Lucas Cavallini

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FOLLOW LIVE: MLS kicks off 25th season in grand style

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Major League Soccer celebrates the start of its 25th season with a full slate of games on Saturday.

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The star signing of the offseason, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez makes his MLS debut, as the Los Angeles Galaxy travel to Houston to take on the Dynamo in front of a sold-out BBVA Stadium.

In between, the San Jose Earthquakes look to start season two under Matias Almeyda on a strong note when they host Toronto FC, while Nashville SC – one of two new MLS franchises – receives a high-powered Atlanta United.

Opening day wraps up with Sporting Kansas City taking on the Vancouver Whitecaps, which will see two former Liga MX goal scorers in Alan Pulido and Lucas Cavallini make their debuts.

Saturday’s full MLS schedule

Montreal Impact v. New England Revolution — 3:00 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy — 3:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes v. Toronto FC — 5:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas v. Philadelphia Union — 6:00 p.m. ET
Orlando City v. Real Salt Lake — 6:00 p.m. ET
Nashville SC v. Atlanta United — 8 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Sporting Kansas City — 10:30 p.m. ET

Vancouver breaks club transfer record to sign Canada’s Cavallini

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Vancouver Whitecaps got their man.

The MLS outfit announced that acquisition of Lucas Cavallini on Monday, adding one of Liga MX’s regular producers to the British Columbian attack.

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Cavallini, 26, is one of the Canadian national team’s biggest threats, combining with Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David in its most promising unit in years. He has 11 goals in 17 caps for Canada, including the second marker of a 2-0 defeat of the USMNT earlier this year.

He was a double-digit scorer in his last two full seasons in Mexico and has 30 goals in parts of three seasons with Puebla.

It took an undisclosed club record transfer fee for the Caps to land their new No. 9, with multiple outlets saying that fee is $6 million.

Vancouver missed the playoffs last season, but has some promising players including South Korean international Hwang In-boem.

Here is the man of the hour, via WhitecapsFC.com:

“I am happy to be here, happy for this opportunity, happy this club pushed for me, and it feels great.” added Cavallini. “I am thankful to a lot people here in Vancouver, from the ownership, to Axel Schuster and coach Marc Dos Santos. The team has brought me here for a reason and I have to do what I love to do, which is score goals and give the fans a lot to cheer about.”

Desperate Canada provides away challenge for USMNT

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Canada faces one of its most important matches in some time when it faces the United States men’s national team at BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday.

The Canucks beat Cuba twice last month to start life in the CONCACAF Nations League, and can take both a physical and a spiritual step in its progression with a defeat of the U.S.

The U.S. is unbeaten against Canada in 16 matches dating back to 1985, and it’s been all wins in meaningful competitions for the Yanks.

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So that’s one hurdle for John Herdmann’s men, but the more meaningful, empirical stuff comes with the knowledge that a win would not only put Canada on the precipice of a berth in the CNL semifinals but also provide a significant boost in the race for the sixth spot in World Cup qualifying’s Hexagonal.

It’s one of the reasons Canada is spending its entire international break gearing up for the USMNT, playing just this match and not a proximal friendly.

ICYMI: CONCACAF will now determine its World Cup contestants a bit differently. Three of six sides from the Hex will head to the World Cup, while the fourth side will meet a seventh side, the champions of a second “lower” tournament, in a playoff.

Canada enters this month five points behind sixth place El Salvador, who beat Montserrat and next faces St. Lucia in what’s sure to be another win. But fifth place Honduras is also in play, as are Curacao and Panama. Haiti is on the outskirts but alive.

CONCACAF men’s world rankings via FIFA

12. Mexico (1603 points)
21. United States (1545)
43. Costa Rica (1442)
47. Jamaica (1435)
67. Honduras (1359)
72. El Salvador (1327)
——Hex cut-off———-
75. Canada (1322)
76. Curacao (1320)
77. Panama (1316)
86. Haiti (1277)
100. Trinidad and Tobago (1226)

Make no mistake: This Canada game looms large for both sides, as Gregg Berhalter’s resting of Zack Steffen, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, and even Aaron Long was probably meant to preserve them for Tuesday (The Cuba match was only Long’s second outside the XI in the Yanks’ last 10).

All four will play a big part in dealing with Canada’s massive attacking threat. While it’s natural for American fans to expect goals from their men in Toronto, it’s pretty likely that Canada is going to produce a lot of threats through whoever Herdman chooses for his front three (or four, or whatever).

Herdman has played a variation of a 4-3-3 in five of his last seven matches in charge of Canada, only going away from the formation against the two best sides he’s played: Mexico (5-4-1) and Haiti (4-5-1).

At home against the U.S., what will he choose?

The 4-3-3 does hold allure. We know Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Jonathan David (Gent) are going to start this match, but center forward Cyle Larin is not in the side despite red-hot form for Zulte Waregem in Belgium (on loan from Besitkas).

Puebla’s Lucas Cavallini would be the likely CF in such a 4-3-3, leaving Junior Hoilett to come off the bench. There’s an argument to be made that Canada’s out-and-out attackers are as dangerous as the U.S.

That’s why the play at the back is the difference between these sides. Herdman’s men have been sound against lesser CONCACAF sides but allowed three goals in the Mexico and Haiti tilts. Only one player, Steven Vitoria of Moreirense, plays at a higher level than MLS, while four players are regular contributors to their Major League Soccer clubs.

Samuel Piette (Montreal) and Scott Arfield (Rangers) are Canada’s big hopes in the midfield and will need to contend with not just the U.S. attack but Invigorated midfielders like Weston McKennie.

Berhalter’s Yanks are well-suited to deal with Canada, even 90-minutes north of the border, but the challenge will come from the desperate hosts and their electric attackers. How much of Berhalter’s plan is to build out from the back, and how ready is he to change tactics if the high press of Davies and David cause problems for Steffen and his backs?

The CNL may be a headache and a lesser competition, but the Yanks would love to hold Canada’s hopes to the sword with a decisive away win that puts the onus on the Canadians to attack next month in the United States. The second tiebreaker in classification is goal difference in group play, and the Americans’ plus-7 is level with Canada’s 6-0 and 1-0 defeats of Cuba.