Around Major League Soccer: Getting ready for First Kick!

The wait is nearly over; action starts this weekend!

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After months of anticipation and debate as to how the 17th season in Major League soccer will unfold, this coming weekend will begin the settling of those preseason predictions with First Kick.

If the off-season has not been eventful enough, MLS fans can now prepare for some soccer action when clubs take to the pitch for real on Saturday and Sunday. Whitecaps FC versus Canadian rivals and MLS expansion side Montreal Impact is one of five Saturday games taking place. There are two more matches on Sunday before Portland Timbers and Philadelphia Union play in Monday’s feature game.

As preseason wound down, clubs were busy setting their rosters and playing their last set of friendlies in preparation for the 2012 season.

Here is a review of the latest happenings.

CONCACAF glory

While this weekend is the focus of many MLS clubs, three league sides raise the curtain on their campaigns this Wednesday night with important first-leg matches in the quarterfinals of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League. At least one MLS club will miss out of the semifinal stages of the competition, as reigning Canadian champions Toronto FC take on MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy in one quarterfinal series. Aron Winter’s side will look to use the atmosphere from a sold-out crowd of 45,000 at Rogers Centre to lift The Reds to an important first-leg result over their Southern California opponents. Wednesday’s first leg can be seen live on Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD at 5 p.m. PT.

Also flying the flag high for MLS is Seattle Sounders FC, who face Mexican opposition in Club Santos Laguna at CenturyLink Field. Sigi Schmid’s side will need a positive result from Wednesday’s first leg at home, if they are to have a chance of advancing to the last four. This first leg can also be seen live on Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet ONE HD at 7 p.m. PT.

The winners of these two quarterfinal series will meet each other in a two-leg semifinal series in late March and early April.

Goalkeeping cover

There were several more player moves during the past week, as all 19 clubs had to have their squads set by last Thursday’s roster compliance deadline. Among those transactions were the signings of several goalkeepers.

In Los Angeles, the Galaxy added cover for Josh Saunders by signing former Columbus Crew and Puerto Rico Islanders shot-stopper Bill Gaudette. Up the way in Seattle, Sounders FC complimented Austrian international Michael Gspurning with the addition of former Montreal and San Jose Earthquakes keeper Andrew Weber. In the Eastern Conference, D.C. United acquired keeper Andrew Dykstra, while Philadelphia took on former New York Red Bulls keeper Chris Konopka at PPL Park.

Elsewhere…

FC Dallas fans were given a boost when it was confirmed that centre back George John would return to The Hoops after the completion a two-month loan spell with English League Championship high-flyers West Ham United FC. This follows the addition of former San Jose Earthquakes striker Scott Sealy to Schellas Hyndman’s squad for 2012.

The acquisition of former Whitecaps FC midfielder Lee Nguyen was not the only piece of business that New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps completed in the past week. On Monday, the Massachusetts outfit opted to waive midfielder Ryan Kinne and striker Zack Schilawski ahead of the new campaign.

In Colorado, the news is not all that optimistic for the Rapids, as injury concerns have hampered head coach Oscar Pareja’s plans for the new season. On Sunday, the Rapids were dealt a blow when defender Anthony Wallace suffered a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg during a preseason training session and is expected to be out for six to nine months. Colorado are still without experienced striker Conor Casey, who is continuing his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon suffered last July and a recent sports hernia operation. The United States international is hoping to return to Pareja’s squad by the end of the month.