The 2016 schedule is out! I'll probably watch about 250 of these games this year thanks to MLS LIVE, but in deference to the fact that most of you are sane and won't spend your entire weekend on the coach (armchair), I picked out 10 from the list that everybody should keep an eye on.
Here we are:
1. Portland Timbers vs. Columbus Crew SC; Sunday, March 6, 4:30 pm ET
It’s the annual MLS Cup rematch, so of course this is one that everybody should watch. Both teams will be among the Supporters’ Shield favorites, and both have kept the heart of their rosters together, so I expect there to be minimal early-season “getting to know you” choppiness.
2. Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake; Saturday, April 2
This isn’t recognized by casual fans as a rivalry in the way of the California Clasico or Cascadia, but these two teams not-so-secretly haaaate each other. They’ve produced some gorgeous goals and some brutal tackles over the last few years, and in Benny Feilhaber and Javier Morales there will be a pair of Best XI-caliber No. 10s on the field.
Canada’s least polite rivalry across all sports takes its turn in the spotlight. By this point in the season, we’ll probably have a good idea of where Will Johnson fits into that TFC midfield and what the resolution to L’Affaire Drogba is.
4. New York Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas; Friday, April 29, 7 pm ET
The top two finishers in last season’s Supporters' Shield standings get their one regular-season match-up of 2016, and it’ll be in Harrison, New Jersey. Dallas have trended steadily upward under Oscar Pareja, and I expect them to enter the season as Shield favorites.
5. New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union; Saturday, June 18
Certain /r/MLS denizens have dubbed the stretch of I-95 from New England to D.C. “The Gauntlet,” and I’m gonna run with that. There are five teams involved, and they’re all out for blood when they face each other. This particular match-up has an extra European influence with manager Patrick Vieira taking over for NYCFC and Earnie Stewart now running the front office for Philly.
6. San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy; Saturday, June 25, 10 pm ET
This version of the California Clasico is played at a packed Stanford Stadium every year, and it’s produced some of the most insane endings in league history. An added bonus is that I could probably put San Jose’s starters on the lineup sheet right now, but I have no idea what the Galaxy will look like.
The league’s longest road trip will also be a chance to see the progress of two of the league’s most promising youngsters – Vancouver’s Kekuta Manneh and Orlando’s Cyle Larin. By this point in the season, we could see them shoring up their status as superstars or we could see two teams entering desperation mode.
8. Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers; Sunday, August 21, 9:30 pm ET
This Cascadia derby will likely feature a 68,000-seat stadium packed to overflowing and two teams well in the thick of the playoff race. It’ll be interesting to see if a reversal of the “big brother, little brother” relationship happens in light of Portland’s MLS Cup triumph. Whatever happens, neither team will have to wait long for a rematch, as Seattle head down I-5 just seven days later in what amounts to a home-and-home series to start the playoff push.
This actually has the potential to be a relatively meaningless game in the standings – I don’t think that most people will be picking either of these teams as playoff locks. But I’m excited to see what Veljko Paunovic will do in his first year in charge, and it’s proven stupid to count Ben Olsen’s teams out. Plus it’s my birthday.
10. New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact; Sunday, October 23, 4 pm ET
Perhaps not the Decision Day matchup you were expecting (Philly vs. RBNY and Vancouver vs. Portland are rivalry games), but Gillette Stadium can get absolutely rocking when the crowd gets over 25k, and given the trend of the last couple of years, it’s a fair bet that there’ll be almost twice that many in the stands. Great crowds generally make for great games, and on top of that I remain an unapologetic fan of the way the Revs play.