Earlier today the MLS released the 2015 schedule for all teams. Now that the wait is over for the schedule to be released, Fire nation can now start planning their weekends around home games and watch parties. Let's dive into the 2015 schedule, starting first with a quick summary of the 2015 season, then moving on to highlight some games that I'm looking forward to. So here we go:
- The Fire have a mix of home and away games on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays. The breakdown of the 34 games are as follows:
- 7 are on Fridays with 6 away and 1 at home.
- 8 are on Sundays with 5 away and 3 at home.
- 5 are on Wednesdays with 2 away and 3 at home.
- 14 are on Saturdays with 4 away and 10 at home.
- The Fire have 13 nationally televised games this season. 3 on Unimas, 3 on Fox Sports 1, 3 on ESPN2, and 4 on UDN. The rest will more than likely be on the local broadcasting station that has yet to be determined and will probably be announced right before the season starts like in previous seasons.
- After Saturday 22nd versus the Colorado Rapids, the Fire finish the season with 9 straight games versus Eastern Conference opponents that could ultimately decide playoff positioning for the men in red.
- With SKC and Houston joining the Western Conference, the Fire will have some of the same fixtures versus the west like in 2014. The Fire host Colorado, RSL (2014 repeat), Vancouver (2014 repeat), Dallas, and Seattle (2014 repeat); they will travel to Houston, SKC, San Jose (2014 repeat), Portland (2014 repeat), and LA.
- The Fire have a 2 week break from June 6th to June 24th which may see an international friendly game or possible US Open Cup matches being played during that time. We will probably not see a friendly during the months of July and August as 11 league games will be played during those 2 months.
There are always certain games that I circle on my calendar as games that I will be looking forward to during the upcoming season. This season I actually can put those games into categories and they are:
- The "Games Against the Big Boys"- What I mean by this, it is the games against those teams that were tops in the league in 2014. These games can be a measuring stick for Fire supporters as well as the coaching staff to see how far along the team has or hasn't come to improving on a dreadful 2014 season. These games on my list include the season opener versus the defending MLS Cup champs, the LA Galaxy on March 6. The Fire play MLS Cup runners-up New England on April 15, July 25, and October 3 versus the MLS Cup runner's up New England Revolution. Finally, the July 11 game versus the US Open Cup and Supporter's Shield holders Seattle Sounders rounds out the 'Big Boys' part of the schedule.
- The "Hey How You Doing Games"- These include all games against the much hyped expansion teams of Orlando City and New York City. The Fire take on the Frank Lampard-less NYCFC on April 24 at home and away on May 15. Chicago welcome Kaka and his team dressed in purple to Chicago on June 6 and September 19, while Yallop leads the Men in Red to the Land of the Mouse on August 29. I always love to see how expansion teams come into the league. Will they be whipping boys or have they learned how to field a competitive team in the league by following other expansion teams models?
- Last but not least "The Optimisim Games"- Every time a new season starts fans are filled with optimism and that is shown especially during the home opener. Lots of energy amongst the crowd with plenty of games left during the season for which to climb in the standings. On March 14 the Fire host Vancouver in the home opener at Toyota Park. It will be cold, but the Fire faithful have come out for the opener despite the weather and created a buzz around the stadium in years past. I expect the same in 2015. The other optimism game on my plate is the final game of the season on October 25 versus the Red Bulls. This game will either signify another end to a playoff-less season, thus filling supporters with optimism for offseason changes as well as looking forward to 2016; or it will fill supporters with optimism for a deep MLS Cup playoff run that could ultimately lead to an MLS Cup victory.
Also the MLS announced the playoff field will be increased to 12 teams. The format for the playoffs will be exactly like the NFL's in that the top 2 teams in each conference will have a first round bye and the third through sixth place teams will each play a one game elimination. The lowest remaining seeds will play the first place teams in their conference while the second place team in each conference will play the other remaining team in 2 leg home-and-home series. That follows with the conference finals home-and-home series with the 2 remaining victors facing for the MLS Cup.
Now that we all had time to study the schedule, what games are you looking forward to? What do you think of the new playoff format? Do the Fire now have a chance to make the playoffs in 2015?