The schedule for Major League Soccer is set to be announced tomorrow and there will be some changes from last year as the league enters its 19th season with twenty teams.
There is plenty to look forward to in the upcoming season for fans of the Portland Timbers, so let's take a look at a few of the big dates that we will be looking for tomorrow.
The Cascadia Cup
These are the first games that everyone looks for when the new schedule is released and rightly so; with few exceptions, these clashes are among the most exciting games of the year, no matter the form or the standing of the teams involved.
MLS's unbalanced schedule, however, has thrown a twist on the series, making it an unbalanced round-robin format, rather a straightforward home and away. The Timbers were the beneficiaries of more homefield advantage than their opponents in 2012, the only year they have won the Cascadia Cup since joining MLS, and in 2014, while the Vancouver Whitecaps enjoyed the home field advantage in 2013, when they took home the Cup. The Seattle Sounders have had the same number of home and away matches in Cascadia Cup play each of the last three years.
This year, however, MLS has changed up their scheduling once again and Western Conference teams are no longer guaranteed three games against each in-conference opponent. Instead, they will only play three games against six opponents.
Would MLS eliminate a Cascadia Cup match from its slate? Almost certainly not. That does not mean that the back and forth home field advantage between the Timbers and Whitecaps will not be disrupted.
The Third Wheel
I got the new schedule mixed up so this section got revised. On my phone. At work. My bad. -Will
Or, more accurately, the fourth through seventh wheels.
As we mentioned above, each team will face six in-conference opponents three times, while facing the rest of their conference opposition twice. If the Timbers are to have third games against the Whitecaps and Sounders, who is the third team that the Timbers will play an additional time?
Going on proximity, the Timbers seem likely to face the following three teams: Real Salt Lake, the San Jose Earthquakes, and the LA Galaxy. That leaves one last team to play an additional game against.
The Timbers could play a third game at altitude against the Colorado Rapids, a team they have overwhelmed recently in a place they have struggled in historically.
A third game against FC Dallas would give the Timbers a third run at the whole playoff field in the west.
Playing Sporting Kansas City for a third time would give an additional glimpse of their bevy of national-teamers.
Of course, maybe the Timbers will just be paired up with the Houston Dynamo and get to play in the punishing heat of a Texan summer.
Who's Coming West?
After all the in-conference speculating, it is easy to forget about the Eastern Conference. The Timbers will still only be facing each out-of-conference team once on the year, and only half of them at home.
The league has added two new teams this season and both are looking quite intriguing, but it seems likely that only one of the two will come to Portland. The most intriguing parts of New York City FC and Orlando City SC, though, are their high profile signings, of which each has a pair so far.
Frank Lampard: Ol' Lamps looks pretty unlikely to make an appearance in Portland in 2015. Lampard will be missing the first part of the season while "on loan" with Manchester City and, might even stay in Europe after that depending on how one interperts comments from City coach Maneul Pellegrini.
Likelihood that he plays in Portland this year: 15%
David Villa: Unlike Lampard, Villa looks like he might actually start the season with New York and bring a little excitement to an otherwise less than inspiring roster.
Likelihood that he plays in Portland this year: 45%
Kaka: Unlike NYCFC, Orlando are beholden to no-one but themselves and Kaka should be back from his loan to Sao Paolo before the start of the season.
Likelihood that he plays in Portland this year: 48%
Brek Shea: Holy crap. Did you guys realize that Shea is only 24? He probably just seems older because he joined MLS in 2008. Or maybe he just seems old because he has been injured on and off since leaving MLS in 2012.
Likelihood that he plays in Portland this year: 35%
There are plenty of other reasons to hope for teams to swing through Portland. It would be nice for Timbers fans to have a chance to cheer for Donovan Ricketts one more time or check out youngster Kevin Molino, who the Timbers were linked with before he signed with Orlando.
So, what dates will you be looking for tomorrow? Let us know in the comments.