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Friday MLS Forecast: Week 1 - Starting season 17 in style

The Forecast outlines the key themes of the opening weekend and issues its first predictions of the new campaign.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The seemingly interminable wait for First Kick comes to a close on Saturday evening.

MLS kicks off season 17 with eight matches spread over three weekend days. The opening slate of games provides just enough enticement to whet the appetite for a campaign that should supply plenty of talking points as it progresses.

The Forecast prepared for the new season by slimming down and tweaking its approach to ensure all of the necessary information for the upcoming matches lands at your fingertips on Friday mornings. With that proviso in mind, the Friday Five kicks matters off with a look at some of the key story lines of the weekend:

1. Bienvenue, Montréal: Jesse Marsch's side will take its MLS bow against Vancouver at B.C. Place. No amount of injuries or personnel issues can dampen the enthusiasm in Québec as the Impact make their long-awaited leap to the top flight. This first match against the Whitecaps probably won't end in victory given the ramshackle state of the Impact's defense at the moment, but it should nevertheless start a long and fruitful relationship between the club and its new league.

2. Los Angeles weighs its lineup options … : For seemingly one of the few times in its history in MLS, the Galaxy found themselves on the wrong end of an edict from the league office: they will host Real Salt Lake on Saturday night while fellow CONCACAF Champions League combatants Toronto FC (their opponents in midweek at the Home Depot Center) and Seattle rest after their recent exertions. The crowded schedule dictates some form of squad rotation here. Expect Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena to make significant changes to the lineup he used in Wednesday's 2-2 draw at the Rogers Centre, especially because...

3. … while Real Salt Lake manages its injury concerns: … the Claret-and-Cobalt will also start the match without several regulars in tow. It's easier to list the healthy players than the unhealthy ones for RSL at this point – Jamison Olave's groin injury in the preseason finale just rubs salt into the wound if he isn't fit enough to feature – with half of his starting XI sidelined or limited. One silver lining for RSL boss Jason Kreis: he will have an early opportunity to assess the depth of his squad after a significant retooling of the bottom half of the roster during the winter.

4. D.C. prepares for its early examination: United spent the winter doggedly attempting to bolster its squad for a playoff run. Their acquisitions have drawn rave reviews in most quarters (including this space last month), but it remains to be seen how Emiliano Dudar, Robbie Russell and Hamdi Salihi will settle into their new side. They'd better find their feet quickly with Sporting Kansas City set to visit R.F.K. Stadium on Saturday night. Peter Vermes' side looks like the favorite in the Eastern Conference after finishing first a year ago and should heap plenty of pressure on United in its home opener.

5. NBC debuts with a playoff rematch: FC Dallas and New York will reprise their one-off postseason tie on Sunday afternoon to kick off the Peacock's three-year agreement. The Musings discussed all of the national TV partners on Thursday, but this particular game offers the first glimpse of the coverage NBC will provide. Fortunately for the viewers at home, this affair should lead to compelling television with FCD trying to sort out its side for the season and the Red Bulls seeking redemption after last year's letdown.

Last season: 100/254 (39 percent)

Saturday

Montreal @ Vancouver (6:00p.m., TSN/RDS) – Goal.com match preview

Team news: MTL – Davy Arnaud (questionable – left thigh contusion), Justin Braun (probable – right ankle sprain), Mike Fucito (probable – right ankle sprain), Nelson Rivas (out – left hamstring sprain); VAN – Atiba Harris (doubtful – left knee pain), Eric Hassli (probable – left knee pain), John Thorrington (out – left quadriceps strain)

Overview: Vancouver's imposing array of attacking options should overwhelm an Impact group still trying to put all of the pieces together for its expansion campaign.

Prediction: Vancover win.

Columbus @ Colorado (6:00p.m.) – Goal.com match preview

Team news: CLB – Eddie Gaven (right ankle sprain), William Hesmer (questionable – right ankle sprain), Julius James (out – right shoulder surgery), Carlos Mendes (uncertain – hamstring); COL – Conor Casey (out – left Achilles tear/hernia surgery), Martín Rivero (uncertain – awaiting ITC), Jamie Smith (out – right ACL tear)

Overview: Fitness always looms as a particular important factor in early season encounters. That particular fact doesn't bode well for a depleted Crew side that must travel to Dick's Sporting Goods Park and play a mile above sea level in this postseason rematch.

Prediction: Colorado win.

Sporting Kansas City @ D.C. United (7:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview

Team news: SKC – Júlio César (available to start – left knee strain), Paulo Nagamura (questionable – left calf strain), Graham Zusi (probable – right quad strain); D.C. – Danny Cruz (set to play – right ankle), Ethan White (out – right knee injury)

Overview: Purists should dig into this affair between two sides more than willing to throw numbers into the attacking third. Keep an eye out for one area of the field in particular: the pocket of space in front of Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin. Sporting must keep that parcel of land occupied to restrict the space and time afforded to Dwayne De Rosario.

Prediction: Draw.

Real Salt Lake @ Los Angeles (10:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview

Team news: RSL – Nat Borchers (doubtful – left quadriceps strain), Will Johnson (out – right adductor strain), Javier Morales (questionable – right quadriceps strain), Jamison Olave (uncertain – groin strain) Álvaro Saborío (questionable – right knee internal injury) Chris Wingert (doubtful – facial laceration); LA – Omar Gonzalez (out – left knee surgery), Leonardo (out – right knee surgery)

Overview: The fitness and selection concerns on both sides rob this match of some of its luster. Both teams possess enough depth to keep things entertaining, but it's difficult to see exactly how things will shake out with all of the upheaval.

Prediction: Draw.

New England @ San Jose (10:30p.m.) – Goal.com match preview

Team news: NE – Jose Moreno (out – visa paperwork), Sainey Nyassi (out – left hamstring strain), Saer Sene (out – left knee swelling), Chris Tierney (suspended); SJ – Víctor Bernárdez (questionable – right ankle sprain)

Overview: Jay Heaps will name a starting XI for the first time as a MLS coach. At this point, he'd probably like to have the forward options at Frank Yallop's disposal after omitting his projected front two from the travel squad. Bet on Chris Wondolowski to find modest allotments of space from a Revs side that likes to push forward and sustain his goalscoring form from the past two seasons.

Prediction: San Jose win.

Sunday

New York @ FC Dallas (3:00p.m., NBC Sports Network) – Goal.com preview

Team news: NY – Wilman Conde (out – right quadriceps strain), Rafa Marquez (suspended), Ryan Meara (available – broken nose), Luke Rodgers (out – visa issues); FCD – David Ferreira (out – right ankle), Scott Sealy (out – right knee)

Overview: The outcome of this particular match rests upon the success enjoyed in the wide areas. FCD enjoys the edge in terms of raw pace (though not against Dane Richards), but the Red Bulls benefit from higher levels of craft. It could turn out as a wash in the end. Another factor worth watching: masked rookie Meara's composure if he earns the start and makes his professional debut.

Prediction: Draw.

Houston @ Chivas USA (7:00p.m., Galavision) – Goal.com preview

Team news: HOU – Brad Davis (available – right quadriceps tear recovery); CHV – Juan Pablo Angel (available – new contract signed on Thursday), Nick LaBrocca (probable – right leg contusion), James Riley (probable – left ankle sprain)

Overview: This match represents a golden opportunity for Houston to kick off its season-opening, seven-match road trip in some style. Davis' sharpness will prove crucial as the Dynamo plot to expose the accommodating Red-and-White back four.

Prediction: Houston win.

Monday

Philadelphia @ Portland (9:30p.m., ESPN2/ESPN Deportes)

Team news: PHL – None; POR – Kris Boyd (probable – right ankle sprain), Futty Danso (out – fractured left foot), Darlington Nagbe (questionable – right ankle sprain), Sal Zizzo (out – left ACL surgery)

Overview: Boyd will likely think he has returned to Scotland when he experiences the brusque treatment afforded to him by Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes. If Boyd can occupy both men at times, he'll leave plenty of space for Jorge Perlaza to exploit against a Union side still adjusting to those offseason departures.

Prediction: Portland win.
 
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