Here's what to look forward to during the 2018 MLS season.
Less than a month after Toronto FC lifted its first MLS Cup, the road to the 2018 title can start to be charted.
MLS had already given a sneak peek of the 2018 schedule prior to Christmas, revealing the home openers for each team. Now, the full slate is out, with the 23 teams learning where they'll be headed from March to November.
There's also the matter of the World Cup to be taken into consideration, and the league will be taking a nine-day break during the group stage while all of the focus shifts to Russia.
Full club schedules can be found here, but below are some of the biggest takeaways from the schedule release:
WORLD CUP BREAK
MLS will break for just over a week (June 14-22) before resuming play during the World Cup. The league is saving one of its star-studded matchups for the day of the World Cup final, with Atlanta United hosting the Seattle Sounders on July 15 after the trophy is lifted in Russia.
MLS CUP REMATCH
Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders will renew acquaintances on May 9 at BMO Field, playing at the site of the last two MLS Cups. Seattle won in 2016 in penalty kicks in a largely forgettable spectacle, while Toronto FC took it to Seattle in 2017, winning 2-0 to complete its treble after capturing the Supporters' Shield and Canadian Championship.
NEW STADIUM OPENINGS
We already knew that LAFC would open Banc of California Stadium on April 29 against the Seattle Sounders. Now we know when the other new venue will open its doors.
D.C. United will open Audi Field on July 14 at 7 p.m. against the Vancouver Whitecaps, after a pair of games at temporary home venues and a series of matches away from home. It's a long-awaited date in D.C. United history, with the club freed from its RFK Stadium burden after over two decades of paying rent at the decaying facility.
How about this 7-game road stretch early in the season: Philly, RSL, SJ, LAFC, Seattle, New England, LA Galaxy.— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) January 4, 2018
The flip-side of the front-loaded road slate means a back-loaded home slate. Of D.C.'s final 20 games, 15 will be played at its new digs.
The Portland Timbers, meanwhile, won't be opening a new stadium, but they're having considerable work down on Providence Park. As a result, the club will be on the road for its first five matches of the season.
NEW LA RIVALRY
MLS now has two teams in Los Angeles, and they'll fight for city supremacy on three occasions. March 31 at StubHub Center, July 26 at Banc of California Stadium and August 24 back at StubHub Center.
LAFC isn't quite buying the "two teams in Los Angeles" thing, though, snidely pointing out that they'll be traveling to Carson, California, when they meet for the first time.
It's not quite NYCFC pointing out the Red Bulls play in New Jersey at every opportunity, but it's close enough.
ONE RIVALRY WEEK
Instead of a couple of rivalry weeks, in which the league gathers its top rivalries into a couple of days, MLS is shrinking that number down to one.
August 22-26 will feature these seven rivalry showdowns (all times Eastern):
Aug. 22: NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls - 7 p.m.. FS1
Aug. 23: Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas - 9 p.m., UniMás
Aug. 24: Orlando City SC vs. Atlanta United FC - 8 p.m., ESPN
Aug. 24: LA Galaxy vs. LAFC - 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Aug. 25: Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 8 p.m., TSN, TVAS
Aug. 26: New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United - 7 p.m., FS1
Aug. 26: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders FC - 9:30 p.m., FS1
Noticeably absent are the usually entertaining California Clasico (LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes) and Rocky Mountain Cup (Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake) – though those matches will just be played on other dates outside of the "Rivalry Week" umbrella.
With Bob Bradley returning to MLS, it means the chance to coach against his son, Michael. LAFC and Toronto FC meet once, on Sept. 1 at BMO Field.
SET FOR THE SPOTLIGHT
LAFC and Atlanta are two of the newest teams in the league–and two of the most featured. The 2017 and 2018 expansion teams will each feature a league-high 16 times on national television in the USA.
ALL-STAR IN ATL
Atlanta United will be hosting the All-Star Game on Aug. 1 against an opponent that has yet to be announced. The league's best played to a 1-1 draw vs. Real Madrid last season before falling in penalty kicks in Chicago.
Once again, the league will have its final day consist of 11 simultaneous matches, although given the odd number of teams in the league, not every team will be in action. Real Salt Lake will be the odd one out.