Real Salt Lake’s 2018 schedule is front-loaded with games against contenders

RSL opens at FC Dallas on March 3, faces coach Mike Petke’s old New York Red Bulls team on March 17, then visits MLS Cup champ Toronto on March 30.<br>

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake fans celebrate the Rocky Mountain Cup win with Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando (18). Real Salt Lake defeated the Colorado Rapids 4-1 for the Rocky Mountain Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium, Saturday, August 26, 2017.

Mike Petke and his club will be thrown straight into a month of rivalries and high-profile matchups in his first March as the Real Salt Lake head coach.

Major League Soccer announced the 2018 regular-season schedule for the now-23-team league Thursday. The RSL schedule revealed that Petke, who took the helm six matches into the season last year, will face expansion team LAFC, his former club New York Red Bulls and defending champion Toronto FC, among others, in the first month of the regular season.

The league released the home openers for every team two weeks ago, with RSL kicking off the season in Dallas on March 3 and playing host to LAFC a week later in its home opener.

Benny Feilhaber’s trade to LAFC will help inject the that matchup with extra fan investment, due to lingering resentment towards the former Sporting Kansas City midfielder. RSL is set to play rival SKC at home on the Fourth of July, returning the visit to Kansas City on Sept. 30.

The third week of the season is also one for RSL fans may want to circle. The New York Red Bulls come to town on March 17, marking the first time Petke will coach against the organization he was a part of for over a decade, first as a MetroStars/Red Bulls player and then as a coach.

He was fired and replaced by Jesse Marsch ahead of the 2015 season, despite claiming the 2013 Supporters’ Shield and earning playoff berths in both his years as manager.

The addition of expansion team LAFC to the Western Conference means RSL will play just one team more than twice this season, but the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry with the Colorado Rapids will remain in tact.

As usual under the MLS scheduling format, clubs in both conferences will still play conference opponents either two or three times and nonconference opponents once during the regular season. The difference is, while Western Conference teams will play just one conference opponent three times, Eastern conference teams will have two such matchups.

RSL’s three-match series will be against Colorado, with two games at home (April 21, July 21) and one on the road (Aug. 25). RSL has won nine of the past 11 Rocky Mountain Cups.

The uneven number of teams in the league this year also bars one club from participating in decision day.

Guess who it is.

Real Salt Lake has a bye on Oct. 28, when 11 games are scheduled to kick off at 2:30 p.m. MST across the league. The event elevates the drama on the last day of the regular season as matches with playoff implications throughout MLS end at the same time. This year, for better or for worse, RSL will look on as a spectator.

In all, Real Salt Lake will play 17 matches at Rio Tinto Stadium in the 34-game regular season. Its last match is scheduled for Oct. 21, a week before all 22 other teams in the league close their regular seasons.

Of the four international breaks this season, RSL will observe three — March 20-27, Sept. 4-12 and Oct. 9-16. Real Salt Lake’s schedule features just two three-game weeks (May 26-June 2, June 30-July 7) and just one three-game road trip (at LAFC Aug 15, at Houston Aug. 18, at Colorado Aug. 25).

In addition to the long stretch away from home in August, RSL faces a travel-heavy end of April through May. Over the span of four weeks, Real Salt Lake will travel to Vancouver, Orlando City, Philadelphia and Seattle. RSL will host just one of the five matches in that span (vs. D.C. United on May 12).

The team will then be rewarded with five of its seven matches from July 4-Aug. 11 scheduled to be played at Rio Tinto.

RSL’s 2018 SCHEDULE<br>All times MST<br>March 3 • at FC Dallas, 6 p.m.<br>March 10 • LAFC, 1:30 p.m.<br>March 17 • NY Red Bulls, 7 p.m.<br>March 30 • at Toronto, 6 p.m.<br>April 7 • Vancouver, 7 p.m.<br>April 11 • at NYCFC, 5 p.m.<br>April 21 • Colorado, 7 p.m.<br>April 27 • at Vancouver, 8:30 p.m.<br>May 6 • at Orlando City, 3 p.m.<br>May 12 • DC United, 7 p.m.<br>May 19 • at Philadelphia, TBD<br>May 26 • at Seattle, 2 p.m.<br>May 30 • Houston, 7:30 p.m.<br>June 2 • Seattle, 7:30 p.m.<br>June 9 • at L.A. Galaxy, 8:30 p.m.<br>June 23 • San Jose, 8 p.m.<br>June 30 • at Columbus, 5:30 p.m.<br>July 4 • Sporting KC, 8 p.m.<br>July 7 • FC Dallas, 8 p.m.<br>July 14 • at Minnesota, 6 p.m.<br>July 21 • Colorado, 8 p.m.<br>July 28 • at San Jose, 8:30 p.m.<br>Aug. 4 • Chicago, 8 p.m.<br>Aug.11 • Montreal, 8 p.m.<br>Aug. 15 • at LAFC, 8:30 p.m.<br>Aug. 18 • at Houston, 6 p.m.<br>Aug. 25 • at Colorado, 7 p.m.<br>Sept. 1 • L.A. Galaxy, 8 p.m.<br>Sept. 15 • Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.<br>Sept. 2 • at Atlanta<br>Sept. 30 • at Sporting KC<br>Oct. 6 • Portland, 7:30 p.m.<br>Oct. 18 • New England, 7 p.m.<br>Oct. 21 • at Portland, TBD