05 February 2014

Soccer's back already? Escaping New York for MLS preseason in Florida

The snow just keeps coming in New York this winter, only my third in the Northeast in the last 13 years, so I was only too glad (and very lucky) to escape to Florida on Tuesday to cover some Major League Soccer preseason action.

Going from this:

to this:

certainly brightens your day, even if that day starts at 5 a.m. on about three hours' sleep.

At any rate, I'm working with MLSsoccer.com as part of its preseason coverage, and on Wednesday night we'll offer one of the best preseason matchups you could ask for: D.C. United vs. Toronto FC (7 p.m. ET, MLSsoccer.com). It sounds a little strange, given that those teams finished last and second-to-last in the Eastern Conference last year. But these are teams in the midst of big-time makeovers, and being the first to get a look at the new groups is exciting. Even if those groups are still assembling.

We'll also cover the Columbus Crew's first game under new head coach Gregg Berhalter when they take on Swedish champion Malmö at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and I'm excited to get a first look at the new Crew.

Here's a pre-game look from each perspective:
Columbus Crew website
Toronto FC website
D.C. United via Washington Post

The new IMG Stadium seems like a good preseason venue,
even if it does have a track.
The Toronto-D.C. game stands out because there are SO many new faces on each side. Well, not NEW faces, exactly - familiar faces in new places:

D.C. United brought in seven MLS veterans in the offseason and could probably start six of them at some point (three are center backs). The cast of characters has plenty of talent and could instantly put D.C. back in the playoff hunt. Why don't more teams re-build this way? It's expensive, since D.C. acquired several players through the re-entry process, but a double dose of allocation money (for missing the playoffs AND for reaching the CONCACAF Champions League) sure helps. One of those new guys is defender Bobby Boswell, who began his career with D.C. from 2005-07 and who I consider a friend after working together for four years in Houston. It was great to see him on Tuesday and catch up on his busy offseason, including the birth of his second son, Nash, last month.

Another former Houston friend in town is Dwayne De Rosario, who went from D.C. United to one of his old clubs, Toronto FC, in the offseason. Yet De Ro - always entertaining and still as confident as ever - is one of the lower-profile acquisitions by free-spending Toronto FC, which brought in seven new signings of its own, including the high-priced trio of England international Jermain Defoe, U.S. international Michael Bradley, and Brazilian forward Gilberto.

MLSsoccer.com's Samantha Yarock sat down with Toronto FC on Tuesday, and I listened in on some very entertaining interviews. Among the lines of the day were Ryan Nelsen saying "a hardened MLS player is gold dust for me" and De Ro pointing out that one of his fingers is feeling lonely right now (he has four MLS Cup championship rings).

It's all got me ready for my first MLS action of 2014 on Wednesday at the IMG Stadium here in Bradenton!