There are lots of ways to measure the progress of Major League Soccer over the past 15 seasons. None of them are more obvious than the quality of the stadiums. When Livestrong Sporting Park makes its MLS debut on Thursday, it will be the league's 14th stadium that was either designed or retrofitted specifically with soccer in mind. By all indications, it will also be among the most glamorous.
All the bells and whistles might not be ready for this game, but eventually Sporting Park will be among the most technologically advanced. The pitch looks perfect. The stands look impressive. The only question is whether or not the product on the field can live up to everything else.
After more than two months of uninspiring play, RSL finally looked like the team many of us expected them to be during last Saturday's 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. That it came with several starters missing due to international duty and a strikeforce that included midfielder Jean Alexandre at forward is no small feat. Mainly, that's because this is the team RSL will be forced to play with for the next couple weeks as Paulo Jr. continues to recover from an injury and Alvaro Saborio and Arturo Alvarez are with their Gold Cup teams. The Crew, meanwhile, continue to look unimpressive while not falling apart. They haven't won in five matches and have just one win in their past seven, but also have just two losses in that seven-match span. They are also looking particularly thin with their attacking options as Robbie Rogers, Dilly Duka and Tommy Heinemann are all going to be absent and Emilio Renteria is still recovering from an injury. Pick: RSL 1-0.
At long last, Sporting will finally get to play a match at home. The 10-match road trip to open the season did not go quite as smoothly as SKC brass had hoped and they have recently expressed the opinion that petitioning to open the season that way was maybe not the best idea. As they prepare to open Livestrong Sporting Park, they sit on six points and will likely need to average no fewer than 2 points per home match just to have any hope of making the playoffs. That effort starts with a match agains the Chicago Fire, a team that is off to a pretty disappointing start themselves. Their win against SKC in Week 2 remains their only win of the season as they are in the midst of a 10-match winless streak (even longer than SKC, if you can believe it). They looked dangerous at times last week against the Seattle Sounders, but were obviously missing the contributions of Marco Pappa. Pick: SKC 2-1.