[MLS 2014: Weekend Preview]MLS kicks off its 19th season with eight games this weekend. Saturday's first game pits 2013 champion Sporting Kansas City at rebuilt Seattle in the national television opener (live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET). One player who is back for the Sounders is Clint Dempsey, in whom his coach, Sigi Schmid, expressed full confidence despite a difficult loan spell at Fulham.
Dempsey was the only MLS player to play for the U.S. national team in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Ukraine in Cyrpus, leaving his availability for Saturday up the air, but Schmid said he expected the U.S. captain to play a role in Saturday's opener.
SA's Eastern Conference Previews:
Chicago | Columbus | D.C. United| Houston| Montreal
New England| New York | Philadelphia | Sporting KC | Toronto FC
SA'sWestern Conference Preview:
Chivas USA | Colorado | FC Dallas| LA Galaxy
Portland | Real Salt Lake | San Jose | Seattle | Vancouver
Against Ukraine, Dempsey looked the shadow of the player who scored 14 goals in 2011-13 to led all players since Jurgen Klinsmanntook over as national team coach. He returns after two months at relegation candidate Fulham during which he went scoreless in seven games. Since leaving Tottenham in August 2013 for the Sounders in his blockbuster transfer that shook MLS, Dempsey has scored just one goal for club -- against the LA Galaxy in the final game of the regular season -- and one goal for country -- a consolation penalty kick at Costa Rica.
Despite his form, Schmid told Seattle reporters on Thursday that he was convinced Dempsey will do well with him and he will be sure to get him ready for the World Cup.
“Right now," said Schmid, "I think everyone has these super-high expectations, and it’s a little bit unfair. He’s been in difficult situations, coming in here without a preseason and jumping into a MLS season in the middle of the year is difficult. Going to a team that’s fighting relegation is difficult, as well."
"Now he comes back here. With time, he’ll do well. We’ll get him ready for Jurgen [Klinsmann, USMNT coach], but more so than anything we’ll have him ready for Seattle.”
MLS WEEK 1: Schedule
Saturday, March 8
3 pm ET
Seattle vs. Sporting KC, NBCSN
7 pm ET
D.C. United vs. Columbus, MLS LIVE
7:30 pm ET
Vancouver vs. New York
8:30 pm ET
Houston vs. New England, MLS LIVE
FC Dallas vs. Montreal, MLS LIVE
10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, MLS LIVE
Portland vs. Philadelphia, MLS LIVE
Sunday, March 9
3 pm ET
Chivas USA vs. Chicago, UniMas
NUMBERS GAME: 5.
Sporting KC will know very quickly where it stands on two fronts, opening with five games in 15 days. Besides the Seattle opener, it will play MLS games at home against DC Dallas March 15 and San Jose March 22, but also play a home-and-home series against Cruz Azul of Mexico March and March 19 in the Concacaf Champions League. Two other MLS clubs are involved in the CCL quarterfinals but both have open dates: San Jose before its first game against Toluca and the Galaxy between its two games against Tijuana.
COACHES CORNER.Four head coaches -- Gregg Berhalter (Columbus), Carl Robinson (Vancouver) and Wilmer Cabrera(Chivas USA) and Jeff Cassar (Real Salt Lake) -- will make their MLS debuts this weekend, and three others -- Oscar Pareja(FC Dallas), Frank Klopas (Montreal) and Frank Yallop (Chicago) -- will coach their first MLS game with their new teams.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:
“To be honest, I don't think about it until it's brought up. There's a good chance I'll forget before the game starts. There's no guarantee you're ever going to score."
-- Landon Donovan, who opens the 2014 MLS season for the Galaxy against Real Salt Lake on Saturday with a chance to break the all-time MLS scoring record he shares with Jeff Cunningham. (MLSSoccer.com)
PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS.Real Salt Lake opens its 10th MLS season on the road at the Galaxy but that doesn't mean it will be quiet back on the homefront. The defending Western Conference champs will host a series of events. They will include some obvious things like a kickaround at a local middle school and watch party (complete with shuffleboard, FIFA tournament and movie screening). But RSL will also co-host a grass bocce tournament with the Utah Bocce Association.