The first full weekend of the 2011 MLS Season kicks off Saturday March 19th with all 18 teams in action. It will be the first official game for the expansion Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, while former powers Columbus and D.C. United meet in Washington, D.C. Here is this week’s power rankings heading into week one of the season:
- Real Salt Lake
The 2009 MLS Cups champions return this season with unfinished business. After being eliminated early in the playoffs last year by FC Dallas, RSL was impressive in their 2-0 destruction of Honduran powerhouse Saprissa this past Tuesday night. They are the early favorites to win the Supporter’s Shield.
- Los Angeles Galaxy
The squad opened their season this past Tuesday night with a surprising 1-0 victory over Seattle at Qwest Field.The crowds could be seen waving their team flags with enthusiasm, assumed to be bought from ThisIsAmericanSoccer. What’s amazing about this victory is that the Galaxy did it with three starters – Omar Gonzales, Juan Pablo Angel, and Donovan Ricketts – out with injury. To win in Seattle, in front of their boisterous fans and with close to a quarter of their lineup out, is a testimony to how special this Galaxy team might be.
- New York Red Bulls
With Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, and Tim Ream leading the way, the Red Bulls are primed to run through the Eastern Conference. Their starting lineup is the deepest in the conference, and should carry them through the MLS Cup playoffs.
- Colorado Rapids
It’s hard to believe that the Rapids could be even better this year, but by signing midfielder SannaNyassi, Colorado has added an impact player on the right side. Conor Casey and Omar Cummings are arguably the strongest forward duo in MLS and could lead this team back into the MLS Cup final.
- FC Dallas
In an off-season where Dallas lost three key starters, including forward Jeff Cunningham, it may be a little surprising that they remain this high on the list. But Dallas has become quite adept at building from within and scouting overseas. Newly signed Colombian striker Fabian Castillo is expected to immediately pay dividends. With both Castillo and league MVP David Ferreira leading the attack, FC Dallas is still a lethal contender.
- Houston Dynamo
This is my surprise team for the season. Houston did an amazing job re-building during the off-season by drafting striker Will Bruin and defender Kofi Sarkodie in the first round. Both players performed well in the preseason and are expected to impact the team immediately.
- Seattle Sounders FC
Any team with the fan support that the Sounders enjoy is going to have an advantage over anybody else. Despite their loss this past Tuesday to the Galaxy, Seattle dominated play for most of the match. Once Fredy Montero finally puts everything together, this team has the potential to be scary.
- New England Revolution
Steve Nichol did well to bring in quality talent in the off-season to improve their roster, but the player that the Revolution depends on is midfielder Shalrie Joseph. Almost everything that that takes place on the pitch for New England goes through Joseph. If he can stay out of trouble and be the player everyone in the league knows he can be, New England should make the playoffs.
- San Jose Earthquakes
The Earthquakes didn’t do much over the off-season except let designated player Geovanni go, which isn’t much of a loss considering how little he actually contributed to the club last year. The team will struggle to score goals, but they are strong defensively. Where they will wind up in the Western Conference is anybody’s guess at this point.
- Sporting Kansas City
Two words:Teal Bunbury. The young striker is extremely talented and ready for a break-out year. Teamed with new addition Omar Bravo, this team should be able to score plenty of goals. The real question is whether or not the loss of Jimmy Conrad will affect the defense.
The weekend kicks off on Saturday when Vancouver hosts Toronto FC, but the game to watch will be on Fox Soccer Channel when the defending champion Rapids take the field to host the expansion Timbers. Have a great week one, MLS fans!