The MLS offseason is in full swing, complete with transfers, call-ups to national team camps and fans hypothesizing about which players their respective teams might select in Friday’s SuperDraft. In addition, supporters can now solidify plans for following all the action with this week’s full schedule release for the league’s 24th season.
Opening matches are slated for March 2, Orlando will host the All-Star Game on July 31 and the playoffs will operate under a new single-elimination format beginning Oct. 19. MLS Cup will take place Nov. 10, nearly a month before last year’s final.
A spectacular run of form at Audi field (12-2-1) catapulted D.C. United to a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2018. A central talking point in preseason camp will undoubtedly be last year’s abysmal road record, just one win in seventeen played, which ultimately kept the Black and Red from finishing in third above NYCFC.
According to Benjamin Baer of MLSsoccer.com, D.C. can lay claim to the third-most difficult schedule in 2019, as determined according to a calculation of opponents’ average points per game in both home and away matches last season. Here are three key dates to mark on your calendars:
1. D.C. vs Atlanta United | March 3
A chance to topple the defending champions is always circled heading into a new season, and D.C get the opportunity to do just that on opening weekend as they host Atlanta United in an evening match on ESPN. Following a miraculous three-match sweep of the Five Stripes in 2017, last season’s affairs all ended with a 3-1 scoreline with Atlanta winning both games played in the Peach State. This appetizing matchup provides plenty of star power, and an electric crowd at Audi Field will be hoping it can propel its side to all three points on Matchday 1.
2. D.C. at Columbus Crew | April 24
The Columbus Crew’s fortunes have been dramatically reversed and new ownership, coaching and stadium plans have supporters buzzing with expectation. These two teams left it all on the field in their last meetings, a two-legged playoff affair that saw Columbus go through on penalties. United will be looking to stifle any momentum the Crew have built when they travel to Ohio in late April.
3. D.C. vs LA Galaxy | Aug. 11
All eyes will be on the nation’s capital when Zlatan Ibrahimovic meets Wayne Rooney for the first time in Major League Soccer. The two strikers produced some of the top moments of the 2018 season and combined for 34 goals scored. The visitors will be hoping their 37-year-old talisman can help bring an end to a two-year playoff drought, an oddity for the five-time champions.
4. D.C. at Portland Timbers | Sept. 15
Five teams in the Western Conference finished with a higher points tally than D.C., and fans can take solace in the fact that three of those meetings in 2019 will be at Audi Field. However, one of those two away is a September trip to Providence Park. The Portland Timbers finished tied with Real Salt for best home record in the West, so even a point taken at this late stage of the season could be vital.
5. D.C. vs FC Cincinnati | Oct. 6
Major League Soccer is a league renowned for its parity, and because of this the playoff picture often does not fully crystallize until the final day of the season. Newcomers FC Cincinnati come into the league with plenty of excitement and ambition, but they face an uphill battle from the start as only five expansion sides have secured a playoff birth in their inaugural campaign. Whether they arrive on Oct. 6 in need of a result or with a postseason spot in hand and looking to build momentum, D.C. landed a Decision Day opponent who may not be playing for anything more than pride.
Wesley is a graduate of the University of Alabama (BA) and the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (MA). He currently works in youth soccer in Austin, Texas, and can be found on Twitter.