A new season of MLS action begins this weekend and there’s plenty to keep your eyes on, with new signings, new coaches and plenty of excitement.
Defending champions Atlanta United are among the favourites to go all the way again but they will face a stern test from the likes of the New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC, all of whom are tipped as contenders to take their crown.
There’s also another new franchise in the league after FC Cincinnati took the league’s tally to 24, with further expansion in the coming years with Inter Miami CF and Nashville set to join the league in 2020 and Austin FC to follow in 2021.
We have dived into all of the opening fixtures below.
Philadelphia Union v Toronto FC (Saturday, 18:00 GMT)
It’s all change in Philadelphia, where a new system is putting trust in the youth as they seek to find stability. Mexico international Marco Fabian arrives as the new face of the franchise and they have a good platform to build upon after their club-record points haul last season.
They are contenders to make the playoffs but hosting Eastern Conference rivals Toronto is a difficult start, despite the precarious position the Canadian franchise find themselves in after losing Sebastian Giovinco – and have so far failed to land a new designated player to replace him.
Orlando City v New York City FC (Saturday, 19:30 GMT)
Nani’s arrival has provided a new lease of life to Orlando City, who have seen their first few MLS seasons fail to offer much. With Dom Dwyer also in the attack, Orlando are a threat in front of goal but they are still not expected to advance to the postseason for the first time in their history.
NYCFC, meanwhile, are entering a new era as the departures of David Villa and Tommy McNamara meaning none of their original expansion squad remains. In their places come Alexandru Mitrita and Keaton Parks but it is not clear how they will cope with their restructuring.
Columbus Crew v New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 21:30 GMT)
Off the field last season, the big news was Columbus’ ‘save the crew’ campaign and they achieved their goal. A new owner, club hierarchy and a new coach give Columbus a decent platform to build upon this season, especially after their playoff campaign last term.
However, the Red Bulls are widely tipped as the favourite for MLS glory this season after their league record for a single-season points haul last year. Still chasing their first MLS title, Bradley Wright-Phillips and company are certainly ones to watch in 2019.
FC Dallas v New England Revolution (Saturday, 21:30 GMT)
With a focus on a young, vibrant side, FC Dallas have a team that could be exciting in the coming years but 2019 is likely to be too soon. Former academy director Luchi Gonzalez is now the manager and he has a number of homegrown talents ready to make a breakthrough.
While New England dominates in the NFL, the MLS side has not quite had the same impact. Former United States international Brad Friedel is set for his second campaign in charge and he has a squad of his own making to work with, adding Carles Gil and Juan Fernando Caicedo to their attack.
Colorado Rapids v Portland Timbers (Saturday, 23:00 GMT)
The Rapids struggled to score goals last season but the additions of Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio should erase that problem this term. Tim Howard is set for his last season before retirement and Colorado could be outsiders for a playoff spot.
Meanwhile, Portland fell just short of success last season and this term could be difficult, as a rejuvenation to their home stadium means the first 12 matches will be played on the road. However, the fact that the second half of their season will be home-heavy could be an advantage.
Vancouver Whitecaps v Minnesota United (Saturday, 23:00 GMT)
A significant makeover in Vancouver saw 15 new arrivals and 21 departures, with a relatively unknown squad consisting of 12 new faces from different countries. Getting that new-look side to gel is a heck of a challenge.
Meanwhile, Minnesota enters the final year of their three-year plan and have the opening of their new stadium to look forward to in April. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone is among the new arrivals, with the franchise looking for more stability in defence.
Houston Dynamo v Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 23:00 GMT)
After winning the US Open Cup in 2018, Houston have a decent shot of success this year and major positives were secured in the offseason as Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas remain in the squad. While their attack is strong, their defence is shaky and that could be their undoing.
Upsetting LAFC in the playoffs and giving Kansas City a run for their money, Real Salt Lake should they had the capability last season but their instability, having won just one of their last six regular season matches, is a big problem.
LA Galaxy v Chicago Fire (Sunday, 01:00 GMT)
After missing out on the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, LA Galaxy are in an unnatural position. However, a full season with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the attack is certainly nothing to complain about and the MLS’ all-time most successful side are in the hunt for more honours this term.
Injuries derailed Chicago last season but the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Veljko Paunovic leaves the franchise with one of the best front-sixes in MLS and, if they can remain firm at the back, playoff football is in their sights this season.
Seattle Sounders v FC Cincinnati (Sunday, 03:00 GMT)
Slow starters in recent years, Seattle are expected to come out of the blocks flying this season and the Sounders are among the favourites to lead the way in the Western Conference with the likes of Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro leading the way.
FC Cincinnati enter as the league’s 24th team and a road trip to Seattle is one of the hardest fixtures they could have been given. Jumping right in at the deep end, the new franchise has a very experienced squad but isn’t tipped to make many waves in their inaugural campaign.
San Jose Earthquakes v Montreal Impact (Sunday, 03:00 GMT)
Finishing with the lowest points tally last season, the Earthquakes are set for a fresh start and the only way is up. However, there wasn’t much movement in the squad in the offseason and it means it’s the same group, with Chris Wondowloski one goal short of Landon Donovan‘s all-time MLS scoring record.
Meanwhile, Montreal will be relying heavily on Ignacio Piatti but it could be his last season in MLS. The Canadian franchise could still be contenders to make the playoffs this season but, excluding Piatti, they lack recognised stars.
D.C. United v Atlanta United (Sunday, 23:00 GMT)
With Wayne Rooney leading the line and with Luciano Acosta in support, D.C. United are certainly no pushovers and could be outsiders this season. However, they find themselves in a very strong Eastern Conference and a playoff spot is likely the best they can achieve.
After success last season, Atlanta are tipped among the contenders once again and replacing Miguel Almiron with Pity Martinez is hardly a bad move. With Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco also in the mix, Atlanta could certainly defend their crown.
Los Angeles FC v Sporting Kansas City (Monday, 01:30 GMT)
Last season was a success for LAFC and will definitely be a tough act to follow but a squad boasting the likes of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Andre Horta should not be overlooked. With Walter Zimmerman at the back, the core squad is strong.
Kansas City played some of the best football last season and, if it wasn’t for Atlanta, probably would have won MLS. Still boasting a very strong squad, they should be the powerhouse in the Western Conference this season.