Major League Soccer unveiled the Union's full 2018 schedule on Thursday. It is highlighted by a June 30 trip to Los Angeles FC, MLS' newest expansion team, as well as games at Pacific Northwest hothouses Seattle and Portland. The Union also will get to play five of their first seven games at home, and three of their last five at home.
In between those stretches, there are a few tricky swings. The first comes in early May, when the Union will play at MLS champion Toronto, Columbus, and Montreal in a span of nine days. Later in May, the Union will have Saturday road games at the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United around a Wednesday home game against Chicago.
From July 25 to Aug. 11, there will be consecutive road games at Houston (which will be scorching hot in midsummer), Portland, and New England. At least those contests are spread apart.
The Seattle game was originally set for March 10 but was moved because of the Sounders' participation in the CONCACAF Champions League. Quarterfinal games are scheduled for March 6 to 14. The Sounders are expected to be there, as they have a favorable round-of-16 matchup against Salvadoran club Santa Tecla.
Another tough stretch will be in mid-September, when the Union must go to Seattle for a Wednesday game between weekend home contests against Montreal and Kansas City.
The Kansas City match is one of three Union games set for national TV. All are at home: April 13 vs. Orlando (8 p.m., ESPN); April 28 vs. D.C. (3 p.m., UniMás); and Sept. 23 vs. Kansas City (1 p.m., ESPN). All other games will be broadcast locally as part of the Union's new deal with 6ABC and PHL17. 6ABC will air three games, PHL17 will air 26 games, and 6ABC's secondary channel LiveWell Network will air two.
LiveWell is available over the air and on local cable systems. Because the channel isn't well-known, the Union will offer free online streaming of those two games on their website for fans in the Philadelphia region.
Overall, the Union will play six of their 34 games on Wednesdays. One of those games will be Aug. 29, when they visit D.C. United's new home, Audi Field. The midweek scheduling might disappoint Union fans hoping to make the trip, It's necessary because Audi Field won't open until late June or early July, so D.C.'s schedule is back-loaded with home games. United will play two "home" games at other venues before then.
This year's visit to the rival New York Red Bulls is also on an inconvenient date: May 26, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It might require a choice of New Jersey destinations between Harrison and Margate or Wildwood.
The Union will have seven weekends off during the season: March 10, March 24, June 16, July 14, July 28, Sept. 8, and Oct. 13.
The March 24, Sept. 8, and Oct. 13 breaks are during FIFA international windows. Expect U.S. national team friendlies during the March window. CONCACAF's new Nations League tournament will kick off in the September and October windows.
June's break is for the start of the World Cup. Unlike past years, MLS will not be dark for the entire group stage. This stoppage is earlier and shorter, in part because of the United States' absence from Russia. But the league has players who could represent 12 nations that did qualify. They and their clubs will be shortchanged.
The Union will resume play June 23, when they host Vancouver. The Whitecaps are likely to have multiple players still in Russia at that point, including Peruvian playmaker Yordy Reyna and Costa Rican defender Kendall Waston.
A week later comes the marquee road game of the year. LAFC is bringing a full dose of Hollywood glamour to MLS, with star signings and an ownership group that includes Mia Hamm, Magic Johnson, and Will Ferrell. The team's new 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium is being built next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It will open April 29.
The Union could benefit from the timing of their visit, as it falls on the first day of the World Cup's knockout rounds. LAFC could be without Mexican winger Carlos Vela, Belgian defender Laurent Ciman, Costa Rican striker Marco Ureña, and Egyptian defender Omar Gaber.
Another road game to circle is Sept. 29 at Columbus. If Crew owner Anthony Precourt fulfills his threats to move the franchise to Austin, Texas, after this season, that trip to Ohio's capital will be the Union's last visit to one of American soccer's most historically significant cities.
As for notable home games, reigning champion Toronto will visit June 8. Expect Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to get a hostile reception with the World Cup on everyone's mind. Let's hope the boos don't come with the kinds of personal attacks Altidore suffered during TFC's playoff game at Red Bull Arena this past autumn.
Big-spending Atlanta United will come to Chester on July 7. The Los Angeles Galaxy, with former Chelsea star Ashley Cole and Mexican stalwarts Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos, will arrive July 21. David Villa will bring New York City FC to town Aug. 18. Minnesota United, an expansion team last year, will travel here for the first time on Oct. 6.
The regular season will conclude with a bang: The Union will host the Red Bulls on Oct. 21, then go to New York City FC on Oct. 28.
Don't be surprised if the NYCFC game isn't at Yankee Stadium, City's usual home. If the Yankees make another deep playoff run, NYCFC might have to relocate the contest, as happened twice in 2017. The team played at the University of Connecticut's football stadium in East Hartford on Sept. 23, and at the New York Mets' Citi Field on Oct. 22.
Finally, it's worth noting that the MLS schedule will have a slightly different structure from recent years, and not just because of the World Cup break. Because this year's expansion made the conferences unbalanced, the 11 Eastern Conference teams will play two opponents three times, and the rest twice. That's a decrease from previous years. For the Union, the three-times opponents will be Columbus (twice on the road) and New England (twice at home, including the season opener).
The 12 Western Conference teams will each play one opponent three times, and the other 10 teams twice. (This has caused headaches in the Pacific Northwest, because there will be an imbalance in the Cascadia Cup. Seattle and Portland will play each other three times, but each will play Vancouver twice. So one Sounders-Timbers game won't count toward the trophy.)
Teams still will play each opponent in the other conference once.
The Union’s full 2018 schedule
Saturday, March 3: vs. New England Revolution, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, March 17: vs. Columbus Crew, 2 p.m. (6ABC)
Saturday, March 31: at Colorado Rapids, 9 p.m. (LiveWell Network/PhiladelphiaUnion.com)
Saturday, April 7: vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Friday, April 13: vs. Orlando City, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, April 21: at FC Dallas, 8 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, April 28: vs. D.C. United, 3 p.m. (UniMás)
Friday, May 4: at Toronto FC, 8 p.m. (PHL17)
Wednesday, May 9: at Columbus Crew, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, May 12: at Montreal Impact, 3 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, May 19: vs. Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, May 26: at New York Red Bulls 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Wednesday, May 30: vs. Chicago Fire, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, June 2: at Atlanta United, 7:30 p.m. (PHL17)
Friday, June 8: vs. Toronto FC, 8 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, June 23: vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 5 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, June 30: at Los Angeles FC, 8 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, July 7: vs. Atlanta United, 7 p.m. (6ABC)
Wednesday, July 11: at Chicago Fire, 8 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, July 21: vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Wednesday, July 25: at Houston Dynamo, 9 p.m. (LiveWell Network/PhiladelphiaUnion.com)
Wednesday, August 1: MLS All-Star Game at Atlanta, time TBD (ESPN, Univision channel TBD)
Saturday, August 4: at Portland Timbers, 11 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, August 11: at New England Revolution, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, August 18: vs. New York City FC, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, August 25: vs. New England Revolution, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Wednesday, August 29: at D.C. United 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, September 1: at Orlando City, 7 p.m.(PHL17)
Saturday, September 15: vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 p.m. (PHL17)
Wednesday, September 19: at Seattle Sounders, 10 p.m. (PHL17)
Sunday, September 23: vs. Sporting Kansas City, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, September 29: at Columbus Crew, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Saturday, October 6: vs. Minnesota United, 7 p.m. (PHL17)
Sunday, October 21: vs. New York Red Bulls, 3 p.m. (6ABC)
Sunday, October 28: at New York City FC, 4 p.m. (PHL17)