Major League Soccer’s long winter is finally beginning to thaw.
The Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake reported to their respective camps on Thursday ahead of their Feb. 22 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match in Columbus, marking the first teams to dust off the rust ahead of the season openers in March.
Players will also report to camp with head coach Ben Olsen and D.C. United on Friday, while newly signed goalkeeper Troy Perkins, No. 2 SuperDraft pick Darlington Nagbe and the expansion Portland Timbers will convene on Saturday.
The MLS regular season will open with First Kick 2011 on March 15, when the Seattle Sounders host the LA Galaxy and recently signed Designated Player Juan Pablo Angel at Qwest Field. The two teams met in the Western Conference playoffs last year, with the Galaxy winning the two-game, aggregate-goal series.
The MLS preseason docket also features a number of high-profile tournaments, including the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic and the Carolina Challenge Cup.
The Disney Classic will take place in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 24 and 26, featuring FC Dallas, the Houston Dynamo and Toronto FC, along with USL Pro side Orlando City Soccer Club.
The Carolina Challenge Cup – which takes place in Charleston, S.C., on March 5, 9 and 12 – will feature the Chicago Fire. D.C. United, Toronto FC and the host Charleston Battery (USL Pro).
The Crew and RSL, meanwhile, will clash in the first game of their two-leg CCL quarterfinal series with a bit of history on the line. This marks the first time two MLS teams will meet with a CCL semifinal berth at stake after RSL won their group and the Crew finished second in theirs during the group stage last fall.
The game will be telecast on Fox Soccer Channel.
The complete 2011 regular season, with national television broadcasts, will be announced in the first week of February.