Wiebe: Your 2017 MLS bucket list

I can’t be the only person who organizes life via an ever-growing cache of Google Docs.

It’s all there. Work to-dos, books to read, financial and physical goals, family birthdays and important dates, ongoing personal projects – I swear I’ll finally get around to taking those Spanish classes this year – travel plans and, of course, a (domestic soccer-heavy) bucket list.

I’ve been fortunate enough to cross plenty off that list over the past five years. In 2017, I’ll whittle it down even more, while also inevitably adding a cavalcade of new entries as the North America soccer ecosystem continues to expand and diversify. I love this game, and I’m happy to devote my free time and disposable income to it. Since you’ve made it this far, I’m going to assume you’re in the same boat.

With that in mind, here are seven MLS bucket list items you should consider for 2017, with the caveat that there are plenty more moments that deserve a shout – go ahead and leave those in the comment section below. Consider it an incomplete cheat sheet to the most memorable experiences this league and this continent can offer.

Book a last-minute preseason vacation

Our own Sam Stejskal swears by Tucson, but I contend that there isn’t a better preseason locale than Charleston, where the Battery host the Carolina Challenge Cup every February.

It won’t just be a soccer vacation, either, which ought to help you sell the less-MLS inclined on a spur-of-the-moment trip. Charleston serves up the perfect mix of soccer and culture. It’s a vibrant college town with a heaping helping of historical Southern charm (and mouth-watering, lowcountry cuisine) that also happens to boast an absolute gem in MUSC Health Stadium, where you’ll see alligator warning signs and wander through the Three Lions Club, a beautiful pub that doubles as a soccer museum full of one-of-a-kind memorabilia.

This year, the Battery will welcome Columbus Crew SC, Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders to Daniel Island. That means you’ll get first-hand, intimate looks at the defending MLS Cup champions, an MLS expansion side already making headlines for their big-money moves and unbridled ambition and a Crew SC team that prides itself on entertaining, possession-based soccer. That’s about as good as MLS preseason gets.

You’ve only got 10 days to book this one, but spontaneity is attractive, right?

Catch CCL fever – on the road

If you haven’t traveled to Central America for a game, it’s time to cross that entry off your bucket list (or add it, if it isn’t already there).

Your first opportunity this year comes March 1 in Panama City, where Arabe Unido will host FC Dallas at Estadio Maracaná – no, not that Maracanã – in the second leg of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup. Not only will you witness some high-stakes regional action, which could put Dallas on a collision course with Pachuca or Saprissa in the semis, but you’ll visit one of the continent’s most fascinating metropolises.

Be sure to go check out the Panama Canal – watching a massive cargo ship go through the locks is truly breathtaking – and prolong your stay so you can rent a car and drive down the coast in order to split time between the beach (I recommend hitting Playa Santa Clara during the week when it’s deserted) and the mountains.

And if March 1 is too soon, take solace in the fact that at least one MLS team, either the Red Bulls or Whitecaps, is guaranteed to make a trip to Mexico for the semifinals. Book the trip and thank me later. Oh, and if an MLS team makes the final, be there or forever wallow in regret.

Be there when Orlando City debuts The Wall on opening weekend

Count me among the MLS stadium weirdos who check construction cams every single day and spend hours digitally exploring via virtual venues. If I could, I’d be at the debut of every single new venue built in MLS.

I was there when Orlando City was awarded an MLS franchise. Downtown was a purple-only zone that night, and the festivities, and it was clear then that the team was going to be a hit. More than three years later, the Lions are preparing to move into their new 25,500-seat stadium, and opening day against New York City FC on March 5 promises to be one of those games that gets burned in your memory forever.

The highlight, among many, promises to be “The Wall,” the massive, standing-room only supporter section that will loom over visiting teams and produce the sort of din that turns a nice little Sunday afternoon into a raucous and raging soccer party. If you can find your way to Central Florida for this one, do it. And if you can snag a ticket in “The Wall,” consider buying an extra for me.

Go to the first Atlanta United game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

You crossed Orlando off your bucket list, but you’ll also want to leave enough money in the vacation fund to make it to Atlanta for the grand opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 30 against a potential rival in – who else? – the Lions.

Bobby Dodd Stadium is a fine temporary venue for the 2017 expansion side, but Atlanta United’s ambitions won’t truly be realized until they move into their $1.5 billion jewel of a venue. The plans call for a MLS capacity of just over 32,000, but with more than 27,000 season tickets already sold, ATLUTD figures to follow the Seattle Sounders’ CenturyLink Field lead in expanding capacity for high-profile matches (or perhaps in general).

This one could certainly qualify. Witnessing the first-ever event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as fans clamor to help break in the building as well as support the city’s newest team, has bucket list written all over it.

Visit all three Cascadia clubs in the summer

If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, you may have Cascadia fatigue. I get it. The Timbers, Sounders, Whitecaps and the Cup they fight over every year get a lot of love.

Here’s the thing, it’s justified, and a summer trip belongs on everyone’s MLS bucket list. The weather is beautiful, the scenery is jaw-dropping, the stadiums are packed, the rivalry matches are intense and there are plenty of non-soccer activities to occupy your free hours.

This year, I think the prime time comes in late August, when you can hit two Cascadia Cup matches and all three cities in eight days. Start in Portland on Aug. 20 for a Soccer Sunday match against the Red Bulls, head north to Vancouver for a midweek clash between the Whitecaps and Sounders, then cross the border one more time to take in a Portland-Seattle clasico at CenturyLink Field.

That’s a soccer vacation you’ll never forget.

Hit the New York Derby – your choice of venue

Feel free to fight about the merits of attending an all-New York match at Red Bull Arena or Yankee Stadium in comments section. The important thing is you that pick a venue and go.

In just two years, the New York Derby has become a must-attend event for soccer fans in the Big Apple, no matter whether you think New York is red, blue or some other color entirely. The fans are up for it, the tension is palpable and there’s no mistaking the rivalry undercurrent that courses through every aspect of the game – the buildup the week before, trip to the game on public transit, pregame festivities, in-game battle for supremacy and postgame distribution of bragging rights.

Disagree? I bet you haven’t been ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Bonus: You’ll get to explore New York City, which is basically a massive playground for adults. That alone should sell you, but the soccer is damn good, too.

Book a trip to MLS Cup or the All-Star Game

Or just win a VIP trip via MLS Fantasy. Just saying.

It sounds obvious, but no matter who you support, there’s something invigorating about being at a league-wide event, surrounded by people who’re just as invested as you are in the domestic game. The days are packed, the nights are long and everywhere you look is a supporter of a different team just waiting to share their own MLS experience.

I’m a huge dork, but that’s basically heaven in my book.

Here’s the case for All-Star: mingle with MLS’s biggest stars at events, hit the party circuit with your friends and fellow fans (and maybe even talk some sense into those media members and broadcasters whose hot takes have been grinding your gears), then watch the players you see every week take on one of the world’s biggest clubs boasting the sport’s biggest stars. Re-live it all in the TSA line with other fans the next morning.

Here’s the case for MLS Cup: mingle and party – that’s a given – then watch as the 22nd MLS Cup champion is crowned under a shower of confetti. It’s a special moment – even if I nearly got frostbite in Toronto last December – and the emotion surrounding the match, especially now that it’s hosted by a participant, is palpable. It’s the definition of an MLS bucket-list item.

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What did I miss? Leave your 2017 bucket list items in the comments section!

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