The wait is over: MLS is back.
All the offseason hype culminates on Sunday, March 1, when Chicago Fire FC travels to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Sounders (2 p.m. CT | ESPN) in their 2020 regular season opener. The Fire feature a new head coach in Raphael Wicky, an overhauled roster, and a slew of expectations ahead of the Club's return to Soldier Field this season.
Here’s what to expect on Sunday when Fire FC meets the reigning MLS Cup champions:
The Sounders added two major additions during the past offseason in Brazilian Designated Player João Paulo and Colombian center back Yeimar Gómez Andrade, who Seattle acquired using Targeted Allocation Money. João Paulo is a midfield workhorse operating as a No. 8 in head coach Brian Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and has superb passing acumen. Gómez Andrade, meanwhile, is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and expects to be a key cog alongside center back partner Xavier Arreaga.
Concacaf Champions League
The Sounders made it clear that their objective to start 2020 is to focus on the Concacaf Champions League. Seattle opened their CCL campaign last week with a 2-2 draw in Honduras against C.D. Olimpia, before being eliminated in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday when they were defeated on penalty kicks after the series ended 4-4 on aggregate. Schmetzer and the Sounders staff have indicated they will trust their kids and rotational players in MLS action, so when the Fire line up in Seattle just three days after the Sounders’ CCL match, Chicago can likely expect a mixed bag of first team regulars. With that in mind…
Players to Watch
- Danny Leyva: The highly touted 16-year-old Homegrown midfielder played over 400 MLS minutes last season and will need to play a big role for Seattle early on in this campaign.
- Handwalla Bwana: Another young Homegrown midfielder, Bwana showed flashes of creativity in 15 MLS appearances last season, recording a goal and an assist.
- Miguel Ibarra: The longtime Minnesota United midfielder signed with Seattle last week, and Schmetzer will likely lean on his veteran experience in his rotational lineups.
Matchup to Watch
Fire forward Robert Berić vs. Sounders centerback Shane O’Neill: Berić is a proven goalscorer with over 120 goals in his career including the UEFA Champions League. The Slovenian DP will be going head-to-head with Sounders offseason center back acquisition O’Neill, who will be expected to spell either Arreaga or Gómez Andrade. Look for Berić, who will be eager to bag a goal or two on his competitive debut, to get a few promising chances.