2019 MLS schedule release: 10 games to look forward to

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy - celebrates his golazo vs. LAFC

Can you feel that? The 2019 MLS season beckons, less than two months away. Not only are we within touching distance of March 2 -- not to mention Concacaf Champions League action kicking off February 19 -- but with Monday's release of the full schedule, one crucial step in the offseason calendar has fallen. We know all 34 games for each club. It's time to circle a few matches.

The offseason is a time when optimism holds court, running wild with unchecked power — and this list could have easily hit triple digits. But some tough cuts had to be made for the sake of length. Feel free to leave your comments with the games you're most looking forward to in 2019.

Seattle Sounders vs. FC Cincinnati - March 2

10:00 PM ET at CenturyLink Field

2019 MLS schedule release: 10 games to look forward to - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Koch%20fist%20pump.jpg

FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch | USA Today Sports

For the second consecutive year, the Seattle Sounders host an expansion club's inaugural MLS game. Last season, they fell to LAFC 1-0. What will happen this season against FC Cincinnati?

An expansion side's first MLS match is always exciting. Questions won't be answered in full, but the many mysteries around the club will begin to take shape. In theory, FC Cincy's backline looks quite strong, but how will the unit fare in action? Will head coach Alan Koch set up defensively? Can Fanendo Adi and Darren Mattocks play together? Who will be the side's go-to playmaker? In a suddenly crowded midfield depth-chart, which two (or three?) players will get the opening day nod?

Minnesota United FC vs NYCFC - April 13

5:00 PM ET at Allianz Field

We all fall victim to the allure of stadium renderings almost every single time they are released. It's okay, it's human nature. Allianz Field was no different.

But, Minnesota United's new home incredulously looks even better than advertised. Against NYCFC, the Loons will take the field at their new stadium for the first time. It'll be a spectacle.

Lest we forget, there will be 90 minutes of soccer played amid the stadium fawning. They have all three of their Designated Player slots filled with Darwin Quintero, Angelo Rodriguez and Jan Gregus and will be looking to make their first playoff run as an MLS club.

NY Red Bulls vs Atlanta United - May 19

1:00 PM ET at Red Bull Arena

The first rematch of last season's two best teams. The no doubt the New York Red Bulls will harbor ill-will following their 3-0 collapse in Leg 1 of the Conference Championship against eventual champions Atlanta United. As always when the two sides meet, it's one to watch.

By this time, Frank de Boer will have had 11 MLS matches to work out his preferred starting XI and the club should be gelling towards his vision. Both clubs will be back to full focus on league play, with the Concacaf Champions League wrapping up in April, should either progress to the semifinal and/or final.

Portland Timbers vs LAFC - June 1

10:30 PM ET at Providence Park

This is the Portland Timbers first home game of the season with Providence Park undergoing a quick tune-up. Renovations began this offseason and are taking shape as we speak (or type.)

Portland kicks off 2019 with 12 consecutive away fixtures, as the club requested while they await their home's makeover to be complete. As seen with D.C. United a season ago, it's not necessarily a bad thing, so long that the club can pick up momentum over the second half of the campaign. A win against LAFC wouldn't be a bad start.

Meanwhile, LAFC enter season two after breaking the record for most points in an expansion season in 2018. Much of the team's core is back as LAFC figure to be fighting at the top of the Western Conference once again.

San Jose Earthquakes vs LA Galaxy - June 29

10:00 PM ET at Stanford Stadium

2019 MLS schedule release: 10 games to look forward to - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Almeyda.jpg

San Jose Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda | San Jose Earthquakes

Matias Almeyda. Guillermo Barros Schelotto. California Clasico. Stanford Stadium. Let's go!

Almeyda's San Jose Earthquakes revolution continues to churn despite little room for maneuvering, having signed 23-year-old Argentine winger Cristian Espinoza from Villarreal and 19-year-old Peru international left back Marcos Lopez from Sporting Cristal. Almeyda won't have the pleasure of a full overhaul as the bulk of the squad from last year's bottom-of-the-league finish remains.

And Almeyda gets his first taste of familiar face Guillermo Barros Schelotto on June 29, as the former Boca-River foes add extra verve to the Cali Clasico-- as if it needed additional juice. 

LA Galaxy vs Toronto FC - July 4

10:30 PM ET at Dignity Health Sports Park

Quite a lot has changed since 1996, but one thing has remained a constant through the rapid acceleration of technology: an LA Galaxy home match on July 4.

For the 24th consecutive year, the Galaxy host an MLS match on Independence Day. It's a doozy this year, with Sebastian Giovinco and co. arriving in Hollywood to take on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his teammates. Expect fireworks over 90 minutes, preceding the firework show on the pitch after the match for the 24th consecutive year.

While there (likely) will be goals, don't expect a re-run of last season's defensive calamity where TFC prevailed 5-3 in Toronto. 

Atlanta United vs D.C. United - July 21

4:00 PM ET at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

No list looking at 2019 matches is complete without an Atlanta United match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

If they open the upper deck, we may be treated to 70,000 fans going bonkers yet again. As always, star power will be in no short order with 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez and Wayne Rooney set to face off. Each of the three times these clubs played last season, the score ended 3-1, with Atlanta twice taking victories. 

Goals, attacking flair and a great crowd-- yes, please.

Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders - August 23

10:00 PM ET at Providence Park

This is he last of the six Cascadia Cup clashes of the season and it could decide who takes home the trophy. 

Seattle won last year's Cascadia Cup while the Timbers hoisted the trophy in 2017. In the MLS era, the Cup has been passed between the three clubs almost exactly evenly, as the Whitecaps and Sounders have three triumphs while Portland have two. The Timbers won't want to fall behind their rivals. 

LAFC vs LA Galaxy - August 25

10:00 PM ET at Banc of California Stadium

El Trafico — self-explanatory. 

The first edition of the rivalry will not soon be forgotten as Ibrahimovic's MLS debut in which the Galaxy turned around a 3-0 halftime deficit to a 4-3 winagainst their city rivals. The second game provided more late drama, when the Galaxy again made a late comeback, reversing a 2-0 hole with 10 minutes left to a 2-2 draw

LAFC still haven't beaten the Galaxy, as the sides played to a 1-1 draw in their third meeting. 

Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew SC - October 6

4:00 PM ET at BMO Field

It may be foolish to project what match will have the most at stake come the regular season's final afternoon, though I am but a fool. This has the makings of postseason implications. 

Toronto have re-loaded after a flabbergasting 2018 in which the defending champions finished 14 points (!) adrift the playoff line. Columbus Crew SC, who have made the playoffs four of the last five seasons, are under new ownership and stewardship, as former TFC mastermind Tim Bezbatchenko was appointed club president and Caleb Porter head coach.