MLS schedule announced: 10 must-watch games in 2023


Whether you’re a seasoned MLS-watching pro who can rattle off the five best GAM-for-player trades in league history, or a relative beginner who got hooked on the World Cup and wants to keep the magic going, here are 10 games you won’t want to miss in 2023.

From MLS is Back (Feb. 25 - Feb. 26) through Rivalry Week (May 13 - May 20) to Decision Day (Oct. 21), the matchups for all 493 regular-season games – each viewable with MLS Season Pass on Apple TV – are set.

Nashville SC vs. New York City FC
Matchday 1

Feb. 25, 4:30 pm ET
GEODIS Park - Nashville, Tenn.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass or FOX

There’s nothing quite like an opening match in any season or tournament. Possibility fills the air, and anticipation blossoms into reality.

The first game of the 2023 MLS regular season between Nashville SC and NYCFC should deliver on those expectations and more. Both clubs have track records of success, reaching the postseason in nine of their 10 combined seasons (three of three for Nashville; six of seven for NYCFC, including a 2021 MLS Cup win).

That’s about where the similarities end. Nashville have built their identity around one of the stingiest defenses in the league, anchored by US men’s national team star Walker Zimmerman. And they funnel most of their lethal counterattacks through 2022 MLS Landon Donovan MVP Hany Mukhtar. NYCFC, on the other hand, tend to get their goals and assists from a rotating stable of creative attackers who love to interchange and play free-flowing soccer.

LA Galaxy vs. LAFC
Matchday 1

Feb. 25, 9:30 pm ET
Rose Bowl Stadium - Pasadena, Calif.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

After a Western Conference Semifinal matchup in 2022 that saw LAFC beat LA Galaxy en route to their title, El Trafico is back.

Named in reference to SoCal’s notorious driving commutes and in honor of the region’s bilingual (Spanish and English) communities, El Trafico has delivered more iconic moments in only a handful of years than some derbies do in a lifetime. Gareth Bale's goal, Zlatan's goal, Carlos Vela vs. Chicharito

What could make it better? How about playing at the 90,000+ seat Rose Bowl, the same hallowed ground that hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup Final, 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final and 1984 Olympic Soccer Gold Medal Match?

St. Louis CITY SC vs. Charlotte FC
Matchday 2

Mar. 4, 8:30 pm ET
CITYPARK - St. Louis, Mo.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

This one is all about expansion side St. Louis CITY SC playing their first MLS home match at CITYPARK, a brand new soccer-specific stadium with a capacity crowd of 22,500.

A longtime hotbed of American soccer talent that's home to 2022 World Cup USMNT players Tim Ream and Josh Sargent, few stateside cities have more history in the sport.

St. Louis fans will surely come out in force to celebrate the first-year club as they take on second-year club Charlotte FC, who narrowly missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs during their inaugural season in 2022.

Austin FC vs. FC Dallas
Rivalry Week - Matchday 12

May 13, 8:30 pm ET
Q2 Stadium - Austin, Texas
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

Alright, alright, alright. Austin FC, co-owned by Matthew McConaughey, shifted their historic 2022 turnaround into a trip to the Western Conference Final. They let their doubters know about it, too.

While many nay-sayers have become believers, FC Dallas won’t be too eager to join the ranks of the converted. They won the first-ever MLS version of Copa Tejas in 2021, then Austin took the mantle in 2022 – and let their fellow Texans know it

An added bonus to this rivalry match: Might the Q2 Stadium crowd celebrate a goal while being bathed in all-green light?

FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew
Rivalry Week - Matchday 14

May 20, 7:30 pm ET
TQL Stadium - Cincinnati, Ohio
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

Another example of an original MLS franchise (Columbus Crew) going to battle with an ambitious MLS newcomer (FC Cincinnati), the Hell is Real Derby is just as heated (no pun intended) as the rest.

Named for an ominous sign found on a stretch of I-71 that connects Cincinnati and Columbus, the rivalry is best summed up by the oft-stated truism that, in soccer, one must suffer to win.

Cincinnati had to endure three straight Wooden Spoon (worst team in the league) seasons to start their MLS life before a 2022 trip to the playoffs finally snapped the inauspicious streak. Columbus nearly lost their team to relocation before new ownership took over in 2019 and helped guide them to an MLS Cup win in 2020.

With both clubs now well-positioned for success, this Ohio-centric rivalry may reach a new peak in 2023.

Atlanta United vs Orlando City SC
Matchday 26

July 15, 7:30 pm ET
Mercedes Benz Stadium - Atlanta, Ga.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass or FS1

As legendary Atlanta hip hop duo OutKast said at the famously East Coast vs. West Coast-focused 1995 Source Awards, “The South got something to say.”

Once upon a time in MLS (2002-14 to be exact), there wasn’t a single team in the Southeast. Now there are five; the golden era of MLS in the American South is well and truly here.

Orlando City SC got the party started in their inaugural 2015 season, and Atlanta United followed their lead in 2017. The latter found unprecedented success from the jump, smashing attendance records and winning MLS Cup in just their second season. Orlando have often played second fiddle, but the Lions' 2022 US Open Cup triumph helped even out the clubs’ respective trophy cases a bit.

More Southeastern rivalries have continued to pop up as new teams enter the fray (Atlanta vs. Charlotte, Orlando vs. Miami, etc…), but there’s still something special about Atlanta vs. Orlando.

NOTE: This is one of the last chances to get your MLS regular-season fix before 2023 Leagues Cup, the midseason tournament featuring every team from MLS and Liga MX, stops league play from July 16 to Aug. 19.

MLS All-Star Game presented by Target

July 19, Time TBD
Audi Field - Washington D.C.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

Though the league hasn’t announced who the MLS All-Stars will play in 2023, history tells us we’re in for a treat in the US capital city.

Liga MX All-Stars were the opponents the last two years, competing against MLS’s best not just in a 90-minute match, but also in the MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G.

Before that, previous adversaries included European giants like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus.

Seattle Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers
Matchday 30

Sept. 2, 10:30 pm ET
Lumen Field - Seattle, Wash.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

As two of three teams locked in a perpetual Cascadia rivalry, Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers helped usher in a new era of MLS derbies when they joined the league in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

The secret to the fanbases’ instant and genuine loathing for one another in MLS may be – to borrow a phrase from the region’s many indie music aficionados – they’ve been into soccer rivalries since before they were big.

The Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps have played each other in one form or another since the 1970s, back when the NASL was the top league in the US and Canada. Their rivalry has blossomed through the decades and through different leagues, including NASL, A-League, USL and, now, MLS.

The reason Seattle and Portland get top billing is they’ve both consistently been among MLS's top teams. Combined, they represented the Western Conference in the MLS Cup Final from 2015-21. That’s seven straight years!

An early-September matchup is almost guaranteed to have major playoff implications.

Philadelphia Union vs. LAFC
Matchday 34

Sept. 23, 7:30 pm ET
Subaru Park - Chester, Pa.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

The MLS Cup 2022 Final between LAFC and Philadelphia Union is arguably considered the greatest match in MLS history. It featured, among other things:

  • A 3-3 draw settled by LAFC super-sub Gareth Bale's towering extra-time header
  • PK heroics from LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy after he subbed on for Maxime Crepeau, who broke his leg and got a red card while making a game-saving challenge in extra time

Only in MLS. Only in Hollywood.

In case you’re worried the 2023 rematch won’t live up to the billing, don’t be. These are two of the deepest teams in MLS. On paper, they should both expect to make deep playoff runs again, making this late-season clash all the more meaningful.

Charlotte FC vs. Inter Miami CF
Decision Day - Matchday 38

Oct. 21, Time TBD
Bank of America Stadium - Charlotte, N.C.
Watch on: MLS Season Pass

Decision Day concludes the regular season: first with all Eastern Conference teams kicking off simultaneously, then with all Western Conference teams doing the same just a few hours later.

The end result of the specially-timed finales is a type of beautiful chaos that inevitably becomes tragedy for some and triumph for others.

Last year, Inter Miami CF and Charlotte FC just barely ended up on opposite ends of that drama. Miami earned the Eastern Conference's sixth seed, while Charlotte were already eliminated and finished in ninth place.

Will they be right on the playoff line again in 2023? If so, their Decision Day fixture could be do or die for both teams.