The 2015 season for Major League Soccer looks set to be the most memorable ever as the league prepares for its landmark 20th campaign, and today saw the full schedule released with less than two months until it all gets underway.
There will be 20 teams in MLS this year as expansion clubs New York City FC and Orlando City SC will both join the Eastern Conference. There will be 10 teams in each conference.
The 20 teams in MLS will each play 34 games during the regular season. Clubs will play each team in the opposing conference once for five home and five away matches, each of their nine conference opponents at least twice (one home, one away) and six additional intra-conference games – three home and three away versus different opponents.
The first key change for this season is that 12 teams will make the playoffs as opposed to 10. That means the top six sides in both the Eastern and Western Conference will advance to the post-season.
Some have rightly pointed out that this has taken some meaning out of the regular season as more than half the teams in the league will make the playoffs, which is supposed to see the elite sides face up against each other.
Though it does mean that the MLS Supporters’ Shield will be more important than ever and the battle for that will be intriguing to watch throughout the year.
The other key change will add some excitement to the final weekend of the regular season as for the first time ever there will be what the league is describing as a ‘Decision Day Finale’.
This means we will see a final day of the regular season that will see crucial games played simultaneously across the league in order to decide which teams advance to the MLS Cup Playoffs in dramatic fashion.
And another interesting announcement that the league released today will see two weekends packed with rivalry games:
League rivalries will be on display twice in 2015 as part of Heineken presents MLS Rivalry Week the weekends of June 26-28 and Aug. 28-30. The first installment of Rivalry Week in June will include the Texas Derby between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo, a matchup between New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium and the Cascadia Cup clash between the Seattle Sounders and host Portland Timbers at Providence Park.
The second Rivalry Week in late August will feature historic matchups, including the LA Galaxy at the San Jose Earthquakes at San Jose’s new soccer-specific Avaya Stadium, Seattle hosting Portland at CenturyLink Field and D.C. United visiting the New York Red Bulls for the Atlantic Cup.
The 2015 season also marks the first of an eight-year television and media rights partnership that MLS has with US broadcasters ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision.
That will mean games are spread over Friday nights and there will also be a double-header nearly every Sunday all season.
In the UK, BT Sport should continue to cover Major League Soccer but it is unclear at this point how regularly we will see live matches broadcast on UK television.
This year should be the biggest and best that MLS has ever seen and with 20 clubs now fighting for the MLS Cup title, there is no better time to be a fan of the fastest growing sports league in the world.
What do you make of the 2015 MLS schedule?