Every year when the MLS regular season schedule drops, players, coaches and fans around the league get out their red pens and start circling the calendar.
Rivalry contests, milestone games and grudge matches from years past are quickly highlighted, with a few matches from around the league really jumping out and grabbing everyone’s attention – even us neutral observers.
Which matches stick out most this regular season? Here are 10 I already have my eye on:
March 3 – Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United FC
The first match of the 2017 regular season will also be the first in Minnesota’s MLS history, as the Loons will travel to Portland to take on the Timbers in a difficult opening contest at Providence Park. Any sort of result would be a huge positive for United, while anything less than a win for Portland could put some undue early pressure on Caleb Porter and the Timbers after their disappointing 2016.
March 5 – Atlanta United FC vs. New York Red Bulls
Two days after Minnesota debuts in the Pacific Northwest, expansion partner Atlanta United FC will play their inaugural match, hosting the New York Red Bulls at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. It’ll be a huge first test for Atlanta, and an interesting test case for New York, who will be playing the first match of the post-Dax McCarty era.
April 29 – New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
Speaking of McCarty, on April 29, the veteran midfielder will make his first appearance at Red Bull Arena since New York shockingly traded him to Chicago on Monday. It’ll surely be an emotional encounter for the former Red Bulls captain, and a good early test for the new-look Fire, who will be aiming to return to respectability following their impressive offseason.
May 6 – Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC
The lone 2017 meeting between the 2016 MLS Cup finalists will take place on May 6, when the Sounders will welcome TFC to CenturyLink Field nearly five months to the day after claiming the Cup in Toronto. It’s early in the year, but this one could have plenty of late-season implications for a pair of teams that figure to contend for the Supporters’ Shield.
July 1 – San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy
The annual midsummer Cali Classico at Stanford Stadium is always one of my favorite matches of the MLS season. It’ll also be an interesting test for the Galaxy, who are in the midst of a full-on restructuring. Gone are Bruce Arena, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Landon Donovan and Mike Magee. It remains to be seen just how new head coach Curt Onalfo and GM Peter Vagenas go about replacing them.
July 30 – Atlanta United FC vs. Orlando City SC
One of the first editions of MLS’s new Southeast rivalry will be a historic occasion, as Atlanta and Orlando will face off in the first sporting event at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Stadium talk will likely dominate the buildup to the match, but it should be a doozy on the field, too, as both clubs look like they’ll be in a battle for an East playoff place this season.
August 6 – New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls
The first New York derby of the year comes on June 24, but this NYCFC-RBNY matchup on Aug. 6 will mark the first time the rivals will meet at Yankee Stadium in 2017. Playing in the Bronx always seems to add a little bit to these encounters, as the memory of the 7-0 thrashing the Red Bulls' put on City last May lingers in both clubs' minds.
August 27 – Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC
The combatants from one of the greatest playoff series in MLS history will meet again for the first time since their thrilling Eastern Conference Championship on Aug. 27, when Montreal hosts Toronto at Stade Saputo. It won’t be quite as big of a crowd as the last time we saw these two face off in Montreal, but there will still be plenty of emotion, bragging rights and East implications at stake in this one.
October 15 – Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas
Just one day short of the first anniversary of Mauro Diaz tearing his Achilles against the Sounders, FC Dallas will again meet Seattle in what should be a massive late-season encounter. Dallas could once again be in the running for the Shield, while the Sounders – with Nico Lodeiro in tow for a full year – could be contending for hardware, as well. Regardless of where these teams sit in the overall standings come Oct. 15, this game is sure to have a huge impact on the Western Conference playoff race.
October 22 – Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City
Perhaps not the obvious Decision Day choice, but the RSL-SKC battles are always a favorite of mine. These two teams aren’t at the heights they were in 2013 when they met in MLS Cup, but they still really, really dislike each other. Throw a little hate into what should be a massive end-of-season encounter for a pair of clubs looking to climb back into the MLS elite and you’ve got a can’t-miss matchup.