Twelve hours after Real Salt Lake danced on the turf at JELD-WEN Field, celebrating its return to the MLS Cup final, Major League Soccer — which will be entering its 19th season — released the 2014 season schedule. And while all the focus now transitions from Portland to Kansas City in the two weeks leading up to the MLS Cup on Saturday, Dec. 7, fans can start looking to next season and planning trips or marking down games they hope to catch at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL opens its 2014 campaign at the L.A. Galaxy on Saturday, March 8, in Carson, Calif. The season kicks off at 8:30 p.m. local time. Rio Tinto will open its gates for the first time two weeks later against — guess who — the Galaxy on Saturday, March 22, a 2 p.m. kick that will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. In all, RSL will have seven nationally-televised matches in 2014 after having just three this year and four in 2012.
After that RSL faces a slate of matches against opponents from the East, including a March 29th match at home against Toronto, followed by a trip to Sporting Park and Sporting KC on April 5, then onto PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union on April 12. RSL returns home for a home match against Portland on April 19, followed with a visit from Vancouver the week after. Considering there are so many games to highlight in an MLS season, I’m going to pick my very early Top 5 of 2014 for RSL. These are in chronological order of dates played, not of importance or juiciness or anything of the sort.
1. April 5 at Sporting Kansas City: A rematch of the 2013 MLS Cup final four months later at Sporting Park. Will RSL have fond memories of the return, or in turn be looking to erase bad memories?
2. May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids: For the first time in a very long time, RSL did not win the Rocky Mountain Cup. The Rapids’ young core of players troubled RSL throughout 2013 and it will interesting to see how RSL adjusts to Powers, Brown Irwin and Klute?
3. May 31 at CenturyLink Field: The high-profile Sounders struggled as the 2013 season began to wind down and much was made of the ineptitude of the back line as well as the drought of goal-scoring up front. Can Sigi Schmid find a way to mesh personalities and styles, and more importantly, can he find a way to get Clint Dempsey on track before World Cup?
4. July 30 vs. New York Red Bulls: Barring roster changes, RSL will get another look at former teammates Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Jonny Steele, a trio that helped Mike Petke win the Supporters’ Shield in 2013. And Thierry Henry is worth the price of admission.
5. Aug. 9 vs. D.C. United: The worst team in MLS in 2013 came into Rio Tinto Stadium and beat RSL for the U.S. Open Cup trophy in October. It was a major wake-up call for RSL, which used the motivation of that loss to propel themselves into MLS Cup. No shortage of motivation needed for this match.
(Sneaky No. 6 has to be anytime RSL and Portland meet. The two sides have proven to play attractive, wide-open soccer and it should continue when the two clubs meet at Rio Tinto on April 19, again in Sandy on June 7 and lastly in downtown Portland on Friday, Oct. 17, a nationally-televised game at JELD-WEN Field.)
As is the case every four years, MLS will have to tweak its schedule due to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil next summer. MLS will take a two-week break between June 12-24, when a number of MLS players are expected to compete for various teams in the group stage of the World Cup.
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