amobi Okugo are a murderer’s row of the future. Or could it come to fruition a little early?

Colorado Rapids vs. Portland Timbers

Saturday, March 19, 9 pm ET

Talk about a baptism by fire: The Timbers will make their MLS debut against the MLS Cup holders. In the late winter chill of the Rocky Mountains. At altitude. Good luck with that. Then again, John Spencer is building a team that will work hard and compete. Obviously, the Rapids have to be overwhelming favorites, but they’ll have a game on their hands.

Chivas USA vs. Sporting Kansas City

Saturday, March 19, 10:30 pm ET

Fate is more twisted here than a cactus in the Mexican desert. Omar Bravo, Sporting’s new DP, begins his sojourn north of the Rio Grande against the sister team of his beloved Guadalajara. Meanwhile, the old face of KC’s franchise, Jimmy Conrad, could square off against the new-look club (if he comes to terms with Chivas USA).

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake

Saturday, March 19, 10:30 pm ET

[inline_node:325288]Both clubs obviously remember that this same fixture opened the 2010 season for these teams—but for different reasons. RSL cruised to a 3-0 win at Buck Shaw back then, catapulting them to a fine 2010 that saw them play some scintillating soccer and reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League. San Jose, on the other hand, had to lick their wounds for a few months before Chris Wondolowski finally took the club on his shoulders and drove their magical (if geographically quizzical) run to the Eastern Conference Championship.

LA Galaxy vs. New England Revolution

Sunday, March 20, 8 pm ET

These two have tended to meet at the HDC on July 4. Not in 2011. They’re going to get it on early, and even though on paper the last game of First Kick week doesn’t seem all that entrancing, I’d actually circle this one. The Galaxy will be coming off a short week, and the Revolution will be champing at the bit after missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Steve Nicol & Co. don’t take to losing very kindly. The Revs will be all new, which could make it very interesting against Bruce Arena’s star-studded squad.

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