Yes, folks - the day that we have so long awaited has finally arrived. No, not the home opener inside the beautiful, new Livestrong Sporting Park; that will have to wait another 81 days (and yes, I am counting). Of course I'm talking about MLS First Kick 2011, here. Kansas City fans will see their newly rebranded Sporting Kansas City (formerly Kansas City Wizards) travel to Los Angeles to take on Chivas USA in their first of 10 road games to open the season.
Outside of being each club's season opener, you needn't look far to find the biggest storyline of this Week 1 matchup. Chivas USA defender Jimmy Conrad was the stalwart of the Wizards' defense for eight long seasons, as well the overwhelming face of the franchise. Somewhat controversially the team chose not to offer Conrad a new contract following the 2010 season after his previous deal expired. For the first time in over a decade (since the year 2000), Jimmy Conrad will play an MLS match against Kansas City. Let that sink in for a second, Sporting KC faithful.
SKC technical director/head coach Peter Vermes won't let that underlying plot get in the way of his team's forward progress, as he attempts to lead the club that won the 2000 MLS Cup championship back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Anything less than a playoff appearance in 2011 will be considered an absolute bust of a season. Vermes isn't capping his season ambitions at simply making the playoffs, though. He believes his squad are hardware contenders.
On the other side of the coin, Chivas are looking to climb their way back up the league standings, away from last year's debacle, which was the club's first time missing the playoffs since its expansion year in 2005. As Kansas City fans experienced from 2009 to 2010, the Goats are in the midst of a coaching takeover. 10-year Major League Soccer veteran Robin Fraser, at just 44 years of age, took over as the club's new head coach in January. As much as any team in the league, Fraser has his work cut out for him.
Team Injury Reports
SPORTING KANSAS CITY - OUT: MF Ryan Smith (L knee inflamation; DF Korede Aiyegbusi (L ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Michael Harrington* (L groin strain); FW Teal Bunbury (R elbow dislocation); PROBABLE: DF C.J. Sapong (neck strain)
CHIVAS USA - OUT: MF Paulo Nagamura (L calf strain); DOUBTFUL: MF Mike Lahoud (R knee laceration); QUESTIONABLE: MF Simon Elliott (R knee sprain)
*Since the league released injury reports for the week, Harrington has since been downgraded to out for the season opener; a real shame, because until getting injured in the second to last game of 2010, he played all but 4 minutes from the beginning to end of season.
Notable Offseason Changes
SPORTING KANSAS CITY - OUT: DF's Jimmy Conrad, Aaron Hohlbein, Jonathan Leathers, MF Jack Jewsbury, FW Josh Wolff IN: DF Julio Cesar Santos, MF Milos Stojcev, FW Omar Bravo
CHIVAS USA - IN: DF's Jimmy Conrad, Heath Pearce, Zarek Valentin, FW's Tristan Bowen, Alejandro Moreno
Projected Starting Lineups
SPORTING KANSAS CITY - Jimmy Nielsen - Luke Sassano, Julio Cesar Santos, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza - Craig Rocastle, Milos Stojcev, Davy Arnaud - Kei Kamara, Birahim Diop, Omar Bravo
CHIVAS USA (first choice, if healthy) - Zach Thornton - Zarek Valentin, Ante Jazic, Jimmy Conrad, Heath Pearce - Paulo Nagamura, Blair Gavin, Simon Elliott, Ben Zemanski, Francisco Mendoza - Justin Braun
Let's have your prediction. What will the score be? Will SKC get off to a good start on the 10-game road trip? Will they get the necessary points against a lesser opponent?