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Bring on the new MLS season!

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A sleepy spring evening at Buck Shaw Stadium awaited me Tuesday as I entered the gates to watch the Earthquakes train in anticipation of their season opener against Real Salt Lake. The air was still as the waning sunlight faded behind the Santa Cruz Mountains. A light dusting of pollen still coated the bench seating where I sat in the East Stand. The refurbished grass pitch looked in perfect shape, far from the painted dirt we saw back in October of last year. My only guests were the occasional mosquito looking for their last meal of the day and an errantly cleared soccer ball that Jay Hernandez seemed to kick my way.

When I closed my eyes, and just listened to the players go through keep-away drills and scrimmages, the rush of knowing the season was just around the corner was palpable. One hopes the stadium will be filled for the visit of the MLS Cup champions this weekend with a fervent crowd of Quakes supporters. Instead of hearing Arty bark instructions to RJ, and Q trash talking Cornell, I look forward to the drum beats and chants emanating from behind the North Goal, the loudspeakers bellowing out the starting line-up (...and in goal, JOE CANNON!...), the collective sense that a new season is upon us and anything is possible. In a word, I look forward to the "excitement."

The protracted MLS CBA negotiations have been a real drag, not only because it hung like a black cloud over preseason training, but because it threatened the very start to the season. Fortunately for all involved, and in no small part due to the cajoling of a Brooklyn accented mediator/magician, cooler heads prevailed in the battle between owners and players. The league keeps its single-entity structure intact, the players made significant progress in players-rights, and the fans get to see the 15th season of MLS start on time.

I don't blame some of you for bracing for disappointment over the past couple weeks, especially as the two sides in the negotiations took their cases to the press. Getting an agreement done looked bleak, and I heard nervous rumblings that a work stoppage was inevitable. Ever the optimist, I still had a hard time swallowing the fact that my favorite team in my favorite sport would not be taking the field as planned on March 27th.

Now, we can all move forward, scarves over head, game tickets in our pockets, and beers in our hands, as we take our seats Saturday evening at 6 p.m. in what I hope is a raucous Buck Shaw Stadium. And echoing the new team slogan for 2010 -- Did you feel that? -- the butterflies of anticipation have returned following a long off-season. Game day is near at hand...