This was the calendar-marking, travel-planning, rivalry-stoking week of the offseason: Major League Soccer released the official 2011 regular-season schedule on Thursday.
While that development topped the week’s news and sent anticipation skyrocketing, there was plenty of other action, including another round of preseason games, a slate of player acquisitions (along with trialists and big-name rumors), and the ongoing sagas of Charlie Davies and David Beckham—the latter of whom decided to extend his training stint with Tottenham until Feb. 24.
Off we go.
A few notable 2011 schedule facts:
• The ESPN family of networks will televise 21 games, with an additional eight “windows” to broadcast international matches involving MLS clubs.
• Galavision and TeleFutura will broadcast 30 MLS games, plus the All-Star Game on July 27.
• MLS will break for three FIFA international fixture dates—Aug. 10, Sept. 3-4, and Oct. 8-9.
• Sporting Kansas City will open the season with 10 consecutive road games while construction crews fit the final rivets in their brand new stadium, scheduled to open in June. Coach Peter Vermes said he was unconcerned, but his team will have to be sharp to avoid falling off the pace during the longest road trip in league history.
• Real Salt Lake requested and received a home-heavy setup in the early going to minimize travel while they compete in the CONCACAF Champions League. As a result, RSL will play at home only four times after Aug. 1, with nine road games in that period, including four in a row during one stretch.
[inline_node:328673]Mark Your Calendars
Here’s our short list of the top early-season fixtures, following First Kick on March 15, when Landon Donovan, Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel and the Galaxy visit Seattle:
March 19: Canada Derby
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Toronto FC. This one echoes history (both cities had NASL franchises), opens a new era, and kick-starts the battle for North-of-the-Border bragging rights. It’s the highlight of the league-wide opening weekend—which could also feature the MLS debut of Davies (more on him shortly).
March 26: Bonanza
The busiest day in league history, with nine games and all 18 teams in action. It won’t happen again in 2011.
April 19: Timber!
Portland Timbers vs Chicago Fire. This is the home opener for the expansion Timbers in newly renovated PGE Park. PGE was home to the NASL’s Timbers and the site of Pelé’s last professional game, in 1977. Expect bedlam in Rose City. The Timbers have already sold more than 11,000 season tickets.
May 7: Hello Again
Los Angeles Galaxy vs New York Red Bulls. This match has a little bit of everything: Designated Player battles, LA vs. NY, and, of course, Ángel vs his old team. We’re also hoping TV cameras catch Red Bull midfielder John Rooney’s double-take when he gets a glimpse of Galaxy striker Chad Barrett. (Wayne?)
May 14: Cascadia Kickoff
Seattle Sounders FC vs Portland Timbers. The first MLS meeting between the longtime Northwest rivals. Believe the hype: Regardless of how the teams’ win-loss records compare at the time, this game will be hotly contested.
After undergoing a doctors’ evaluation in Washington on Thursday, Charlie Davies returned to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a Saturday scrimmage with D.C. United against Trinidad and Tobago’s U-20 national team.
Showing no signs of travel-weariness or medical issues, Davies jumped off the bench and scored two goals and set up another in 45 minutes of action, leading the Black-and-Red to a 4-0 rout.
Reports out of DC suggest that United intend to sign Davies to a one-year loan deal.
There’s no doubt he aced the audition, setting up three goals and scoring three in three preseason games (including an intrasquad scrimmage).
The week’s preseason action began with a goal from Vancouver’s 17-year-old striker, Omar Salgado, and ended with one by Philadelphia’s 16-year-old midfielder, Zach Pfeffer.
Salgado, the No. 1 pick in last month’s SuperDraft, headed in a cross from Atiba Harris to give the Whitecaps a 2-1 win over Columbus on Tuesday, while Pfeffer drilled a 35-yard rocket into the upper corner to give Philly a 1-0 victory over Central Florida University on Sunday, calling it the best goal he’s ever scored.
In between, Houston trounced FC Dallas 4-0 in a scrappy preseason Texas derby; Chivas USA lost to Seattle 1-0 on a goal by second-year man David Estrada; and Sporting Kansas City battled Colorado to a scoreless draw.
Leading the week’s incoming-player news was US international striker Kenny Cooper, who officially joined Portland this past Thursday. Cooper was an MLS Best XI selection after scoring 18 goals for FC Dallas in 2008, and he bagged 40 in 90 appearances with the Hoops over four seasons. He returns to MLS after two injury-marred seasons in Germany.
While Cooper grabbed most of the headlines, several other talented players signed or were on the verge of signing with the league. New England inked 34-year-old French central midfielder Ousmane Dabo, a veteran of Serie A (Lazio, among others) and the Premier League (Manchester City). Real Salt Lake acquired former Everton reserve striker Cody Arnoux via weighted lottery on Friday. Arnoux scored 17 goals in 24 games for ACC power Wake Forest in 2008.
Kansas City took a long look at veteran Brazilian center back Santos Correa, who’s been on the books at Real Madrid, AC Milan, Benfica and Bolton, while Colorado auditioned Republic of Ireland and former Hull City striker Caleb Folan, a physically imposing striker.
Chivas USA welcomed Guillermo “Memo” Torres, 19-year-old brother of US international Jose, into camp, and the Red Bulls appeared close to signing 31-year-old Finnish international Teemu Tainio, who’s played for Ajax, Tottenham and Sunderland.
(Related: Does any nation have better names than Finland? If Tainio does sign with New York, he’ll join the long line of North American–based Finnish athletes that includes, among others, Teppo Numinen, Kimmo Timonen and Risto Siltanen. It’s like J.R.R. Tolkien and the Marx Brothers are in charge of Finnish names.)
Finally, in the rumors department, the names of Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos (to Los Angeles) and German goal poacher Miroslav Klose (to Red Bull New York) churned through the mill this past week.
You never know, of course, but for now, these items make us think of Kobe Bryant’s response when asked about reports that Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony would sign with the Lakers: “They’re rumors. We might as well talk about UFOs, too.”