The new-look Toronto FC makes its highly anticipated debut with a tough test at Seattle, where the Sounders are looking to start the season with two consecutive victories.It's the early season glamor game everyone connected to Major League Soccer has been waiting for.
Originally just perceived as another ho-hum match featuring a perrenial league doormat, Saturday's contest between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC has quickly become a focal point for the league's marketing department, so much so that the match was added to U.S. national television a few weeks ago.
The reason for the anticipation, of course, is because Saturday could be the MLS debut of England striker Jermain Defoe and the homecoming of American international star Michael Bradley, both of whom signed with Toronto in a groundbreaking week back in January.
Defoe and Bradley headlined a massive spending spree by the Reds that also brought in designated player Gilberto, Brazilian national team goalkeeper Julio Cesar, and MLS legend Dwayne De Rosario. The offseason overhaul has transformed TFC into a glamor side, and on Saturday it opens its 2014 campaign against one of the league's standard bearers for headline-making in Seattle.
The Sounders, of course, have their own star power, led by Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. The Dempsey vs. Bradley matchup is the kind of mouth-watering stuff MLS thrives upon, and the added sizzle of Defoe, Martins, De Rosario, Julio Cesar, and Osvaldo Alonso makes this game an early season must-see.
Another match-up worth watching is that of Stefan Frei against his old club, as the goalkeeper moved on from TFC after five years with the Canadian side. Fresh off a season-opening shut out, Frei will no doubt want to one-up his former teammates.
Seattle heads into the game with a win under its belt, having outlasted Sporting Kansas City last week thanks to an injury time winner from former TFC striker Chad Barrett. The Sounders look to use that extra week of cohesion to their advantage as they face a TFC side that has struggled for chemistry throughout the preseason.
The Reds will have to do without the services of Gilberto, with the Brazilian remaining in Toronto with a hip flexor injury that has kept him sidelined for the past several weeks. He tops a list of injured TFC players that includes the likes of Alvaro Rey, Bradley Orr, Justin Morrow, and Mark Bloom. Defoe and Bradley are coming off minor injuries and should be good to go at CenturyLink Field, and midfielder Rey and fullbacks Orr and Morrow could be gametime decisions for Ryan Nelsen and staff.