In a rematch of the 2012 MLS Eastern Conference finals, the Houston Dynamo, reigning champions from the East, kick off the 2013 season by welcoming D.C. United to BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday.
The Dynamo dispatched United from the playoffs last year with relative ease, reaching their second straight MLS Cup with a 4-2 aggregate win over Ben Olsen's side.
But Houston was unable to alter the final result from the 2011 MLS Cup as Dominic Kinnear's men lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy for a second consecutive title match.
The quest for a third MLS Cup appearance (hopefully with a much-improved outcome) begins on Saturday.
Houston is led by forward Will Bruin, a budding superstar who will be counted on for the majority of the offensive production. The Missouri native was selected by Houston with the 11th pick in the 2011 SuperDraft and scored a modest five goals in 25 appearances his rookie season.
But he had a breakout campaign last term, scoring a team-leading 12 goals in 32 games for the Dynamo. Bruin also led the club in shots (78) and shots on goal (35), in 2012, so he will likely be the team's main offensive weapon.
The Dynamo were able to add dynamic striker Omar Cummings to its stable of attackers. If the Jamaican is able to regain his form from the 2010 season, a campaign that saw him net 14 goals en route to the Colorado Rapids' MLS Cup triumph, then Houston may boast one of the deadliest partnerships in the league.
Houston's success may ride on the service of its two midfield stars, Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia. Davis has one of the best left foots in the league and is a threat to score with every set piece he takes, while Garcia was one of the biggest surprises upon his arrival to MLS last season.
Kinnear's side has not experienced a great deal of turnover, which should serve the Dynamo well in their bid to return to the promise land. United, on the other hand, lost a couple of key pieces that may see Olsen's side stumble out of the gates.
Andy Najar, one of the league's hottest properties for some time, departed for Belgian club Anderlecht. Branko Boskovic's return to Rapid Wein means that D.C. will be without a bit of midfield leadership while Maicon Santos' switch to the Chicago Fire leaves the club a bit thin in attack.
Making matters worse for D.C. is the absence of Dwayne De Rosario, who has been suspended for the first two matches of the season for a rash challenge on Danny Cruz in a preseason tilt with the Philadelphia Union.
Even still, United has enough quality to hang with the best in MLS. The club returned Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen and Lionard Pajoy to the fold, giving the visitors enough creativity, finishing ability and midfield grit to make them capable of picking up a result at any venue.