The 2011 Major League Soccer season will get underway at Qwest Field, where the Seattle Sounders look to avenge their league futility against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
There is no doubt, however, that the Colorado Rapids are the team to beat this year. When you are the defenders of the Philip J. Anschutz Trophy, you paint a big X on your back, and everyone is gunning for your star.
Out of 18 teams, only one can lay claim to the top of MLS, and so Bleacher Report gives you a preview of who will finish where this season.
Not too much is expected out of John Spencer's Portland Timbers as they make the jump from the United Soccer Leagues, but don't tell that to the Timbers Army.
They will tell you that there is plenty to play for, and some surprises may be in the way.
While he plies his trade as a mortgage loan processor on the side, goalkeeper Troy Perkins, selected from D.C. United, should start for the Timbers as they begin their inaugural MLS campaign against the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids.
Gambian international Mamadou Danso was with Portland during their USL/USSF2 days and will be a force in the back, along with England import Kerrea Gilbert. Eric Brunner and Rodney wallace bring depth and experience.
After impressing with the Puerto Rico Islanders on loan, David Horst returns for one more go in MLS after playing with Real Salt Lake from 2008-10.
Joining Brunner from the Columbus Crew is midfielder Adam Moffat, who will be counted on for his dispossessing ability and skill as a playmaker.
Ghanaian international Khalif Alhassan and Haitian international James Marcelin get their first exposure to MLS after playing for the Timbers in the USL First Division and USSF Division 2.
Portland's biggest strength lies in its attack. The team has a number of capable finishers in Kenny Cooper, Bright Dike, England international Eddie Johnson and SuperDraft selection Darlington Nagbe.
Nagbe, a Liberian international, was a member of the 2010 Akron men's soccer team that won the NCAA College Cup.
The Timbers' season opener at Commerce City will take place on Saturday, Mar. 19. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET.
Could Omar Salgado be the Whitecaps' salvation?
Teitur Thordarson and his ilk zipped by the Zips when they made their first selection, going with a 17-year old forward from the USA Under-20 national team.
As the top pick in the draft, a whole city—no, a whole PROVINCE—will ride on the ability of this forward. Salgado does have, however, a capable supporting cast.
Veteran goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who was a part of the San Jose Earthquakes side that progressed as far as the Eastern Conference Championship last season, should start in front of the net.
The back line is led by captain Jay DeMerit and features USL/USSF2 holdovers Greg Janicki and Jonathan Leathers.
Look for SuperDraft selections Santiago Bedoya, and Bilal Duckett to make an impact in their rookie seasons.
Former FC Dallas standout Atiba Harris anchors the midfield, which also features Shea Salinas and John Thorrington.
Local Canadians include Joe Anderson, Philippe Davies and Terry Dunfield. Michael Nanchoff is another rookie who could break through after a successful run with Akron.
Vancouver begins their season on Mar. 19 against Toronto FC at Empire Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.
2010 was a slumping season for Ben Olsen's DC United, but they may have their pick-me-up in midfielder Perry Kitchen from Akron.
Steve Cronin should see a majority of playing time as the team's netminder, with Julius James, Jed Zayner, Dejan Jakovic and Devon McTavish anchoring the backline.
On loan from Argentina's Racing Club is Uruguayan international Rodrigo Brasesco, who should help alleviate the holes that plagued the defense last season.
Branko Boskovic was a non-factor in turning the club's fortunes around, but with a new season around the corner, that all could change.
Kurt Morsink and last year's Rookie of the Year Andy Najar should also be ones to watch. Dax McCarty joins DC from FC Dallas and will bolster the depth in the midfield.
Forwards Joseph Ngwenya, Chris Pontius and Josh Wolff need to increase their output if DC United are to contend for this year's star.
DC United open their 2011 season at home to the Columbus Crew. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Mar. 19 at RFK Stadium.
It was a year to forget for Chivas USA, who sacked manager Martin Vasquez after just one year on the job.
To make matters worse, Jonathan Bornstein took off for Tigres UANL after a four-year run with the club.
New manager Robin Fraser—a former MLS defender and assistant to Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake—has been given a tough challenge in managing a side who has, throughout history, been overshadowed by its more prominent tenant, the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Aging goalkeeper Zach Thornton may be giving way to rising backup Dan Kennedy this season.
Joining the Goats from Puntarenas FC on loan is Costa Rican defender Dario Delgado, who will look to take some slack off Michael Umana, Ante Jazic, Mariano Trujillo and Yamith Cuesta.
Midfielders to watch for Chivas USA include Paulo Nagamura, Rodolfo Espinoza, Jorge Flores, Blair Gavin and Sal Zizzo. As a unit, the midfield was a mess under Vasquez and some restructuring will need to be in order.
Forward Maykel Galindo has been losing his form lately and will need to pick his game up, and the same can be said of Jesus Padilla and Alan Gordon.
They will have help in the form of former Los Angeles Galaxy forward Tristan Bowen and Ecuadorian international/SuperDraft selection Victor Estupinan. Look for Estupinan to make a splash in his rookie outing.
Chivas begin their 2011 season at home to Sporting Kansas City. Kickoff at the Home Depot Center is scheduled for Mar. 19 at 10:30 p.m. ET.
It was a modest inaugural year for Piotr Nowak's Philadelphia Union, and the key word of their campaign this year is improvement.
Brad Knighton should start in goal for the Union, and with one year under their belts, the defense—which features captain Danny Califf, Cristian Arrieta, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Jordan Harvey and Michael Orozco Fiscal—will aim to be a bit more tenacious against opposing attacks.
Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Roger Torres and Justin Mapp anchor a midfield with potential and should get a boost with the additions of former Crew standout Brian Carroll and SuperDraft selection Michael Farfan.
Sebastien Le Toux was a scoring machine for the Union last year and should continue his form in 2011. Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney will look to provide support up front for Philly.
The Union begin their season on the road to face the Houston Dynamo. Kickoff is scheduled for Mar. 19, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
You have to give the Revs organization credit for sticking to manager Steve Nicol after another underwhelming season at the helm.
Perhaps it was their effort in the SuperLiga that kept the longest-tenured manager in MLS watching from the bench at Gillette Stadium.
However, the pressure is on Nicol to deliver, and he will need to see increased production from the midfield and from the forwards.
Though he is known by his peers as a jokester, goalkeeper Matt Reis will be keen to not mess around when making stops.
Reis will look to get help from defenders like Ryan Cochrane, Kevin Alston, Seth Sinovic and Darrius Barnes. French international Didier Domi will be a player to watch in the Revs back line.
Captain Shalrie Joseph's leadership will be needed in the midfield, which features Chris Tierney, Serbia's Marko Perovic, the Gambian pair in Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally and Pat Phelan.
Zimbabwean forward Kheli Dube needs to up his production to up New England's chances to lift the cup up. Watch for Zack Schilawski to provide support up top.
The Revs start the year on the road to face the Los Angeles Galaxy. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 20 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Dominic Kinnear's Houston Dynamo slumped to a seventh-place finish in the MLS Western Conference, and the only way to go is up.
Goalkeeper Tally Hall will need support from a back line that features Eddie Robinson, Jordan Graye, Mike Chabala, Andre Hainault and Bobby Boswell.
SuperDraft selection Kofi Sarkodie is primed for a solid rookie campaign and will add help on defense.
Jamaican international Lovel Palmer anchors a midfield that includes Corey Ashe, Geoff Cameron, Colin Clark and Brad Davis.
Jason Garey joins the Houston attack from Columbus, joining Cam Weaver and captain Brian Ching. SuperDraft selection Will Bruin could see some playing time as a forward.
Houston start their 2011 season at home to the Philadelphia Union. Kickoff at Robertson Stadium is scheduled for Mar. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
In spite of laying claim as the best team in Canada, Toronto FC finished on the outside looking in last season and jettisoned outgoing manager Preki. Formely the manager of the Ajax Amsterdam reserve side, Aron Winter now takes the reins.
Swiss sensation Stefan Frei will see a majority of time as the starting goalkeeper and will draw on support from a backline that includes Nana Attakora, Dan Gargan, Ty Harden and Adrian Cann. Newcomer Demitrius Omphroy will bolster depth in this department.
Team captain Dwayne De Rosario leads the midfield, which features Julian de Guzman, Nick LaBrocca and Jacob Peterson. Nathan Sturgis joins TFC from Seattle.
If Brazil's Maicon Santos can get his numbers up, Toronto's attack will be in good hands.
Joao Plata, an Ecuadorian forward, could have a breakout year supporting Maicon.
Toronto hits the road to begin their 2011 season, as they face the expansion-side Vancouver Whitecaps. Kickoff at Empire Field in Vancouver is scheduled for Mar. 19 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Carlos De Los Cobos's Chicago Fire aim for a year of resurgence as they prepare for their 2011 MLS campaign.
The Fire finished fourth in the MLS Eastern Conference and look to bounce back in a big way.
Sean Johnson is a young goalkeeper whose star is rising and will most likely handle stopping duties this season for Chicago. The defense is led by Cory Gibbs and features Dasan Robinson and Gonzalo Segares.
Newcomer Josip Mikulic should make an impact in the back line, as will SuperDraft selection Jalil Anibaba.
Logan Pause leads the Fire midfield, which includes Marco Pappa, Mike Banner, Corben Bone and Baggio Husidic.
A newcomer that could impress for the Fire is former Carolina Railhawk Daniel Paladini. Paladini is no stranger to the league, having prior stints with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA.
Patrick Nyarko leads the Fire attack, with Calen Carr providing support. Here is where Chicago may have issues in terms of depth.
Draftees Sam Arthur, Jason Herrick, Davis Paul and Amani Walker could be given their baptism by...you finish the sentence.
Chicago opens their 2011 season on the road against MLS Western Conference champions FC Dallas in the renewal of the Brimstone Cup. Kickoff at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas is scheduled for Mar. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
A new season brings a new name, a new logo, a new stadium, and overall a new outlook for Peter Vermes's Sporting Kansas City, who will move into their own soccer-specific stadium in June of this year.
But will the rebranding turn into a high return on investment?
Time will tell.
Danish international Jimmy Nielsen comes into 2011 as the starting goalkeeper for Sporting. Defensively, Michael Harrington, Jamaican Shavar Thomas, Matt Besler and Chance Myers form a backline that will need to limit opponents' production, something that the team lacked this season.
Team captain Davy Arnaud leads a strong midfield, which features Ryan Smith, Jack Jewsbury, Roger Espinoza, Craig Rocastle, Graham Zusi and Birahim Diop.
The play of Mexico's Omar Bravo will be critical to Sporting's success this season. He will have a couple of go-to guys in Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara.
SuperDraft selection C.J. Sapong adds another element to the Sporting attack and could play a role in Vermes's game plans in his rookie year.
Sporting Kansas City begins their 2011 season on the road to face Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center. Kickoff is scheduled for Mar. 19 at 10:30 p.m. ET.
It's just another year at the office if you're San Jose Earthquakes manager Frank Yallop. After all, when you defeat the best team in the Eastern Conference and lose to the eventual MLS Cup Champions, you have to think, Oh yes, it's more of the same.
The Quakes will look to put the pressure of the teams above them in the preseason power rankings, and forward Chris Wondolowski leads the way.
Goalkeeper Jon Busch is expected to keep his job as starting goalkeeper for San Jose.
The defense is led by vice-captain Jason Hernandez and features Bobby Burling, Chris Leitch, Ike Opara and Brandon McDonald.
Team captain Ramiro Corrales, along with Bobby Convey, form the heart of the midfield, which also features Joey Gjertsen, Andre Luiz and Sam Cronin. The midfielder should be in good hands with the addition of SuperDraft selection Anthony Ampaipitakwong.
Chris Wondolowski led all scorers with 18 goals and is primed to continue his form as the team's main catalyst. Steven Lenhart joins San Jose from the Crew.
If Trinidadian Scott Sealy and Jamaican Ryan Johnson are able to take the scoring slack off of Wondo, the Quakes will be a force to be reckoned with in 2011.
The Earthquakes open their year at home against Real Salt Lake. Kickoff from Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California is scheduled for Mar. 19 at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Sigi Schmid's Seattle Sounders may have defended their U.S. Open Cup, but it was nothing more than a mere consolation price in a season silenced by the Galaxy and Edson Buddle.
Well, Sounders fans...Edson is gone. Thank you. You may go back to your regularly-scheduled attendance-record setting, soon to be in progress.
All joking aside, the boys in Rave Green will look to improve on their fortunes and raise havoc in MLS. Of course, avoiding another embarassing call for refunds is high priority as well.
And to do that, they need an improved effort from their defense.
Team captain Kasey Keller is expected to win the starting goalkeeper's job once again, and Keller will need support from his back line.
Seattle's defense is anchored by Patrick Ianni and James Riley and features Costa Rica's Leo Gonzalez, Jeff Parke, and Colombia's Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who will look to bounce back fron injury.
Julien Baudet and Danny Earls come to the Sounders from the Colorado Rapids and should provide additional depth in this department, to go with the additions of SuperDraft selections Michael Tetteh and Leone Cruz.
In the midfield, look for Brad Evans, Cuban international Osvaldo Alonso and Uruguayan international Alvaro Fernandez to dictate the pace and provide chances for Steve Zakuani.
Mike Seamon's star is rising with the Sounders, and watch for him to flourish as a midfielder donning the Rave Green.
Sometimes the best go through a slump. But they are the best when they snap out of it in a big way.
Colombian Fredy Montero has a chance to do that as a member of the Sounders. Montero, fellow Colombian Miguel Montano and Switzerland's Blaise Nkufo form a triple-threat for opposing defenses.
Jamaican O'Brian White will look to bolster the Sounders' offensive production.
Seattle kicks off their 2011 season with MLS FirstKick on Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2011, when they look to exorcise the ghosts of last year against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Qwest Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET and will be televised by ESPN.
Robert Warzycha's Columbus Crew not only have the 2011 MLS season to worry about, but also the CONCACAF Champions League...and a meeting with Real Salt Lake in the quarterfinals.
But while the year begins in the confines of Crew stadium for America's Hardest-Working Team, the league year starts on the road against D.C. United.
(A disclaimer: These Power Rankings do not factor in the Champions League, just to let you know.)
In any case, the pressure will be on Warzycha to deliver winning results to his constituents, who are getting restless with every passing match. Oh yes, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto returned to Argentina.
Will Hesmer will start in goal for the Crew, with Andy Gruenebaum providing solid depth. The backline is anchored by Danny O'Rourke and Chad Marshall and features England international Andy Iro and Jamaican Shaun Francis.
Adding depth to the defense is Chilean international Sebastian Miranda and SuperDraft selection Rich Balchan.
The Crew midfield is led by Eddie Gaven and includes Nigerian Emmanuel Ekpo and Robbie Rogers. It will be interesting to see if France's Leandre Griffit will play a part in Columbus's Cup prospects.
Newcomers Andy Adlard, Cole Grossman and Venezuelan Bernardo Anor could see time in the midfield for the Crew.
Journeyman forward Jeff Cunningham, one of the most celebrated strikers in the history of the league, falls in with a set of Columbus forwards that include Peru's Andres Mendoza and Venezuelan Emilio Renteria.
SuperDraft selection Justin Meram and signee Tommy Heinemann provide depth up front.
The Crew's season-opening match with DC is on Mar. 19 at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
There is a reason the MLS Eastern Conference was relatively weak last season.
The regular season conference champions, the New York Red Bulls, could not even get past their own semifinal, losing to the San Jose Earthquakes on aggregate.
Hans Backe's men will look to regain their focus and steer momentum back to Harrison, New Jersey in 2011.
Senegalese goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul should start in goal for the Red Bulls. New York's defense is led by Tim Ream and features Costa Rica's Roy Miller, Chris Albright, South African Danleigh Borman, Carlos Mendes and New Zealander Andrew Boyens.
Newcomers who will provide depth to the backline include SuperDraft selections Billy Cortes and Tyler Lassiter.
An international flair dominates the Red Bull midfield, which includes Bosnia's Sinisa Ubiparovic, Moroccan Mehdi Ballouchy, Estonian Joel Lindpere, Cameroonian Tony Tchani, Welshman Carl Robinson, Denmark's Brian Nielsen, and of course, Mexico's very own Rafael Marquez.
Oh, and did we mention that Wayne Rooney's younger brother John is on this team?
Yes, we just did.
Another newcomer that should contend for time in the midfield is Brazil's Marcos Paullo.
Thierry Henry will look to increase his production as a primary forward in the lineup. Young up-and-comer Juan Agudelo, Georgian Giorgi Chirgadze, Ghanaian Salou Ibrahim and SuperDraft selection Corey Hetzog will support Henry up front.
Troubled England international Luke Rodgers rejoins his old manager, Hans Backe, who used to manage Football League One side Notts County.
They have the players. Now all they need are the results. New York begins their 2011 year on Mar. 19 against the Seattle Sounders. Kickoff at Red Bull Arena is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Jason Kreis's Real Salt Lake saw their MLS Cup defense stopped in its tracks by FC Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals last season.
While their year gets a jump start with a quarterfinal tie against the Columbus Crew in February, the road to redemption will really begin when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes to open the year.
Nick Rimando has been a stalwart in goal for RSL in 2010, and will be primed to reprise his heroics in 2011.
Nat Borchers leads a backline that features Jamison Olave, Robbie Russell, Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert.
Team captain Kyle Beckerman headlines a solid RSL midfield that includes Jamaica's Andy Williams, Argentina's Javier Morales, Salvadoran Arturo Alvarez, Haitian Jean Alexandre, Canadian Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy.
Argentina's Fabian Espindola and Costa Rica's Alvaro Saborio anchor Real Salt lake's attack. Their scoring prowess and ball-handling ability potentially makes them one of the most powerful scoring tandems this year.
Real Salt Lake's match against San Jose will take place on Mar. 19 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Kickoff is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. ET.
Bruce Arena's Los Angeles Galaxy may have won the 2010 MLS Supporters Shield, but even with Edson Buddle providing a good deal of the scoring and Landon Donovan providing a good deal of the assists...the G's could not even defend their own conference trophy, let alone challenge for the MLS Cup.
Ironically, the last two teams LA lost to in the regular season—Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas—met each other in the 2010 MLS Cup Final in Toronto.
Thus, LA's place at No. 3 in the preseason power rankings.
Buddle, however, has taken the first flight to Germany, and with the addition of the ageing Juan Pablo Angel, the question remains: How will the Galaxy do without the American Pele notching home the goals?
Nevermind that assistant coach Cobi Jones took the next flight to New York to join the Cosmos.
In any case, the message is clear: someone needs to step up...and fast.
2010 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Donovan Ricketts will need to improve on his work as the G's main netminder. He has a capable backup in Josh Saunders.
The backline of Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant, and A.J. De La Garza will get some support from Columbus's Frankie Hejduk, who returns home for one final curtain call.
Brazilians Leonardo and Alex Cazumba are still on loan from Sao Paulo, and could use another year of experience in the blue and gold.
David Beckham leads a midfield that is in need of some production and execution. Trinidadian Chris Birchall did not have a solid year and must improve his play.
If the Galaxy can take Juninho off his loan and sign him to a contract, more developing depth could be secured.
In the event that Juninho has to return to Sao Paulo, Plan B has been made ready in the form of draft selections Paulo Cardozo (a Uruguayan international), Hector Jimenez, New Zealander Daniel Keat and Dustin McCarty, the younger brother of DC United's Dax McCarty.
The duo of Donovan and Angel headline the Galaxy attack, which includes Jovan Kirovski and Chad Barrett, the latter acquired from Toronto FC.
Donovan, Angel and Beckham form one of the most lethal tandems in the league when they are on their game.
And this tandem will look to get the show on the road when they face the Seattle Sounders. Oh yes, the same Seattle Sounders they placed the refund sticker on. Yes, those Seattle Sounders.
Kickoff at Qwest Field in Seattle is scheduled for Mar. 15 at 9:30 p.m. ET.
So close...and yet so far.
The best team in the Western Conference playoff-wise could not defeat one of its own for the right to be named MLS Cup Champions.
And so Schellas Hyndman's FC Dallas go back on the quest for their first star. And Hyndman has a talented group of players at his disposal.
Veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman continues his work at the Hoops' main netminder. Defensively, FC Dallas is strong.
Led by captain Daniel Hernandez, FC Dallas's backline includes Ugo Ihemelu, Heath Pearce, Colombia's Jair Benitez, Brazilian Jackson Goncalves, George John and Zach Loyd.
The midfield is where FC Dallas will look to improve their play in. Led by Brek Shea, the FCD midfield features Eric Avila, Eric Alexander, Brazilian Bruno Guarda and Honduran Marvin Chavez.
Draftees Charlie Campbell, Kekoa Osorio, Nigerian Paul Ogunyemi and Uruguay's Brayan Martinez will play a role in providing depth among the midfielders.
Last year's league MVP, David Ferreira, is back and ready to challenge for the one trophy that got away—the MLS Cup.
With fellow Colombian Milton Rodriguez, they form a combination that can finish at will and score with consistency.
Could 2011 be the year for Dallas? Will the wait finally be over? Stay tuned...
FC Dallas opens their season on Mar. 19 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco against the Chicago Fire. Kickoff for this renewal of the Brimstone Cup is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.
After a long wait, soccer fans in the Centennial State got to see their Colorado Rapids lift the Philip J. Anschutz Trophy last season.
Now as defending MLS Cup champions, the rest of the league have put Gary Smith's Rapids on notice. "They want your cup. Prepare yourselves. That is all."
Of course, the team did get the memo: After all, most of the pieces from that MLS Cup champion side are back for another go.
Goalkeeper Matt Pickens is expected to mind the net this year, with Ian Joyce waiting in the wings. Also returning to the fold is the backline of Drew Moore, Anthony Wallace, Marvell Wynne and Scott Palguta.
A newcomer to watch in defense is SuperDraft selection Eddie Ababio. Jamaican Tyrone Marshall also joins the Rapids from the Seattle Sounders.
Captain Pablo Mastroeni and Scotsman Jamie Smith headline the midfield, which includes Jedd Larentowicz, Brian Mullan, Wells Thompson, and rising Japanese international Kosuke Kimura.
Joining the Rapids are Gambian Sanna Nyuassi from Seattle and Joseph Nane from Toronto FC.
The scoring tandem of Jamaican Omar Cummings and Conor Casey was critical to Colorado coveting the Cup in Canada last season. Those two are back.
Also returning to the Rapids are Senegal's Macoumba Kandji, Quincy Amarikwa and Andre Akpan. Draftee and Englander Phil Bannister adds extra depth to the Rapids attack.
Colorado opens their 2011 MLS title defense on Mar. 19 when they face the expansion Portland Timbers at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET.
Next Power Rankings: Week One, Mar. 21, 2011