A wide array of viewing options will give supporters a chance to scout out several teams before the season opens on March 10.The rise of MLS over the past few years has led to a proliferation of data.
American soccer doesn't just exist on listservs and message boards anymore. Twitter keeps ardent followers updated in real time, while traditional mediums like print and television offer more global views. Scores of fans across the country watch every goal on MLS Live or the Direct Kick package. A bevy of statistical services – including league provider Opta and other private entities on the team level – analyze each step a player takes on the field.
The desire for more information has led to a surprising uptick in one comparatively humdrum aspect of competition: preseason friendlies. More than 20 matches will streamed online at some point during training camp. A select few matches – including New York's 0-0 draw with Pumas UNAM last night – even find their way onto television.
With all of these potential viewing options on the docket, the Friday Five sorted through the schedule to highlight a few matches worth watching over the next week:
1. Montreal v. Vancouver (Feb. 24, 8:00 p.m., MLSsoccer.com): These former second division rivals will renew acquaintances ahead of the season opener at B.C. Place on March 10. This match provides an ideal chance for both sides to get a handle on this expected derby and measure their progress after a series of winter moves. Keep an eye on the contrast between the two groups of forwards: The ageless Eduardo Sebrango and recent arrivals Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle pulling down time for the Impact versus the Whitecaps' bevy of versatile options buzzing around Eric Hassli.
2. FC Dallas v. BK Häcken (Feb. 25, 6:00 p.m., MLSsoccer.com): All eyes should focus squarely on the returning David Ferreira. FCD's influential playmaker returned to active duty in a friendly against the U.S. U-23 team on Wednesday. His return will force Schellas Hyndman to further weigh his increasingly diverse set of tactical choices. Ferreira flourishes in a free role and won the 2010 MLS MVP award as the focal point in a 4-1-4-1 setup, but FCD has also trotted out a 4-4-2 during training camp. No matter the ultimate choice on the chalkboard, Ferreira's teammates will have to adjust to his presence on the field and discern how to make the best use of his ample talents.
3. Los Angeles v. Real Salt Lake (Feb. 25, 8:00 p.m., MLSsoccer.com): Both teams will expect to tussle for supremacy in the Western Conference after meeting in the conference final in 2011, but there are greater matters of concern at the moment. Los Angeles will look to rebound after a 3-2 defeat to New England on Wednesday and sort out the defensive questions prompted by Omar Gonzalez's knee injury. RSL continues to evaluate several options at fullback and wrestle with a crippling series of injuries (Nat Borchers, Will Johnson and Álvaro Saborío will miss the season opening re-match against the Galaxy on March 10, RSL coach Jason Kreis told the Deseret News earlier this week) that could disrupt their cadence at the start of the campaign.
4. Colorado v. Busan I'Park or Melbourne Heart (Feb. 25, 10:00 p.m./12:30 a.m., ESPN3.com): Saturday's tripleheader concludes with a look at the revamped Rapids out in Hawaii. Oscar Pareja doesn't have all of his pieces in place yet, but he intends to turn this solid outfit into a more ambitious group. Pareja's 4-3-3 setup will cause some reshuffling among the holdovers, but Omar Cummings could benefit from the extra space likely afforded in his higher and wider position on the right wing. As an added bonus, this match should give fans a chance to perform a imperfect and rough estimate about how a decent MLS side stacks up against competition from the A-League or the K-League.
5. New England v. Real Salt Lake (Feb. 29, 8:00 p.m., MLSsoccer.com): Revolution coach Jay Heaps has promised attacking, possession-oriented play during his first season in charge. Those principles should face a stern test against the Claret-and-Cobalt, even if Kreis' side isn't at full strength. It isn't easy to acquire and retain possession against RSL, but the Revs will do their best to display their revived commitment to those principles while attempting to shut the door a bit more effectively at the back with Kevin Alston (calf) and A.J. Soares (knee) presumably back in the fold.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.