2011 MLS Schedule Highlights

Major League Soccer released its 2011 schedule yesterday, a scant four weeks before the season kicks off. (They still haven’t finalized the new playoff format, other than saying there will be 10 teams involved, two more than in previous years)

Here are a few factoids about the new schedule, followed by the juiciest early-season dates on the calendar:

• The ESPN family of networks will televise 21 games, with an additional eight “windows” to broadcast international matches involving MLS clubs.

Galavision and TeleFutura will broadcast 30 MLS games, plus the All-Star Game on July 27.

• Of those 51 nationally-televised matches, the Columbus Crew will appear in … zero. Red Bull New York, by contrast, will be on coast-to-coast TV 13 times.

• The league is in negotiations to renew its contract with Fox Soccer Channel, which expired after the 2010 season. Look for an announcement on that—and additional games on TV—soon.

Sporting Kansas City will open the season with 10—count ’em—10 consecutive road games while construction crews apply the final bolts to their brand new stadium, scheduled to open in June.

Said KC coach Peter Vermes: “No matter how you put the schedule together, you’ve got to play 17 at home and 17 on the road. So I don’t think this schedule is anything special.”

Well sure, but if you get shredded on the road in the first 10 games, you could find yourself in a season-killing hole.

• The expansion Portland Timbers will play their first three games away from home while PGE Park undergoes renovations.

• Portland’s fellow newbies Vancouver Whitecaps FC will play their games at the temporary, 27,000-seat Empire Field until the $563-million [!] renovation of B.C. Place is complete in the fall. (They’re putting in a retractable roof.) They’ll play their final three regular-season games at 54,000-seat B.C. Place, starting with a match against Cascadia Cup rivals Portland on Oct. 2.

Real Salt Lake requested and received a home-heavy schedule in the early going to boost its quest to win the CONCACAF Champions League. As a result RSL will play at Rio Tinto only four times after Aug. 1, with nine road games in that stretch, including four in a row at one point.

Mark Your Calendar:

March 15

Season opener featuring Los Angeles’s Landon Donovan, Juan Pablo Angel, and—we assume—David Beckham taking on Seattle Sounders FC at crazed Qwest Field. Here’s LA coach Bruce Arena on the Tuesday-night game, which kicks off two weeks earlier than last year’s opener: “We can predict cold weather, rain, and [artificial] turf. We need to be ready.”

March 19

Game Canada! Highlighting the league-wide opening weekend is the the Saturday-night matchup between expansion Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC. This game echoes history (both cities had NASL clubs) as it opens a new era and kick-starts the battle for North of the Border bragging rights.

Assuming he signs next week, we could also see the MLS debut of Charlie Davies on this day, as D.C. United hosts Columbus.

March 26

Bonanza The busiest day in league history as nine games will put all 18 teams in action. Won’t happen again in 2011.

April 19

Timber! The home opener for the expansion Portland Timbers. They’ll christen (re-christen, technically) PGE Park with a game against the Chicago Fire. Expect a Qwest Field–like atmosphere as Portland has already sold more than 11,000 season tickets.

May 7

Angel’s Revenge? Former Red Bull striker Juan Pablo Angel has been the embodiment of class regarding his departure from New York, but as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, he’s got to feel a little ill-treated with the way things went down. Look for that to show in his play when the Red Bulls come to Los Angeles.

June 9

Kansas City, Kansas As opposed to Missouri—that is. Sporting KC’s stadium plans floated back and forth across the Kansas–Missouri border during the past few years, finally settling on the Western side. They’ll welcome the Chicago Fire for the first game in their new home.