Eight MLS games to watch this season

Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls.

Another Major League Soccer regular season kicks off this weekend with a full slate of games across Canada and the United States. Nineteen teams begin their pursuit of MLS Cup glory, but it’s a long and grueling campaign, littered with a number of high-profile matches between March and October.

Here are eight games this season you should circle on your calendar.

March 15: Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC

“The season doesn’t start for me until TFC plays,” tweeted Alexei Lalas, a former L.A. Galaxy general manager and noted MLS insider. The Reds have a bye in the opening weekend of the season, which means fans will have to wait a little bit longer to catch a glimpse of the new-look Reds. And what a game this will be, pitting American national team teammates Michael Bradley vs. Clint Dempsey in Seattle before what will surely be a large and boisterous crowd. This test against the Sounders—one of the best teams in the league—will give us an early indication of whether the new-look TFC is for real.

March 29: Seattle Sounders vs. Columbus Crew

Chad Marshall spent his entire career with the Columbus Crew, serving as the face of the franchise since being drafted second overall in 2004. Twice voted the league’s defender of the year, in 2008 Marshall helped the Crew win its only MLS Cup to date. But the Crew ended that long-term relationship in December when they traded Marshall to the Sounders. This contest in Seattle will see Marshall suit up against his former team in the only meeting between the two sides this season.

April 4: Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake

Last year’s MLS Cup final was one of the most thrilling and dramatic in recent memory. Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake put on a show at Sporting Park before the home side emerged victorious with an enthralling 7-6 penalty shootout win. Kansas City and Salt Lake meet for the first time since that frigid December day, with the Utah club returning to the site of their defeat looking for revenge.

July 16: Toronto FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Speaking of bitter reunions, TFC and the Whitecaps renew their rivalry in mid-July with this contest at BMO Field. There’s been a number of trades between the two clubs over the years, but none bigger than the deal that recently sent Matias Laba from the Reds to the Whitecaps. The Argentine became a fan favourite during his short stint in Toronto, and will likely receive a warm welcome upon his return to town—even though he now plays for TFC’s cross-Canada rival.

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August 2: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders

This match will be the inaugural event at the new Levi’s Stadium, future home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. San Jose played high-profile matches at Stanford Stadium over the past few years, with attendances routinely topping 40,000, so they should come close to filling the 68,500-seat facility for this game against their Western Conference rival.

August 6: MLS All-Stars vs. Bayern Munich

The MLS All-Star team has taken a beating in recent years. A pair of heavy losses to Manchester United in 2010 and 2011 was followed up by a 3-1 humbling at the hands of AS Roma last year in Kansas City. Things won’t get any easier in August at Portland’s Providence Park as the league’s best take on Bayern Munich in the annual All-Star Game.

September 6: Houston Dynamo vs. Montreal Impact

These two teams met in the first round of the playoffs last year in a physical affair that saw tempers boil over several times as Montreal bowed out in disgrace. Marco Di Vaio earned a three-game suspension for his part in the on-the-field ugliness that marred the match, ruling him out for the first meeting between the clubs this season on March 15. The Italian and the Impact return to Houston in early September. We’ll see if tensions have settled down by then.

September 28: LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls

The league’s two “glamour” clubs only meet once this season. Fans will have to wait until the end of September to see New York and Los Angeles meet, and considering how tight the playoff races in both conferences will be this year, this clash in California could go a long way in determining the post-season fate of both clubs.

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