Excitement for the 2019 Major League Soccer season escalated a bit Monday, when the league released the entire regular-season schedule.
The season begins on the first weekend of March with a full complement games and the following two weeks feature the majority of the other home openers.
Minnesota United and the Portland Timbers have to wait until later in the season to open their respective home slates, and once the Providence Park renovations are complete, the Timbers have a slew of home games, including an MLS Cup rematch with Atlanta United.
Rivalry Week once again lands toward the end of August, with an extended set of games that include a majority of the traditional MLS rivalries.
After diving through the schedule of each of the 24 MLS teams, we settled on a list of 10 intriguing games to circle on your calendar.
Atlanta United at D.C. United (March 3)
One of the most intriguing storylines entering the 2019 MLS season is what Atlanta United will look like under new manager Frank de Boer.
Of course, the Five Stripes will boast one of the most talented rosters in the league, even if Miguel Almiron departs.
The style de Boer implements during preseason and the start of the Concacaf Champions League will debut on the MLS stage for the first time under the national spotlight at Audi Field on March 3.
In the first two years of Atlanta United’s existence, Ben Olsen’s D.C. United was a thorn in its side. The same can probably be said about 2019 since the Black and Red continue to build a talented roster around Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney.
Portland Timbers at FC Cincinnati (March 17)
After two weeks on the road, FC Cincinnati welcomes its first opponent to Nippert Stadium on St. Patrick’s Day.
During its time in the United Soccer League, FC Cincinnati had one of the most electric crowds, and that is expected to translate into MLS success.
However, success on the field may be hard to come by at the start of 2019 for Alan Koch’s team, which visits Seattle and Atlanta in the first two weeks before taking on a Portland team geared up for another long road trip at the start of the season.
Toronto FC at Seattle Sounders (April 13)
This year’s meeting between Toronto FC and Seattle isn’t an MLS Cup rematch, but it still carries weight as one of the best matchups between the Eastern and Western Conferences.
By the time April rolls around, the Reds will be close to two months into their season after starting in February with the Concacaf Champions League.
There will be plenty of intriguing positional battles once again in this game, but U.S. Men’s National Team fans should watch the forwards in this game.
Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris need to be at full strength for this summer’s Gold Cup, and April 13 will serve as a good barometer for their progress two months out from the continental competition.
New York City FC at Minnesota United (April 13)
By all accounts, Minnesota United’s Allianz Field is going to be one of the premier stadiums in North America.
We all get to look inside the completed stadium for the first time April 13, when the Loons host New York City FC.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Loons respond this season to the raucous home crowd inside their own stadium, as they need to improve on the struggles of the last two seasons.
NYCFC is an intriguing opponent for Minnesota to start out with since Domenec Torrent’s side is going to have a new look to it as well with David Villa departing for Vissel Kobe in Japan.
Orlando City at Atlanta United (May 12)
Orlando City’s 2018 campaign spiraled downhill after a May loss in the Southeast derby to Atlanta United.
The regional rivals meet at Mercedes-Benz Stadium May 12, the same weekend the Five Stripes downed the Lions a year ago, triggering a nine-game losing run for Orlando City.
By this point in the year, we’ll have a decent idea of what the Lions will look like, and how they challenge the defending MLS Cup champion. It will be a good barometer of where they stand.
LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes (June 29)
One of the best spectacles of the MLS season is the Cali Clasico at Stanford Stadium.
For 2019, the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes have new managers in Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Matias Almeyda, respectively, who were a part of the Boca Juniors-River Plate rivalry in their past managerial jobs.
Typically, this version of the Cali Clasico is the most exciting game in the series, and it’ll be a perfect chance for a handful of new faces to make their mark on one of the league’s oldest showdowns.
New York City FC at New York Red Bulls (July 14)
For the first time in their rivalry, the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC will only meet twice in the regular season because of the new balanced schedule.
The elimination of a third Hudson River derby should make the meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals even more intense.
The first meeting at Red Bull Arena in July comes at a pivotal point in the middle of the season when both teams should be gearing up for their postseason surges.
NYCFC continued to gain ground in the rivalry in 2018 with a 1-0 win at home and a 1-1 draw to close out the three-game slate, but they’ve only won at Red Bull Arena once, and in order to truly make it a rivalry, they need an emphatic road win to spark fans’ emotions a little more.
FC Cincinnati at Columbus Crew (August 10)
MLS gets its introduction to the Hell is Real derby between FC Cincinnati and the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium in mid-August.
The Ohio rivals previously collided in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup, when Cincinnati upset the Crew on its way to the semifinals.
The Aug. 10 meeting in Columbus marks the first of two meetings between MLS’ newest rivals, who also play at Nippert Stadium during Rivalry Week.
LA Galaxy at LAFC (Aug. 25)
El Trafico closes out Rivalry Week, and the Sunday clash at Banc of California Stadium should be one of the most heated games of the weekend.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the roster, the Galaxy always have a chance of beating the LAFC defense, but how the Galaxy prevent the advances of the second-year club will be interesting to watch.
Hopefully by this point in the season, Barros Schelotto will have a distinct style in place, and it’ll be intriguing to see the adjustments he makes to deal with LAFC boss Bob Bradley’s tactics.
Sporting Kansas City at FC Dallas (Oct. 6)
One of the best matchups of Decision Day should come from Frisco, Texas, where FC Dallas takes on Sporting Kansas City.
The two sides are traditionally at, or near, the top of the Western Conference standings by this point in the season, and we expect similar results out of the 2019 campaign.
The match may not decide first place in the West, but the result will almost certainly have some type of significant impact on how the playoff places are sorted out in a tight conference.