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What a weekend! Four Canadian teams in action

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Ali Gerba
Program the PVR. Make sure your Internet connection is fast enough to allow for multiple streams.

This weekend marks a landmark in Canadian soccer. Four professional clubs are in action; FC Edmonton and the Montreal Impact kick off their NASL campaigns Saturday with road games in Florida.

And MLS? Toronto FC visits the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday night. And the Vancouver Whitecaps head to Texas to take on the Houston Dynamo on Sunday.

Of the weekend’s action, only Montreal and FC Edmonton overlap.

Montreal’s game against FC Tampa Bay (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, fctampabay.com) will see the Impact debut two very important new players. Goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who was key in a number of CONCACAF Champions League upset wins for the Puerto Rico Islanders and trialled for New York in 2010, has made the move to Quebec. With the retirement of Matt Jordan, Gaudette will be key. Luke Kreamalmeyer, regarded as one of the best passing midfielders in second division soccer, will be called upon to provide service to striker Ali Gerba, providing the kind of midfield threat the Impact have lacked since Joey Gjertsen moved to MLS in 2010. Kreamalmeyer was the top player on the now-defunct AC St. Louis side, and got into a few games back in 2005 with Real Salt Lake of MLS.

Midfield general David Testo is not available due to injury. Defender Hicham Aaboubou midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo and striker Reda Agourram all miss the trip due to injuries. Defender Richard Pelletier begins a six-game suspension after last season’s post-season dust-up with the Carolina RailHawks.

Montreal is under a lot of scrutiny; it moves to MLS in 2012, so it needs to show it is ready by dominating NASL in 2011.

FC Edmonton kicks off its season a half hour later than Montreal (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MT., strikers.com) against a Fort Lauderdale Strikers side that many are picking to challenge the Impact for the NASL title. Fort Lauderdale feature a heck of a lot of castoff from the MLS Philadelphia Union; most notable is defender Cristian Arrieta, a defender who loves to join the play. He was easily the USL’s best defender a couple of seasons ago with the Puerto Rico Islanders, but failed in his attempt to make the transition to MLS. Back in Division-2, he can dominate. He loves to move all over the pitch.

Shaun Saiko
FCE will be without strikers Paul Craig and Michael Cox, and defender Paul Matthijs for the opener. Cox was a key attacking option in the 2010 season of friendlies but, with Chris Lemire, Conrad Smith and veteran Dan Antoniuk all available, coach Harry Sinkgraven has plenty of attackers to work into his 4-3-3. The key will be Shaun Saiko; the former Middlesbrough man will be looked to transition the ball from defence to attack.

Trialists Adrian Leroy and Kyle Porter — a former Whitecap — have not been signed as of Friday afternoon.

The last time San Jose met Toronto FC, MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski got a hat trick as the Earthquakes won in Toronto. That was the match that also featured Dwayne De Rosario’s mock cheque-signing gesture, triggering a harsh reaction from sensitive Toronto fans punished by years of losing teams. De Rosario is gone, but Wondo still lurks.

Aron Winter
Now, TFC and the Quakes meet in California (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, GolTV) The real test? TFC has enjoyed the league’s softest schedule through the first three weeks of the season. Home dates to Portland and Chivas — who occupy spots 17 and 18 on most experts’ power rankings, aren’t a good indication of where this team is at in terms of adapting to Aron Winter’s 4-3-3 system.

Sunday’s Vancouver-Houston match (4 p.m. PT, Sportsnet Pacific) will see Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson and Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear trying to stitch together makeshift lineups. For those in Texas, don’t get to the stadium too early — or one of the two coaches might ask you if you can put on a jersey and shorts.

Designated Player Eric Hassli is out for Vancouver because of suspension; midfielder Gershon Koffie is suspended — and away on international duty with the Ghana U-20 side. Midfield sparkplug Terry Dunfield has a bad groin. Defender Greg Janicki has a bad hip. Shea Salinas, who was on the bench for Wednesday’s draw with New England, is now ruled out with a bad knee. And first-round pick Michael Nanchoff also has a bad groin.

Meanwhile, Houston will be without midfield string-puller Brad Davis and the team’s top attacking threat, Brian Ching. With Ching out, it takes the strong, good-in-the-air target man out of the Houston attack.

Alain Rochat
Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit should return from a groin problem and move to the centre of defence, allowing Alain Rochat, who has been outstanding this year, to move back to the left side.

Omar Salgado, selected No. 1 overall in the MLS Superdraft, is eligible to make his first regular-season start. But will he be ready after flying back from Guateamala, where the U.S. U-20 team failed in its quest to make the World Cup?

So, who to watch? A sign of how fast soccer has grown in our nation — that we have multiple storylines with multiple clubs. It should be an exciting weekend. Hang on.

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