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Union to open season with nationally-televised game at Portland

The Philadelphia Union are going to get their own version of Monday Night Football to kick off 2012.

A picture of the JELD-WEN Field marquee from the Union's visit there last season. They'll be back in Portland again for their first game in 2012. (Jonathan Tannenwald/

The Philadelphia Union are going to get their own version of Monday Night Football to kick off 2012.

Major League Soccer announced today that the Union will visit the Portland Timbers on Monday, March 12 for their season opener. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2, with kickoff time set for 9:30 p.m. Eastern.

It is one of four games that will be televised nationally in the United States or Canada on MLS' opening weekend.

NBC Sports Network's first MLS telecast will be a rematch of a Wild Card playoff game from last season. Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls will travel to face Brek Shea and FC Dallas on Sunday, March 11 at 3 p.m. Eastern.

We already knew that NBC Sports Network would make its MLS debut at either FC Dallas or Chivas USA. I had a hunch that the matchup might be Dallas-New York, given both teams' star players and the potential to go after the New York market.

We'll see if FC Dallas can draw a big crowd. They have for season openers in the past, and the afternoon kickoff should help. I also wonder whether this matchup might get a mention on the Giants at Cowboys NFL broadcast on NBC this coming Sunday. It's a nice little coinidence that NBC has a New York at Dallas game a few days after the MLS announcement.

The third game that will be televised nationally in the U.S. on opening weekend will be Chivas USA hosting the reigning Eastern Conference champion Houston Dynamo, on March 11 at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Galavisión gets that game, which features two teams with pretty strong Hispanic fan bases by MLS standards.

Canada's TSN will also get its own national broadcast on opening weekend, and it's a big one. The Montréal Impact will make their MLS debut with a trip to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps at BC Place on Saturday, March 10 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

That should be an electric atmosphere. And in another interesting coincidence, the Canucks host the Canadiens next door that night.

Now back to the Union. I must admit that I'm quite excited that they're opening in Portland. I know a lot of people around here complain about the national media lavishing too much praise on the fan bases in the Pacific Northwest, but the soccer atmosphere up there really is outstanding.

If you have the time and money, the Portland trip is really worth taking. I realize it's tough to do for a weeknight fixture, but you could combine it with that Saturday game in Vancouver and have yourself a really outstanding spring break.

Any of you think you'll make that trip? Are you annoyed that the game in Portland kicks off relatively late in East Coast time? Have your say in the comments.