The 16th Major League Soccer season began in earnest this past weekend with parity as the buzz word. The first game took place on Tuesday, when the Los Angeles Galaxy earned a 1-0 win in Seattle against Sounders FC.
The remaining 16 MLS teams opened their season on Saturday.
As the opening game suggested, the Galaxy and its star-studded lineup that includes David Beckham and Landon Donovan and with the addition of high-scoring Juan Pablo Angel (who missed the opener because of illness), Los Angeles is among the league favorites.
Yet the team that generated serious preseason buzz was Real Salt Lake, the 2009 MLS champion.
"Salt Lake you got to give a nod to because they have played meaningful games and did really well in the CONCACAF Champions League," Union assistant coach John Hackworth said.
Hackworth was referring to a 4-1 quarterfinal win over the Columbus Crew on March 2 in the tournament that includes clubs from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and all other Central American/Caribbean countries. Real Salt Lake became the first MLS team to advance to the semifinals and got off to a good start with a 2-0 win in the first leg of semifinal action against Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica.
With its opening win over Seattle, the Galaxy showed it will again be among the elite teams after posting the best regular season last year, 18-7-5.
"L.A. brings back a majority of its team, and anytime you have the star power they do and have added some pieces, you have to give them the nod," Hackworth said.
The 18-team MLS is adding two expansion teams: the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the Portland Timbers.
The schedule has increased from 30 to 34 games, with everybody playing each other twice.
As for other teams to watch, the defending champion Colorado Rapids, who were tied for seventh in points during a 12-8-10 regular season but got hot in the playoffs, are ranked fifth in the preseason power ratings by MLSsoccer.com.
Colorado midfielder Jeff Larentowicz of Chestnut Hill Academy was named to the MLS all-star team last year and was one of only two Rapids to appear in all 30 games. He also started all four playoff games.
The MLS power rankings, which came out before Tuesday's opener in Seattle, had the Galaxy first, followed by Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls, and No. 4 FC Dallas. The Union are 11th.
That means four of the top five teams are from the loaded Western Conference.
New York is the consensus choice to be the top Eastern Conference team. The Red Bulls are led by designated player Thierry Henry, coming off an injury-plagued half season after signing with the team July 14. He had two goals and three assists in 11 regular season games and missed the postseason with a knee injury.