By: William Gray

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — In their regular season opener, the MLS Cup champion, Colorado Rapids, dispatched the expansion Portland Timbers, 3-1.

Goals were scored by Jamie Smith, Jeff Larentowicz and Omar Cummings. Feeding off the full house, Colorado netted all three goals before the 30′ mark as they cruised to their first win of the 2011 season. Looking down the calendar, it’s a long season ahead; the longest in MLS history at 34 games.  Including the playoffs, the season will stretch from mid-March well into November to accommodate two new teams and a revised playoff schedule.

The aforementioned Portland Timbers along with the Vancouver Whitecaps will be new additions to the Western Conference, while the Houston Dynamo will switch to the East to keep the conferences balanced.  The 34 game season will, as always, see each team play each other twice. To compensate for the extended schedule, the MLS has increased roster size to 30, up from 26, the previous season.

Along with this change comes the return of the Reserve League.  This allows for substitutes to play competitive matches against the reserves of the opposing team.  The league will be broken into three conferences and will allow back-ups to stay sharp in contests that will have some weight.

The 2011 MLS playoff system will include 10 teams.  The top three teams from each conference will be seeded 1-3 on either side of the bracket, while the four teams with the best remaining records will compete in two play-in games to earn a spot in the final eight.  This change effectively incorporates a greater variety of teams while assuring each conference at least 3 spots in the playoffs.  These changes are based on both the increase of teams and a reaction to last years playoffs, in which 6 of the 8 teams hailed from the Western Conference.

In contrast to the great number of changes to the league, the Rapids have changed very little.  Aside from the acquisition of Irish National player, Caleb Folan, the 2011 Rapids have maintained their championship core.  Barring any serious injuries or unforeseen trades, the Rapids have their eyes fixed on a repeat.

The Rapids will be in action on March 26th against Chivas USA.  The Rapids will be playing without Omar Cummings and recent acquisition Sanna Nyassi as they have been called in by their National teams.

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