Toronto FC looking forward to home opener and is FC Dallas for real?
Toronto goes home
How happy are Toronto FC's players to be back home, where they will face Houston on Sunday (5 ET, ESPN and WatchESPN), after starting the season with seven straight games on the road? Very.
"It's been a long stretch," TFC captain Michael Bradley told ESPN FC Wednesday after the Reds played their eighth consecutive away match, this one a 1-0 Canadian Championship semifinal first leg loss in Montreal. "You forget what it's like to play at home."
Bradley logged 74 minutes in the midweek tilt, but fellow stars Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco didn't travel -- a clear indication of how seriously the club is taking the home opener -- and for good reason.
Toronto fans have been let down too many times over eight seasons without a playoff berth to count. And their latest reboot, which brought the arrival of Altidore and Giovinco this season, appeared in danger of crashing after they lost four in a row on the heels of a rousing, season opening win.
But after beating Orlando and Philadelphia in their last two matches, the hosts head to renovated BMO Field riding a wave of momentum.
"Three wins and nine points isn't bad, and now we have a lot of games at home," Bradley said.
They'll have to make them count, though. Toronto FC is just four games above .500 at home over its history. Then again, its history is precisely what Bradley and company are trying to reverse, starting on Sunday.
"We feel like it's a chance to really galvanize everybody and give them some energy and enthusiasm," the U.S. midfielder said. "If we can really create the type of home field advantage that we'd like, we'll be in a good position."
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
Can the Impact's Cup form translate into league play?
Montreal's post-CONCACAF Champions League existence officially began on Wednesday, when the Impact took a one-goal aggregate lead over TFC in a Canadian Championship match. Frank Klopas and his team begin their post-Champions League MLS lives Saturday when they host Portland at Stade Saputo. The match represents the first chance to see if any of the magic the Impact conjured in the Champions League can carry over the their very young league campaign.
No one has played fewer games in MLS than the Impact, a byproduct of their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win the continental title. What that means is that we still have little clarity on exactly how good they might be; for all the mountains they climbed in CONCACAF, the Impact impressed no one through four MLS matches. With the distraction of the Champions League gone, will the Impact flip a switch and challenge in the Eastern Conference?
Or will this team resemble last year's MLS-worst Impact side? Klopas made good use of defensive discipline and speed against Costa Rican and Mexican opponents, a formula that should also work in the league, provided Montreal can absorb pressure and counterattack as efficiently.
If the Impact want 2015 to be about more than coming excruciatingly close to a Champions League title, they much find a way to carry their surprise success in that tournament into MLS play. That effort begins Saturday.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Can FC Dallas prove hot start isn't misleading?
As is its habit, FC Dallas has made an impressive start to the MLS regular season. At 5-2-2, FCD sits atop the Western Conference, and only the Seattle Sounders have a higher average points per game in the standings.
But there are still some lingering doubts about Dallas. The scheduling gods have been kind, with the team in the midst of a stretch that see it play seven of its first 11 games at home. A poor home performance against Colorado also furrowed a few brows in assessing FCD's potential.
That's what makes Saturday's contest against the L.A. Galaxy so interesting. If Dallas is to cement its claim that it is one of the top teams in the west, beating the defending champions would certainly make a statement.
That will require Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz to continue the kind of counterattacking magic that has flummoxed opponents in recent weeks. Last week the two laid waste to the Houston Dynamo, racking up a goal and two assists each in a 4-1 win. But while L.A.'s midfield has struggled to achieve the kind of attacking rhythm that made it so tough to beat last year, it remains a stingy outfit, conceding just 0.9 goal per game. Juninho in particular will be a tough opponent for Diaz.
The young FCD attacker finally appears healthy after being held out for four straight games, a stretch that allowed manager Oscar Pareja to introduce the phrase "different work," into the MLS vernacular when describing Diaz's recovery. A potent performance on Saturday will do plenty to free up Castillo, and bolster the belief that Dallas is indeed for real.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@jeffreycarlisle)