An analysis of the Union's 34-game MLS regular season slate
First kick is just seven weeks away, if you can believe it.
The Union will begin the 2013 season on March 2, hosting Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park. It's the first time in franchise history that a season opener will be played at home.
The 34-game schedule carries the team all the way into late October, with 10 games currently scheduled for national television.
This will also be the second year that Major League Soccer will use the new"unbalanced" scheduling format. Just like last season, the Union will play a number of Eastern Conference foes three times, while all Western Conference teams will appear just once on the schedule. This year, the Western Conference squads that hosted the Union in 2012, will instead come to PPL Park.
Going along with that theme, the Eastern Conference teams who came to PPL Park twice in 2012, will instead host the Union two times this year. Philadelphia will travel twice to New York, D.C., Montreal, and New England.
The schedule was essentially "flipped" from 2012 into 2013.
Maybe the biggest perk of this year's schedule is that there will be only two games on the Pacific Coast, and two games in Rocky Mountain territory. Last year, the Union played five Western Conference teams on the road.
Here's a more detailed breakdown of this year's league schedule:
Saturday, March 2 vs. Kansas City
Saturday, March 9 at Colorado
Saturday, March 16 vs. New England
Saturday, March 30 at New York (NBCSN)
PPL Park will be rocking when the Union host 2012 Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City. KC will be showing off new acquisitions Claudio Bieler and Benny Feilhaber, while Philadelphia will get a fresh start under John Hackworth. It's a challenging, but winnable season opener.
The home game against New England needs to result in three points, because the Union have not played well on the road against both Colorado and New York. Over the first three seasons, the club holds a 0-4-0 record at Red Bull Arena, and a 0-1-1 record at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. That's just one point from six matches on the road against those two teams.
Getting any kind of results on the road against the Rapids and Red Bulls could make a huge difference going into April.
Saturday, April 6 at Columbus
Saturday, April 13 vs. Toronto
Sunday, April 21 at D.C. United (ESPN2)
Saturday, April 27 at New England
April features three road games and just one home game, all against Eastern Conference foes.
You may recall the controversial non-offside call against Milovan Mirosevic that gave the Crew a 3-2 victory in Ohio late last season. John Hackworth's team probably hasn't forgotten about that decision.
Toronto, which just appointed former D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen as head coach, is completely unpredictable going into this season. Three points at home should be the goal against a TFC side which struggled immensely over the last two seasons.
The Union will play D.C. and New England twice each on the road. Last season, the team drew 1-1 at RFK Stadium and won 2-1 in the U.S. Open Cup at the Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland. As far as the Revs, the Union have a 2-0-1 record all time at Gillette Stadium. Philadelphia has not lost to New England since entering the league in 2010.
Saturday, May 4 vs. Seattle
Saturday, May 11 at Chicago (NBCSN)
Wednesday, May 15 vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
Saturday, May 18 vs. Chicago
Saturday, May 25 at Montreal
The Union get both Pacific Northwest teams at home this year, which is a huge positive. Whenever you can avoid a cross-country trip to play on turf in front of 35,000 fans – that's a good thing. Seattle comes to town on May 4.
From there, it's a stretch of three games in seven days, with a visit from the Galaxy sandwiched between a home-and-home with Chicago.
Philadelphia beat Los Angeles on the road last year, but went 1-2-0 against the Fire. Chicago recently acquired former New York winger Joel Lindpere, and former D.C. Striker Maicon Santos, to go along with attackers Sherjill MacDonald, Chris Rolfe, Alvaro Fernandez, and Patrick Nyarko.
The team gets a week off before taking the first of two trips to Montreal. The Impact brought in Swiss coach Marco Schallibaum, who has a lot of foreign experience, but no experience within Major League Soccer. Unlike Toronto though, Montreal has a ton of talent on their roster.
Saturday, June 1 at Toronto
Wednesday, June 5 vs. Columbus
Sunday, June 23 vs. New York (ESPN)
Saturday, June 29 vs. FC Dallas (NBCSN)
June has the potential for some great results, with three winnable home games and just one game on the road.
If the squad can grab a result in Toronto, there's a good chance for three more points in a midweek home game with Columbus.
The big break you see in the June calendar will be filled with dates for the 2013 Gold Cup. MLS games will not be played at this time, so the Union will get two and a half weeks to prepare for back-to-back, nationally televised home games against New York and Dallas.
The Union have played to draws in two home games with Dallas. Last year's game was a 1-1 draw on the road.
Wednesday, July 3 at Real Salt Lake
Saturday, July 6 at Houston
Friday, July 12 vs. Chivas USA
Saturday, July 20 vs. Portland
Saturday, July 27 at Vancouver
July 2013 looks eerily similar to July 2012.
You may remember the Fourth of July road trip from last year, where the team lost 2-1 at Houston, then traveled straight to Los Angeles and beat the defending champions in their own stadium.
It's the same situation this year, but the team will go from Salt Lake City to Houston, playing two road games in the span of four days. Just like last year, bringing home two or three points from this trip would be a big victory. Philadelphia hasn't won in two tries at Rio Tinto Stadium, but the team does have two road wins at Houston's old Robertson Stadium.
If the road trip is difficult, then home games against Chivas USA and Portland should be winnable, right? You've got two teams which struggled last year making cross-country flights to PPL Park. Avoiding JELD-WEN Field is important, because the Timbers are a completely different team away from home.
The Vancouver trip will be the longest flight the Union take this season. There is a seven-day break following the Portland game, so if the team gets good results against the Goats and Timbers, then the pressure to get a win in British Columbia might be more relaxed.
Saturday, August 3 vs. Chicago
Saturday, August 10 vs. D.C. United (NBCSN)
Saturday, August 17 at New York (NBCSN)
Sunday, August 15 at New England
Saturday, August 31 vs. Montreal
Five games against five Eastern Conference opponents – two nationally televised.
August looks like the most critical month for making a playoff run this year. All of these games are essentially "six-pointers", where teams can try to create table separation or claw their way back into contention.
You've got three home games and two away games, all of which are winnable. The road game against New York looks to be the most difficult, but there's no reason to think that the Union couldn't take at least 7-9 points from the other four games.
Sunday, Sept. 8 at San Jose (ESPN2)
Saturday, Sept. 14 vs. Houston
Friday, Sept. 27 at Kansas City (NBCSN)
September 8 might be the toughest game on the 2013 Union schedule. The road game against Supporter's Shield winner San Jose is scheduled for primetime on ESPN2, which will be 11 p.m. on the East Coast. The Union get to deal with Steven Lenhart on the road this year after he scored twice at PPL Park in 2012.
If you think that winning in Kansas City is going to be tough, then it looks like the Sept. 14 home match with Houston is the best chance at three points this month. Sporting is notoriously tough at home, so the matchup with the Dynamo is critical before going into a stretch of 13 days with no games.
Saturday, Oct. 5 vs. Toronto
Saturday, Oct. 12 at D.C. United
Saturday, Oct. 19 at Montreal
Saturday, Oct. 26 Kansas City (NBCSN)
October is similar to 2012, with two road trips preceding a season finale at home. Last year, the Union had to play Houston and Kansas City on the road, before hosting the Red Bulls at PPL Park.
This season, trips to Washington D.C. and Montreal will come before the final game against Kansas City.
Unlike last season, these October games are spaced apart nicely. Philadelphia had to play three games in seven days to finish 2012, but this year there is a one-week break between each game. If the season comes down to this final month, the Union are in better position to get results than they were in 2012.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com.