We could've used a photo of Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, where the Union will open 2014 against the Timbers. But we couldn't turn down Timbers fan Owen Dell, wearing ear muffs before Sunday's game against Real Salt Lake. (Photo USA TODAY Sports)
It's been a while since we discussed Union soccer here at the Level. That's largely because there wasn't much to talk about after the team collapsed down the stretch and missed out on the playoffs (Real Salt Lake will play for MLS Cup at Sporting KC on Dec. 7, in case you were curious). And somewhat because your resident soccer nerds (Dave Zeitlin and I) have small children who don't understand "Daddy has to blog now."
Anyway, there isn't much going on on the roster front, at least until the Union begin what should be a decent amount of offseason wheeling and dealing. Expect that to happen in the coming weeks, as we get closer to the 2014 MLS Draft, which takes place Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center here in Philadelphia.
But in a very un-MLS bit of news for a league that is notorious for waiting until the last minute to plan anything, the 2014 schedule was released on Monday.
Seriously, I'm stunned.
Anyway, we have plenty of time to see which games will mean most next year. But here's a few quick takes on next year's slate.
- The Union get no favors on opening weekend, beginning their season at one of the toughest road stadiums in the league, March 8 at the Portland Timbers. The Timbers lost Sunday night in the Western Conference semifinals, and play in front of one of the best crowds in MLS (we won't talk about their fake grass). A point on the road would be a great start for the Union. I'd count on that game being on national television.
- The rest of March isn't too bad for the Union. The home opener follows on March 15 against New England, followed by a short trip to Columbus and a home game against Montreal.
- For better or worse, April and May will be where we find out if the Union are for real or not. Only three of nine games are at home, mixed in with tough road trips to Chicago, New York, Montreal, Seattle, Kansas City and Los Angeles (the good news is back-to-back road games in LA vs. Galaxy and Chivas. East to stay out there instead of making two trips).
- Plenty of time to rest after that stretch with just two games in June due to a break for the 2014 World Cup.
- Union will be on the road for July 4th yet again, with a game at FC Dallas. The highlight of July will be a Wednesday home game against New York (already slated for ESPN2).
- If the Union are in decent position come September, the schedule really opens up. Seven of the last 10 games are at PPL Park, against many teams that SHOULD be expected three-pointers (Toronto, Columbus, Chicago). Between August 21 and the season finale on October 26, the Union will make just three road trips, and all should be winnable: At Toronto (Sept. 6), At D.C. United (Sept. 27) and at Columbus (Oct. 26).