NEW YORK – Decision Day in Major League Soccer is finally a reality.
MLS revealed the full schedule for its landmark 20th season on Wednesday, complete with an unprecedented slate of nationally televised games, two more weekends of high-profile rivalry games and – for the first time in league history – a final day of the regular season that will see crucial games played simultaneously to decide which teams live to play another day in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The league also announced that the playoff field will expand to 12 teams in 2015, as the sixth-place teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences will qualify for the postseason. The Knockout Rounds will now consist of four single-elimination matches on the road to MLS Cup in early December.
MLS’ 20 teams will each play 34 games during the regular season, for a total of 340 matches. Clubs will play each team in the opposing conference once for five home and five away matches, each of their nine conference opponents at least twice (one home, one away) and six additional intra-conference games -- three home and three away versus different opponents.
The 2015 season marks the first of an eight-year television and media rights partnership with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision that will feature a Univision game of the week on Friday nights and an ESPN and FOX Sports double-header nearly every Sunday all season.
Univision’s games – primarily on UniMás - will be available in Spanish and English both on television and live streamed on the Univision Deportes app.
Sunday’s doubleheaders on ESPN and FOX Sports networks will showcase back-to-back MLS matches at 5 pm and 7 pm ET, respectively. Both ESPN and FOX Sports will simulcast their games on their Spanish-language networks (ESPN Deportes, FOX Deportes) and their authenticated digital offerings (Watch ESPN, FOX Sports GO).
UniMás’ first MLS game of the week will open the season when the five-time MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy host the Chicago Fire on Friday, March 6 on UniMás (10 pm ET).
On Sunday, March 8, fans will be treated to a six-and-a-half hour block of nationally televised soccer, beginning when expansion clubs Orlando City SC and New York City FC go head to head at the Citrus Bowl (ESPN2, 5 p.m. ET).
Fox Sports 1 will then broadcast a star-studded double-header when Sporting Kansas City welcome the New York Red Bulls at Sporting Park (7 pm ET) and the 2014 Supporters’ Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winners Seattle Sounders take on MLS Cup runners-up New England Revolution at CenturyLink Field (9:30 pm. ET).
Non-national TV games will be played on Saturdays, with intermittent mid-week matches, and will be broadcast locally and/or via a subscription to a digital out-of-market package.
Nationally in Canada, at least 30 games featuring Canadian clubs will air on TSN networks in English and RDS networks in French. The TSN/TSN2 and RDS/RDS2 schedules will be announced in the coming weeks.
League rivalries will be on display twice in 2015 as part of Heineken presents MLS Rivalry Week the weekends of June 26-28 and Aug. 28-30. The first installment of Rivalry Week in June will include the Texas Derby between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo, a matchup between New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium and the Cascadia Cup clash between the Seattle Sounders and host Portland Timbers at Providence Park.
The second Rivalry Week in late August will feature historic matchups, including the LA Galaxy at the San Jose Earthquakes at San Jose’s new soccer-specific Avaya Stadium, Seattle hosting Portland at CenturyLink Field and D.C. United visiting the New York Red Bulls for the Atlantic Cup.
MLS and its broadcast partners have also introduced flex scheduling for the second-to-last weekend of the regular season which will allow Univision, ESPN and FOX Sports to decide to telecast late in the season the matches that matter most in the standings.
In addition to the flex scheduling option in week 33 of the season, the last day of the 2015 regular season will see MLS unveil its new “Decision Day” scheduling format.
All five games in the Eastern Conference will be played concurrently on Sunday, October 25 at 5 pm ET, with one game airing on FOX Sports 1 and one game on UniMás. Immediately following, all five Western Conference matches will be played at 7 pm ET, with one game airing on ESPN2 and one game on UniMás.
In the postseason, the Knockout Round matches will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 28 and Thursday, Oct. 29. The Conference Semifinals will take place over two consecutive weekends, Oct. 31-Nov. 1 and Nov. 7-8.
Following a FIFA break from Nov. 9 – 17, the Conference Championship matches will begin on Nov. 21-22 and close out Nov. 28-29. The Conference Semifinals and Conference Championship matches will again be 2-game aggregate goal series. Of the two clubs that reach MLS Cup, the team with the better regular season record will host the championship game, on Dec. 5-6 or Dec. 12-13. Full playoff schedule details will be announced at a later date.
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