Just like Christmas shopping, it's never too early to start talking about the MLS schedule.
The Union will open the 2014 campaign with a trip to Portland and finish with three of four games at PPL Park.
Before diving into the schedule, let's highlight a few things:
This season, we "flip" venues with the Western Conference. That means the teams we played on the road last season will visit PPL Park in 2014. Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver, and San Jose are the Western teams coming to town. The road games are against FC Dallas, Los Angeles, Chivas USA, Seattle, and Portland.
The Union will only play TWO games against rival D.C. United. The same goes for Toronto FC. Philadelphia will play every other conference team three times. This is a product of the unbalanced schedule and seasonal rotation among the ten teams in the East.
For each team that we played three times in 2012, the venues also "flip" for those matchups. Last year we played Montreal and New York twice on the road and once at home. This year we get the Impact and Red Bulls twice each at PPL Park.
There's a huge gap between home matches in the Summer. Due to scheduling quirks and the World Cup tournament, there will be few games at PPL Park from the end of the May to the beginning of July. The positive, however, is that the season concludes with a majority of games at home.
Right now, six of 34 matches are set for national TV. Keep an eye on this, because it’s likely to change.
- Saturday, March 8 at Portland
- Saturday, March 15 vs. New England
- Saturday, March 22 at Columbus
- Saturday, March 29 vs. Montreal
Another daunting season opener, but a reasonable month.
The Union opened at Portland in 2012 and have not won at Jeld-Wen Field in two tries. It's certainly not ideal, but someone has to play the Timbers in their home opener.
The good news is that the games against New England and Montreal are both at home. The trip to Columbus will be an early test against new manager Gregg Berhalter and the Crew.
- Saturday, April 5 at Chicago
- Saturday, April 12 vs. Real Salt Lake
- Wednesday, April 16 at New York
- Saturday, April 19 vs. Houston
- Saturday, April 26 at Montreal
A solid month, April is bookended with two Eastern Conference road trips.
The tricky part is in the middle, with that Wednesday trip to New York sandwiched between home games against RSL and Houston. The good thing is that Philadelphia does not travel to Rio Tinto this season and only travels once to BBVA Compass Stadium.
- Saturday, May 3 at Seattle
- Saturday, May 10 vs. D.C. United
- Wednesday, May 14 at Kansas City
- Saturday, May 17 vs. New England
- Sunday, May 25 at Los Angeles
- Saturday, May 31 at Chivas USA
This is the first funky month on the Union calendar.
Start with a cross-country road trip to Seattle and a home match with rival D.C. United.
From there, it's a mid-week trip to Kansas City and the second game against New England at PPL Park. It's a stretch of three games in eight days against Eastern Conference opponents.
The end of the month is the most intriguing though. Philadelphia will play back-to-back road games against Los Angeles and Chivas, both of whom play at the same venue. Ideally, the team will stay in Los Angeles after the Galaxy match and train for the Chivas game on the following Saturday. This would eliminate another cross-country trip to the Pacific Coast.
- Saturday, June 7 vs. Vancouver
- Saturday, June 28 at New England
MLS will take a three week break for the World Cup tournament, which means the Union only plays two games in June.
The Los Angeles swing is followed with a home game against Vancouver. The team then gets 21 days off before playing New England.
- Friday, July 4 at Dallas
- Saturday, July 12 vs. Colorado
- Wednesday, July 16 vs. New York (ESPN2)
- Saturday, July 19 at Chicago
For the third straight year, Philadelphia will spend Independence Day weekend on the road. The Union will get another shot at beating Dallas for the first time in franchise history.
Then it's another jam packed week – Colorado, New York, and at Chicago in just eight days.
Two of Philadelphia's games against the Red Bulls will be played on Wednesdays this season.
- Friday, August 1 at Kansas City (NBCSN)
- Saturday, August 9 vs. Montreal
- Friday, August 15 at Houston (NBCSN)
- Sunday, August 24 vs. San Jose
Another tough month, with nationally televised road trips to Kansas City and Houston.
Montreal visits PPL Park on Aug. 9 and San Jose visits on a Sunday. The 'Quakes are 2-1-0 all-time in Chester.
- Wednesday, September 3 vs. Toronto FC
- Saturday, September 6 at Toronto FC
- Saturday, September 13 vs. New York (NBCSN)
- Saturday, September 20 vs. Houston
- Saturday, September 27 at D.C. United (NBCSN)
A few things to look at here:
1. The Union will play six of the nine games in September and October at PPL Park. That will be a huge factor especially if this team is in playoff contention come fall.
2. September opens with a back-to-back midweek series against Toronto. The only two games against TFC this year will be played in the span of just four days.
3. Just like 2013 and 2012, the schedule is backended with Eastern Conference teams. The final nine games of the season can all be considered "six pointers."
- Thursday, October 2 vs. Chicago (ESPN2)
- Saturday, October 11 vs. Columbus
- Saturday, October 18 vs. Kansas City
- Sunday, October 26 at Columbus
You have to be happy with the way the season ends.
You've got three home matches that precede the season finale in Columbus.
Actually if you consider it a bit deeper, it's probably the most reasonable October schedule the Union has had since joining Major League Soccer.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com