hell is real

The 2020 Major League Soccer schedule is out. Rejoice! Our soccer year is mapped out, and there are more games than ever to enjoy during the league’s 25th season.

From 442 games, I cut it down to the 10 I’m looking forward to most. It was hard, and my choices will not please everyone. I’m all about firsts and rivalries. I wish Atlanta United appeared less to share the love, but they’ve got some plum dates. Apologies in advance to the 13 teams I don’t mention by name. Nothing personal, just casualties of the numbers game.

Nashville SC vs. Atlanta United, Feb. 29 @ Nissan Stadium

There’s only one league meeting between these two potential rivals because Nashville SC start their MLS life in the Western Conference. That meeting comes on opening day with considerable fanfare. It’s Nashville's first-ever MLS match and the first-ever competitive meeting between these two teams. Preseason friendlies don’t count.

Because it comes so early in the season, neither team is likely to be in rhythm, though Atlanta will have Concacaf Champions League to prime the pump a bit. It won’t matter. I’ve been to a lot of first-ever MLS games. There will be one-time-only energy buzzing around every aspect of this soccer spectacle. First-ever MLS home games tend to deliver with memorable moments, even if the soccer isn’t beautiful. Plus, you can watch this one on big FOX. No cable subscription needed.

Inter Miami CF vs. LA Galaxy, March 14 @ Fort Lauderdale Stadium

MLS 2020 schedule: The 11 matchdays I'm most excited about for the new season | Andrew Wiebe - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_landscape/s3/images/Beckham%20Mas%20construction.png

David Beckham and Jorge Mas at Inter's stadium site in Fort Lauderdale | Inter Miami

Yes, another first-ever home match (one more coming, kinda). MLS is back in Miami and Inter’s first game in their new home, for the time being, comes against the Galaxy on, again, big FOX.

I don’t think I need to explain the connections, do I? Let’s be honest, we’re all wondering what MLS in Miami will look like this time around. We’re still wondering who the head coach on the home bench will be, too. And which Designated Players they'll have to work with. And who’ll replace Zlatan in Los Angeles. So yeah, there are some storylines here.

Chicago Fire FC vs. Atlanta United, March 21 @ Soldier Field

Another first. Kinda.

There’s a lot of potential (and pressure) wrapped up in the Fire’s move to Soldier Field. It’s hard – nay, impossible, sans sporting director, head coach and DPs – to talk about what Chicago will look like on the field, but we ought to get a hint of what the club will look like off the field as they head downtown and return to the banks of Lake Michigan. I still believe the Fire are a sleeping giant. Will they wake up in 2020?

Orlando City vs. Atlanta United, April 26 @ Exploria Stadium

This video is worth a thousand words. This rivalry is lopsided. Can Oscar Pareja change that?

LAFC vs. LA Galaxy, May 16 @ Banc of California Stadium

You knew El Trafico was going to be on the list. At this point, it’s like a soccer soap opera. You’ve got to tune in, just in case. It’ll be extra-easy to do so. The game is on ABC.

But what happens when a soap loses its biggest villain and biggest star … and they’re the same person? We’re going to find out. Zlatan brought so much juice on his own, via his aura, his words and his goals, and now he’s gone, the last MLS memory a loss in the playoffs. There’s no replacing Zlatan, obviously, but perhaps his absence opens the door for another protagonist.

Is it LAFC’s turn to own the rivalry? Will another Galaxy hero emerge? Time to find out!

New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact, June 27 @ Red Bull Arena

I’m a Thierry Henry stan, so the Impact we’re always going to appear on this list at some point. I thought about a Canadian Classique – again, just because a game isn’t on this list doesn’t mean I’m not jacked for it – but decided on Henry’s return to Red Bull Arena. Lots has changed since he left. This match is here for nostalgia purposes. Look out for the Arsenal jersey army on the PATH.

FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew, July 19 @ Nippert Stadium

Hell is Real, and it’s a beautiful thing.

MLS has a lot of established coastal rivalries, a couple further inland, too. Think Rocky Mountain Cup and the Texas Derby. Maybe it’s just where I was born and raised, but I’ve long felt we’ve been missing some good ol’ fashioned Midwestern mad dogging. Cincinnati and Columbus, despite their records, delivered in Year 1. There’s respect between these I-71 neighbors, but there’s no doubt the rivalry (between cities, between clubs) is very real.

Both games delivered in 2019, and I expect the same in 2020. The tifo should be Larry David voice prettay prettay good, too.

Kansas City and St. Louis, take note. You’ve got next. Midwest represent.

Seattle Sounders vs. LAFC ... LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders, July 25 and Aug. 2

En route to another MLS Cup, Brian Schmetzer was famously “feeling better than Bob [Bradley].”

How will these coaches, teams and fanbases feel after two matches in a single week? I’d say the cluster scheduling is a bit much, but then again these two teams did the same thing in 2019, just in April. There ought to be pride, positioning atop the Western Conference and, depending on how the respective sides look at that playoff game and the comments after, some spice.

Both games are on ABC, too. Clearly they’re betting on some spice as well.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers, Aug. 22 @ CenturyLink Field

I’ve already hit Orlaaaaaaando (sorry, but until the Lions win…) vs. Atlanta United, El Trafico and Hell is Real. I thought about the New York Derby, but it’s in a state of flux with the Red Bulls slightly down and NYCFC without a coach. Could have gone Miami-Orlando, just to see what that’ll be like. Thought about the Rocky Mountain Cup or Texas Derby. In the end, Cascadia is still a standard bearer. There’s just something about Timbers-Sounders. It had to make the cut.

Decision Day, Oct. 4

I can’t pick just one. How could you possibly know which matches will have the highest stakes today? I just know, with an additional team in each conference fighting for the same number of playoff places, that there will be a ton to play for, whether one of seven berths or the seeding that determines home-field advantage and byes.

Maybe the Supporters’ Shield will be up for grabs. Other than opening day – I get antsy waiting for domestic soccer to return, and the first taste is always the best taste – it’s absolutely my most-anticipated day of the regular season.