The Timbers Army displays some tifo on April 14 against Chicago.
Courtesy of Portland Timbers

10 must-see MLS matches in 2012

NEW YORK — The 2012 MLS schedule is out. Time to get the red pen from the kitchen doodads drawer and start circling dates on the calendar.

Here are 10 dates we’ve already got blocked off.

March 10: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Montreal Impact — Bienvenue a MLS, Montreal. The Impact’s arrival in MLS and this compatriot season opener should add fuel to the sparkling fire that is the Eastern Canada-vs.-Western Canada rivalry.

March 11: FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls (NBC Sports Network) — Welcome to MLS, NBC. The first game of the new three-year partnership between the league and the broadcasting giant is a rematch of last year’s Wild Card match. Having added Blas Pérez to the already potent attack of Brek Shea and now-healthy David Ferreira, FCD will be looking for revenge against Thierry Henry & Co.

March 17: Montreal Impact vs. Chicago Fire — The Impact open their home slate against rookie coach Jesse Marsch’s old club. Fair enough. More interestingly, the last time the Impact played at Olympic Stadium, they drew more than 50,000 fans to a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against Santos Laguna.

April 7: Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — The Rocky Mountain Cup kicks off early in ‘12. And RSL, who don’t have to worry about CCL action or anything else in the first part of the season, will be on a mission to regain their status as top dogs in the Rockies and the West. Will the Rapids’ new coach be up for the venom that comes with this rivalry?

May 5: LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls (ESPN) — Charge up the flashbulbs for this heavyweight contest between the champs and the contenders. There will be DPs galore, of course, and plenty of bad blood from last year’s postgame donnybrook in the playoffs that began when New York’s Rafa Márquez threw the ball at LA’s Landon Donovan.

May 12: Houston Dynamo vs. D.C. United (NBC Sports Network) — The opening match of Houston’s new downtown home, BBVA Compass Stadium. It’s fitting that United attacker Dwayne De Rosario will be on the field, considering his contributions to Houston’s two MLS Cups in ‘06 and ‘07. Question is, will Brian Ching be in orange on this day?

May 26: Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy (NBC Sports Network) — With this season’s unbalanced schedule, this is the only rematch of the 2011 MLS Cup. The orange-clad crowd at the Dynamo’s new digs should help Geoff Cameron & Co. exact a little revenge against Landon Donovan and his trophied mates.

June 16: Montreal Impact vs. Seattle Sounders — After five matches indoors at Olympic Stadium, the Impact move out into the natural sunlight (hopefully) shining down on the newly renovated Saputo Stadium. By June, the Sounders should be in great position, but where will the neophyte Impact be? Will this game be a turning point for them, one way or the other?

June 30: San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy (ESPN2) — Last season’s experiment at Stanford Stadium was a great success, with more than 40,000 fans showing up. But that was against New York. This time, the opponent is the Quakes’ most bitter rivals: the Galaxy. Expect an even bigger crowd and plenty of passion in this edition of the California Clasico.

September 15: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders (NBC) — Sure, every Portland-Seattle clash is worth the price of admission. Or, for most of us, the price of an HD flatscreen. But you won’t need to pay for cable TV for this one: It’s on NBC proper. It will be the first MLS regular-season match to appear on network television since 2008.

October 27: Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls (NBC) — You can already feel the East Coast chill in this one. The match will close out the season for both clubs, which means playoffs and conference positioning will most definitely be on the line. It’s also the opening match in an NBC tripleheader that also includes Chicago-D.C. and Portland-San Jose on NBC Sports Network.