Welcome to 2024
Much has happened over the last few months. At the end of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Columbus Crew emerged victorious defeating LAFC in the MLS Cup Final in December, Toronto FC selected Tyrese Spicer with the first-overall pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, John Herdman continues to add to his coaching staff with the recent announcement that Jason deVos would be joining the side, and the MLS schedule was released just before the holidays to name but a few of the developments.
The new year has just arrived, and much remains to be done during the off-season, but in the next few weeks players will report for medicals and the start of preseason; before too long the next season of MLS action will be here.
Toronto will play 34 league matches in 2024, 17 at home and 17 away. The Leagues Cup and the Canadian Championship, while yet to be announced, will provide additional action outside of the league format.
Here are some dates worthy of being circled on the calendar:
February 25 Toronto FC at FC Cincinnati
The first game of the season is when the journey begins.
Toronto will have a stern challenge that day with a visit to Ohio to face the defending Supporters’ Shield champions. Cincinnati topped the league in 2023, a full six points ahead of their nearest challengers.
Having amassed a home record of 13 wins, two losses, and two draws during the regular season last year before knocking both the New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union out of the playoffs, their season ended at TQL Stadium in dramatic fashion: falling 3-2 to in-state rivals the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Final. Cincy took a 2-0 lead in the first half, only for the Crew to respond twice in the final 15 minutes of regulation time and net the winner deep in the second frame of extra time.
2024 MLS MVP Luciano Acosta and the rest of Pat Noonan’s side will be eager to start their campaign out right when TFC come to town. The reverse fixture in Toronto is scheduled for May 25.
March 9 Toronto FC vs. Charlotte FC
After playing their first two matches on the road, Toronto will return to BMO Field a few weeks later with the visit of Charlotte to BMO Field.
Every game at the home ground is a special occasion, an early March afternoon by the lake does sound cold, but there is something about seeing the side back in action in person after a long time away that warms the soul.
Charlotte’s 3-0 home win in the last meeting back in October was a kick when Toronto was down. TFC will be hoping this one looks more like that 4-0 win at BMO in 2022. Toronto travels to North Carolina on April 13 for the second meeting.
April 6 Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
With only one guaranteed meeting per season, the competition against Vancouver has never reached the boil that Toronto’s clashes with Montreal entail, but there has always been a simmer to these games against Canadian rivals stretching back to when the Whitecaps, having split their series with Toronto and twice beaten Montreal to take poll position, were forced to watch TFC hammer the then-Montreal Impact in the 2009 Canadian Championship to rip the trophy from their hands.
Vancouver has had the balance in their favour in recent years: winning three of the last four matches, unbeaten over that spell, and back-to-back Voyageurs Cup victories have seen them displace Toronto in the Concacaf Champions League/Cup.
That shootout defeat in the final of the 2022 Canadian Championship still rankles. Should be a good one.
Late April/Early May Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship
Details are yet to be released, but judging by last season’s schedule Toronto will be entering the 2024 Canadian Championship during this period.
With Vancouver and Montreal having met in the final of the 2023 edition, assuming parameters remain the same, Toronto is unlikely to receive a bye into the quarterfinals and so will be drawn into the preliminary round against fellow eastern Canadian sides.
That means a match against one of the Canadian Premier League sides – Forge FC, York United, Atlético Ottawa, HFX Wanderers FC – Simcoe County Rovers FC (League1 Ontario champions), or CS Saint-Laurent (League 1 Quebec champions).
However, the draw plays out it will be a fascinating clash to kick off one of the highlights of the annual calendar.
April 27 Toronto FC at Orlando City SC
Every season in MLS the first few months are the warm-up. Teams play once a week in the league as the action gradually ramps up and then when May comes around the schedule takes flight.
Just before that grind begins Toronto will have a good measuring stick when they travel to Florida for a late April match with Orlando City.
Orlando, under Óscar Pareja, has been one of the more consistent teams over the last few seasons and second place in the Eastern Conference last year, behind only Cincinnati, was their best-ever finish. Having dispatched Nashville SC in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, eventual champions Columbus needed a pair of goals in added time, one in each half, to end their 2023 momentum.
The Lions outclassed TFC 4-0 at BMO Field in the final match of the 2023 season. Herdman said afterwards that that is the level that his side needs to reach. This April clash will be a good chance to see how much progress has been made. Orlando City will then come to Toronto on July 3.
May 18 Toronto FC vs. CF Montreal
Need more be said?
The history, the proximity, the passion, whatever the reason this is always one of the first fixtures to look for whenever the schedule is released.
Montreal has won the last four MLS meetings, six of the last seven, and are unbeaten in league play over that stretch dating back to 2021. Toronto knocked Montreal out of the Canadian Championship at the semifinal stage with a 4-0 win in 2022, but will be eager to address that trend in 2024.
Toronto heads to Montreal for the second meeting on July 20.
June 19 Toronto FC vs. Nashville SC
Another one of those tests of mettle matches arrives in mid-June. The aforementioned game against Montreal comes in the middle of the first busy period of the season – Toronto plays seven matches from May 4 to June 1, the league pauses for an international break at the start of June but then returns with a fury in the build-up to the start of the Leagues Cup, all while the 2024 Copa América and 2024 UEFA Euros are underway, testing squad depth.
Whether in the East or West, Nashville under Gary Smith has emerged as a playoff standard, finishing between third and fifth place in the last three seasons. In German international Hany Muhktar, 2022 MLS MVP, and three-time MLS Best XI recognition, Toronto will be facing one of the premier attacking threats in the league. Throw in the returns of Jacob Shaffelburg and Lukas MacNaughton to face their former club, as well as a visit from recent TFC draft pick Joey Maher’s older brother, Jack, and this one should be fun. The two meet in Nashville earlier in the year on May 15.
July 6 Toronto FC at Columbus Crew
Toronto heads to Ohio in the middle of that busy spell for their first chance at putting a dent in the defending MLS Cup champions.
While the heyday of Columbus being the closest rivals in MLS have long since passed with more Canadian teams and in-state rivals Cincinnati joining the league and the Trillium Cup barely gets a mention, there is still something in the matches between TFC and the Crew.
Call it institutional memory, call it a mix of mutual respect and envy, both these teams want to be contending for the top of the East every season and that brings some drama to the occasion. Columbus are not basking in the glory of their second MLS Cup in four seasons, Wilfried Nancy and company have already added midfielder Marino Hinestroza to the mix from Liga MX side Pachuca.
If Toronto are going to return to the conversation, the champions will be one of the teams in their way. The Crew come to Toronto on September 18.
August 24 Toronto FC at Houston Dynamo
A bit of a curveball pick for a list such as this.
Houston were the surprise of 2023, as Ben Olsen’s side returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 during his first year at the helm, reaching the Western Conference Finals with wins over Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC before falling to LAFC.
Between Olsen, Mexican legend Héctor Herrera, whose 17 assists were second most in the league, behind only Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada, and a cast largely unheralded players, many of whom were deemed surplus at other MLS sides, Houston are the epitome of the team is the star.
That ethos goes a long way in MLS. Just how they navigate the excess rigours of international play and raised expectations remains to be seen, but Toronto must be wary of this one and could pick up a thing or two from the experience.
October 5 Toronto FC vs. Inter Miami CF
And finally: Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and now Luis Suárez.
Since Messi arrived matches against Inter Miami have been the talk in every city they visit and Toronto will have their chance come the final game of the regular season.
Messi and company arrived too late to make a push to the MLS Cup Playoffs, but Miami lifted the Leagues Cup trophy and were runners-up in the US Open Cup. Surely a whole season will tell a different story in 2024.
Miami has dominated the all-time series with six wins to Toronto’s two, including a 4-0 win last September. Toronto will face the star-studded side on July 17 in Florida.