Previously, the number of teams in action on opening day had been as large as 10 (1999), while in 2000, only four matches occupied the opening weekend schedule.
Highlighting Week One of the 2001 MLS Season is a clash between the MetroStars and New England Revolution at Giants Stadium. This fierce rivalry promises to get even hotter in 2001, with the MetroStars clearly aiming for an MLS Cup appearance, while the Revolution look to build off last season's brief playoff run. Kickoff at the Meadowlands is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. (ET)
Also on tap this Saturday are key inter-division rivalries with Chicago traveling to Columbus (7:30 p.m. - ESPN2), and the new-look San Jose Earthquakes heading to Los Angeles for an early Western Division showdown at the Rose Bowl (10:00 p.m.). A final inter-division game takes Tampa Bay to Dallas for another Central Division battle at the Cotton Bowl (8:30 p.m.), where the offensive talents of the Burn's Jason Kreis and Ariel Graziani will go head-to-head with the Mutiny's duo of Mamadou Diallo and Carlos Valderrama.
In other action, the defending MLS Cup Champion Kansas City Wizards travel to RFK Stadium, where they will encounter a young and hungry D.C. United squad waiting to erase the bitter memory of last year's dismal season. A new offense for Bob Gansler's retooled Wizards will revolve around Roy Lassiter, the league's all-time leading scorer and a member of United's 1999 MLS Cup title.
A final matchup takes the Tim Hankinson-lead Colorado Rapids to South Florida for a meeting with Ray Hudson's high-energy Fusion squad. A host of new attackers has the Fusion faithful primed for an exciting season. Colorado's defense features surprise draft pick Stephen Herdsman, and goalkeeping prodigy Adin Brown, who suffered through an injury filled rookie season.
For a complete look at the 2001 MLS game schedule, visit the league's official website at www.MLSnet.com.
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%COLUMBUS CREW AND D.C. UNITED DEBUT ON THE ROAD IN THE GIANTS CUP:
The Columbus Crew and D.C. United will each embark on another international adventure tomorrow when both teams travel abroad to take on regional powerhouses Saprissa of Costa Rica and Arnett Gardens of Jamaica, respectively, in their quest to win the inaugural FC Giants Cup tournament.
The Crew will play the first leg of a two-game quarterfinal series on Wednesday, April 4, against the "Morados" (Violet ones) of Saprissa at Ricardo Saprissa stadium in San Jose (10:00 p.m. ET). The match represents the Crew's first foray into international tournament competition. (The game will be broadcast live by Flagship radio station Eagle 103.9 and available through www.thecrew.com).
The return match vs. Saprissa will be played at Crew Stadium on Wednesday, April 11 (7:30 p.m. ET).
Saprissa advanced to meet the Crew by handily defeating Alianza of El Salvador in a two-leg series by an aggregate score of 5-1 (5-1, 0-0). Crew Head Coach Tom Fitzgerald, who was in attendance at the second-leg, called Saprissa "a very good team. I expect our series against them to produce two very competitive matches."
The 1998 FC Champions Cup and 1998 InterAmerican Cup champions D.C. United, are back in the international arena seeking to add more international tournament hardware to their collection. The Black & Red travel to Kingston, Jamaica, to take on Caribbean power Arnett Gardens at the Tony Spaulding Sports Complex tomorrow (4:00 p.m. ET).
United will miss goalkeeper Mike Amman, defender Eddie Pope (sprained toe), forward Jaime Moreno (knee surgery) and midfielder Ben Olsen (broken ankle), all of whom will not make the trip. However, the good news for United is that brilliant playmaker Marco "El Diablo" Etcheverry is back after completing his loan to Oriente Petrolero in his native Bolivia.
The return leg is set for RFK Stadium on April 11 (8:00 p.m. ET).
Arnett Gardens, one of Jamaica's best and most popular Premier Division clubs, reached the quarterfinals of the FC Giants Cup by eliminating Suriname's SV Transvaal. The home and home series ended with a 6-2 aggregate in favor of the Jamaican side. The first match, hosted by Transvaal, ended in a 1-1 draw. In the return leg, Arnett Gardens cruised on their home pitch to a 5-1 victory over a Transvaal team that had two players sent off in the second half.
Each round will be played over two legs leading into the semifinals and finals, which will be played in a "final four" format at a TBD single venue in the United States.
The Giants Cup champions will receive $50,000, with the runner-up set to earn $40,000. The winner of the third-place match will receive $35,000, with the fourth-place side garnering $30,000.
The winner and runner-up of the inaugural 2001 Giants Cup will also gain berths for the first FC Clubs Cup, to be held in early 2003. Additionally, the winner and runner-up of the 2002 Giants Cup, along with the top two clubs in the 2001 and 2002 editions of the FC Champions Cup, will also gain entry into the 2003 FC Clubs Cup (for a total of eight teams). The 2003 FC Clubs Cup will determine the two FC representatives in the 2003 FIFA Club World Championship.
The other half of the field in the 2001 FC Giants Cup features: Guadalajara and America of Mexico, and Comunicaciones and Municipal of Guatemala.
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%SEVERAL MLS PLAYERS APPROACHING MILESTONES AS 2001 SEASON BEGINS:
As MLS' sixth season is ushered in, numerous benchmarks and milestones could be reached during the 2001 campaign. Several players are on the cusp of joining Preki as the league's only 50 goal/50 assist men. Dallas forward Jason Kreis is just three career assists away from 50, while he has already amassed 57 career goals. D.C. striker Jaime Moreno is five career assists away from 50 and has already recorded 57 career goals and Los Angeles Galaxy veteran Cobi Jones is two goals and 10 assists away from the 50/50 plateau.
Kansas City Wizards forward Roy Lassiter, MLS' all-time scoring leader, is four points away from becoming the first MLS player to join the 200-point club. D.C. United forward Raul Diaz Arce is also within range of the 200-point club with career 181 points. Preki has 169 career points, while Kreis and Moreno have 161 and 159 career points respectively.
Lassiter and Diaz Arce could also be the first MLS players to eclipse the 100-goal mark with 81 and 78 career goals respectively.
Tampa Bay Mutiny midfield Maestro Carlos Valderrama has 89 career assists and could be the first 100-assist man in league history. United forward Marco Etcheverry is a distant second to Valderrama with 74 career assists.
Several goalkeepers are approaching the 10,000 minute plateau, as D.C. United's Mike Ammann (9,416), Tampa Bay's Scott Garlick (8,781) and Los Angeles' Kevin Hartman (8,318) could join Tony Meola (11,675) and Mark Dougherty (11,666) in the 10,000 minute club.
Garlick (481) and Ammann (405) could also join Meola (620) and Dougherty (500) in the 500-save club.
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%SOCCER SATURDAY RETURNS IN 2001:
Soccer Saturday makes its return to television this weekend on ESPN2, as the sixth Major League Soccer season kicks off. The Chicago Fire will visit the Columbus Crew at 7:30 (p.m. ET) in MLS' first nationally televised game of the year.
The Fire return virtually their entire roster from a year ago, when they reached MLS Cup 2000. However, proven creative players Peter Nowak and Hristo Stoitchkov will miss Saturday's contest with injuries. Chicago will lean on a talented pair of offensive-minded youngsters, midfielder DaMarcus Beasley and striker Josh Wolff. The pair have begun to leave their mark on the U.S. National Team and will get a shot at becoming stars in MLS this season.
Columbus hopes to rebound from a subpar 2000 campaign, when the Crew missed the playoffs for the first time in team history. The return of former U.S. National Team midfielder Brian Maisonneuve should help bolster the Crew lineup, as will the continued improvement of speedy wingers Brian West and Jeff Cunningham.
MLS broadcast partners ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and Telemundo will combine to offer viewers 44 exciting MLS matches in 2001. Additional playoff telecasts will be determined at a later date. As a special bonus to MLS fans this season, as the September playoff races tighten, the Soccer Saturday format will be complemented with a bonus game on each Sunday of the season's final two weekends.