Updated on Tuesday, January 5 and again on Thursday, January 7
For the first time since 2005, every team in Major League Soccer will play on opening day when the league's 21st season kicks off on March 6.
MLS has announced the schedule of home openers for all 20 clubs. The Union's will be on Sunday, March 20 against the New England Revolution. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. at the newly-renamed Talen Energy Stadium.
It will be the Union's third game of the season, and we also know the two before it. First up will be a trip to FC Dallas, which finished atop the Western Conference this year, Kickoff at Toyota Stadium is set for 3:00 p.m. Television arrangements are not yet finalized.
Six days later will come another big road test: at Columbus on Saturday, March 12. Kei Kamara and company finished second in the East this year, then hosted the MLS Cup final after winning the conference's playoff crown. The Union's visit will be the first game at MAPFRE Stadium since the home team lost the title game to Portland. Kickoff time and television arrangements are not yet finalized.
Leaguewide, the opening day slate is shaping up to be quite entertaining, with seven games jammed into a seven-and-a-half hour window before a nationally-televised prime time triple-header. There will also be two games on national TV in Canada.
MLS' press release promises "a unique and exclusive experience on MLS digital platforms" for taking in the games in that early window, but no further details were provided on how that will actually work.
That's even more newsworthy in light of the league's contentious decision to continue the MLS Live paid subscription servivce for another year, instead of distributing games via ESPN's free-with-authentication online platform. A move to ESPN3 had been promised when ESPN bought control of MLS' online streaming as part of the league's eight-year, $720 million media rights deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision.
We can get more into the streaming debate as the season draws near, and perhaps a bit when all of next year's national television arrangements are confirmed.
The delay in announcing the full calendar (and it's not much of a delay compared to past years' releases) is for two reasons.
One is to accomodate teams in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League, as that tournament will start in the latter stages of the MLS regular season.
The other, to quote MLS' release, is "to avoid scheduling conflicts" in markets that are hosting Copa América Centenario games. Just what that means isn't clear, because it's already known that MLS will take a break during the tournament's group stage.
It certainly could mean keeping Seattle and New England on the road during the knockout rounds, as their venues will host some of those games. It also could mean scheduling the New York Red Bulls to keep them clear of the final on Sunday, June 26 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
A bigger question will be whether Seattle, New England and Orlando (which also plays in a tournament venue) will be sent on the road for a few weeks before the tournament begins, to allow for a better quality of natural grass surface to be installed.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported last month that "temporary grass surfaces will be given more time to take root than we usually see." In order to make that really work, those surfaces would have to be untouched for some time before the tournament begins.
We'll officially cross that bridge next month. Until then, here are the games that have been announced so far, including national TV broadcasts in the U.S. and Canada.
1:30 p.m., TSN networks TBD: New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC
2:00 p.m.: Orlando City vs. Real Salt Lake, Chicago Fire vs. New York City FC
3:00 p.m.: FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union, Houston Dynamo vs. New England Revolution, San Jose Earthquakes vs. Colorado Rapids
4:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN Deportes: Portland Timbers vs. Columbus Crew
5:30 p.m., TSN1 and RDS: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Montréal Impact
7:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Sporting Kansas City
10:00 p.m., UniMás and Univision Deportes: LA Galaxy vs. D.C. United (StubHub Center) – UniMas/ UDN
The ESPN and Fox games will have 2 1/2 hour broadcast windows, starting at the times noted above. That should allow ESPN to hold the kickoff in Portland until all the 3:00 p.m. games are done, so that the TV audience won't be cannibalized.
Univision's coverage will begin at 9:00 p.m. with an hour-long recap of the rest of the day's action.
4:00 p.m.: Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders
Time TBD: New England Revolution vs. D.C. United, Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union, Colorado Rapids vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Montréal Impact vs. New York Red Bulls (at Olympic Stadium)
5:00 p.m.: New York City FC vs. Toronto FC
2:00 p.m.: Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution
5:00 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes: D.C. United vs. Colorado Rapids