3. MLS WEEKEND: Week 1

David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco will come later, but that doesn't mean the first weekend of the MLS season lacks for excitement. Indeed, no other MLS season has opened with such enthusiasm.

Week 1 features the opening of MLS's fifth soccer-specific stadium, Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Expansion Toronto FC play its first game. And three of MLS's four rookie head coaches (Tom Soehn at D.C. United, Steve Morrow at FC Dallas and Preki at Chivas USA) make their debuts on the sidelines (Curt Onalfo's Kansas City has a bye this week).

On the television front, the weekend marks the debut of "MLS Saturday on FSC," MLS's first-ever three-hour programming block, and MLS's return to Spanish-language TV on TeleFutura.

(ABC, Saturday, 1:30 pm MT/3:30 pm ET).
After playing before crowds so small at Invesco Field that former  Rapids goalie Joe Cannon admitted to being embarrassed telling friends when his team was playing, the Rapids have found a cozy home in 18,000-seat Dick's Sporting Goods Park located in outlying Commerce City (voters this week turned down a measure to consider changing its name). The opener is expected to be a sellout, and the Rapids have reportedly tripled season-ticket sales to 4,500.

Coach Fernando Clavijo promises that the Rapids will run their opponents into the ground on a field with the largest dimensions in MLS. United's final spring training camp in Mexico not only prepared it for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup series against Guadalajara on Tuesday but also for First Kick 2007 at altitude.

(Direct Kick,
Saturday, 4 pm MT/6 pm ET).
Freddy Adu often grumbled about his supporting role at D.C. United. He'll be the star attraction in Salt Lake, where fans will get their first glimpse of the teen phenom in a RSL uniform.

Much less publicized is another youngster who could have a big impact in MLS this season. Like Adu, Colombian Juan Toja played at the 2005 U-20 World Championship in the Netherlands. After a season at Argentina's River Plate, Toja joins Dallas on loan from Independiente de Santa Fe and will play a key role in midfield, where Morrow cleaned house.

(HDNet & Direct Kick,
Saturday, 7 pm).
Bruce Arena
says the Red Bulls are light years ahead of where they've been in the past when he said they "played and looked like a pub team." How much better the Red Bulls are remains to be seen. Claudio Reyna, the Red Bulls' pickup with their first DP slot, is a sure commodity. Arena will earn his pay by getting contributions from MLS castoffs Clint Mathis and Dave van den Bergh.

After enduring a miserable 2006 campaign, the Crew quietly put together a strong preseason campaign, going unbeaten in its last 12 games after an opening loss to New York on Feb. 11. The only acquisitions of note were Costa Rican striker Andy Herron and midfielder Danny O'Rourke.

(Direct Kick,
Saturday, 7:30 pm ET/8:30 pm ET).
The Eastern Conference clubs renew one of MLS's best rivalries. The Fire beat the Revs in the quarterfinals of last year's U.S. Open Cup, but New England eliminated Chicago in the quarterfinals of the MLS playoffs. The game also matches MLS's two longest-serving coaches: Steve Nicol at New England since 2002 and Dave Sarachan at Chicago since 2003.

Chicago went 2-5-1 against MLS opposition in preseason and could struggle to score until Blanco arrives from Mexico this summer. The Revs are counting on goals from rookie Adam Cristman. The Virginia product was taken with the 48th pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft but should start up front in place of Pat Noonan, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery. Also out for the Revs is Michael Parkhurst, who dislocated his left shoulder swimming in the Caribbean on a preseason trip to Cancun, Mexico. Former Wake Forest teammate James Riley should replace Parkhurst on the Revs' backline.

(Fox Soccer Channel & Fox Sports en Espanol,
Saturday, 7:30 pm PT/10:30 pm ET).
MLS's first Canadian team makes its debut when Toronto FC faces Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center. TFC is coming off a strong showing at the Carolina Challenge Cup, but it lost Ronnie O'Brien, who set up three goals in wins over New York and Charleston. The feisty Irishman suffered a knee injury on a foolish challenge during Toronto's first practice at new BMO Field this week and will be out 4-6 weeks.

For Chivas USA, the opener will mark the debut of Amado Guevara, who came over from New York in the offseason. The Honduran will lead what could be one of MLS's best midfields with Jesse Marsch, Francisco Mendoza and Sacha Kljestan in support.

(TeleFutura, Sunday, 6 pm CT/7 pm ET).
The winners of the last two MLS Cups battle at Robertson Stadium. The Galaxy will look to get out to a fast start after last year's debacle that cost Steve Sampson his job after 11 games. Los Angeles goes into the opener relatively healthy. How much the Dynamo has left after its exhausting match against Pachuca Thursday night remains to be seen.
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