Santa Clara, CA (Sports Network) - The top two teams in the Western Conference last year will clash at Buck Shaw Stadium on Sunday as the San Jose Earthquakes, winners of the 2012 Supporters' Shield, meet up with Real Salt Lake.
The Earthquakes were clearly the best side in the regular season, but faltered in the postseason, while RSL was bounced early in the playoffs and faces a 2013 without some familiar faces on the roster.
Jamison Olave was the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year and formed an effective partnership with Nat Borchers, but he will be plying his trade in New York along with forward Fabian Espindola, who netted nine goals and chipped in seven assists last year for the Claret and Cobalt.
Steady midfielder Will Johnson joins the list of departures as well after being shipped to Portland.
"I don't read a lot of the stuff about our team, but I know there was a lot of negativity," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "I don't see it. I think the team has done a good job of getting some allocation money, trading for good players and keeping a core group of guys around.
"We will be ready to compete for an MLS Cup this season."
Whether the club can match Grabavoy's lofty expectations or not will depend largely on the form of forward Robbie Findley, who returns to the club after spending a few seasons in England.
Findley posted a total of 29 goals in 96 games for RSL in his first stint, and if he can effectively partner leading scorer Alvaro Saborio up top, goals should not be an issue for head coach Jason Kreis.
One of the other concerns will be how Olave's absence effects a defense that yielded the third-fewest goals in MLS last season.
San Jose has fewer questions regarding its roster, which saw little turnover after such a strong regular-season performance.
A potent trio of Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart will once again lead the attack, while Steven Beitashour emerged as one of the top defenders in the league last season and will be counted on to anchor the back line.
This is a San Jose team with few questions entering the season, but we might get to know a bit more about both of these contenders with the outcome of Sunday's game.