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MLS Announces 2012 Home Opening Dates: Begin First Kick Speculation!

Will the long-awaited re-match of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact come as soon as Week One? (Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association)
Will the long-awaited re-match of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact come as soon as Week One? (Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association)

Major League Soccer made a bit of a Tuesday splash by announcing the dates for the home openers for every team in MLS. The Vancouver Whitecaps will open their 2012 season at BC Place on Saturday, March 10, 2012 against... and that's the question, isn't it? Who will the Whitecaps play their second MLS home opener against?

Last year, Vancouver began their MLS lives with a good rivalry match against Toronto FC. A repeat may be on the cards as Toronto's first home game isn't until the third week of the season. Or the Whitecaps may host the archrival Montreal Impact in their Major League Soccer debut, with the Impact not set to return to the renovated Stade Saputo until Week 2. Then again, Vancouver may just see a good, exciting team like the Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake, or the New York Red Bulls.

Or we may see a dud of a team. The Whitecaps are no longer trying to sell their first touch of an MLS ball: this is just another season as far as Major League Soccer is concerned. We certainly won't be big draws on American television no matter who we play, but at the same time the Whitecaps can count on a good crowd for Week 1 even if it's against Sporting Kansas City. So marquee opponents, like Toronto in 2011, may be hard to come by. On the other hand, with the Montreal Impact coming into the league, they'll certainly be looking for a convincing first week opponent and Vancouver would qualify.

In a down time for fans of most MLS teams, this has got people talking and who am I to buck a trend? So let's take a look at Vancouver's potential opponents, the probability we'll see them, and whether they'd be worth opening our exciting new era of not having Tom Soehn as a coach.

2012 Major League Soccer Home Openers
Sat. March 10 Colorado Rapids
DC United
Los Angeles Galaxy
San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders
Vancouver Whitecaps
Sun. March 11 Chivas USA
FC Dallas
Mon. March 12 Portland Timbers
Sat. March 17 Montreal Impact
Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City
Sun. March 18 Philadelphia Union
Sat. March 24 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew
New England Revolution
Toronto FC
Sun. March 25 New York Red Bulls
Sat. May 12 Houston Dynamo

The table on the right lists home opener dates for every team in Major League Soccer. Chivas USA, Colorado, DC, FC Dallas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Jose, and Seattle are all opening at home in Week One, therefore we're not likely to play any of them. So let's take a look at the rest of the possibilities and see who I think the fans might want, and what I think Major League Soccer might do.

The Canadian Rivals: Montreal Impact, Toronto FC

Oh, boy, would this ever be a blast. With both Montreal and Toronto opening away, the possibility exists for a real all-Canadian grudge match to re-create the heat of March 19, 2011. Toronto FC would be a good opponent, of course, and one we're all happy to beat, but the real pleasure would be in hosting the Montreal Impact. They're definitely our more mortal enemy, they're more likely to be beatable (I'm still laughing about that Donovan Ricketts trade), and there'll be the possibility of dozens of Montreal Ultras making BC Place ring with competing chants.

This is my preferred possibility. Toronto would be nice but Montreal would be tremendous. It would be good for Vancouver and it would be a lot of fun for Major League Soccer, who would kick the Impact off with what could only be a lively game (provided Dave Gantar didn't referee it) filled with passionate fans on both sides. Impact fans could hardly hope for a better first week engagement unless Don Garber finds a way to get the Rochester Rhinos into Major League Soccer by March.

Will MLS feel the same way? I doubt MLS will repeat the Vancouver - Toronto matchup of 2011 but Vancouver - Montreal seems like a real possibility. It would be a big draw on Canadian TV, it would captivate fans in both cities, and it would get at least some attention from the soccer media south of the border. Probability: 40%. Desirability: 60%.

The Team with Thierry Henry: New York Red Bulls

Thierry Henry! Enough ink was spilled about his non-visit to Empire Field last year to fill ten garbage dumps worth of Metros. There's no doubt that a potential Henry-anchored home opener would get all sorts of attention and be a big draw to casual soccer fans in Vancouver. Single game tickets would sell briskly and even some season ticket holders would feel a little thrill.

Plenty of fans would love to see Henry and the Red Bulls for Week One. However, the same is true for almost every city in Major League Soccer. Major League Soccer has alternatively sent teams like New York to small-market teams to try and drum up interest or send them to the big markets like Seattle to create a marquee all-American game that can appear on ESPN. The Whitecaps, who don't draw water in the American market but also don't need the help of a Henry game, might be just the wrong spot for a big international star. Probability: 5%. Desirability: 25%.

The Good Teams Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake

The Houston Dynamo, featuring Canadian defender Andre Hainault, are coming off a convincing run to the MLS Cup final. Real Salt Lake are the defending CONCACAF Champions League finalists and also boast a high-profile Canadian star, midfielder Will Johnson.

These would be two good middle-of-the-road opponents for Whitecaps fans. Neither of them are massive draws in the United States but they're both good opponents who fans would look forward to seeing. They haven't got the excitement of a Montreal or a team with Thierry Henry on it but we could do a lot worse. Besides, I know a few Real Salt Lake fans who think they owe us a beating for that rainout last season.

Either of these two teams would be good, safe, middle-of-the-road choices for Major League Soccer, so let's give them good, safe, middle-of-the-road odds. Probability: 25%. Desirability: 15%.

The Field: Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City

These are boring teams with boring players. Most of them have only tepid support in their own home markets. The Philadelphia Union are at least a good team with passionate fans who would no doubt send a decent contingent across the continent... but they have no rivalry or connection with the Whitecaps, no big stars who'd make the game a special occasion (unless you're still convinced Freddy Adu is going to make it), and no real significance as a First Kick opponent.

Obviously, any First Kick game will benefit from a good crowd at BC Place since it's the home opener. So there's a decent chance that MLS will waste one of their non-marquee teams on us: send the New York Red Bulls to guarantee a decent gate at Chivas USA or something so it looks good on television, then let the Canadians play New England (the Wooden Spoon Derby, perhaps?) where it won't make any difference.

It can happen. Last year, Toronto FC opened against the Portland Timbers: a big deal for us but not such an occasion in Toronto (wow, Portland's second-ever MLS game!!!!111eleven). In 2010 Toronto got stuck with Philadelphia in similar circumstances, in 2009 they got Seattle, and in 2008 it was Real Salt Lake. All fairly good teams, a couple interesting angles, but nobody who Toronto fans would consider a special opponent in their own right.

That would suggest that Vancouver has decent odds of pulling Philadelphia or some-such. That would at least be a fun game; on the other hand, if we get New England, Chicago, or Columbus, then let's hope the party is good because the opponents sure won't be anything special. Probability: 30%. Desirability: 0%.