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Paul Giamou

GROSSI | Top 10 MLS Matches to Watch in 2019

A week into the new year, Toronto FC and all of MLS learned the rest of the 2019 regular season schedule.

It was already known that TFC would open the campaign on the road, travelling to Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday, March 2 to face the Philadelphia Union, and play their first league match at BMO Field on Sunday, March 17 with the visit of the New England Revolution.

On Monday, the rest of the fixtures were released.

The season and home openers are always special occasions: a first glimpse in league play, both overall and in person, of the revamped side as they look forward to the year ahead.

The Concacaf Champions League gets underway in February again this year with a tie against Panamanian side CA Independiente. Where their attention was focused primarily on that title last time around, TFC, back and strengthened, are intent on redoubling that old ethos of 'one game at a time.'

To kick off league action, a pair of Eastern Conference foes in Philadelphia and New England await, and Toronto can look to positive results against each from the previous year as they stride into the new one.

TFC won both matches against the Union by a combined score of 5-0 in 2018 and put in a dominant display against New England at BMO Field in a 4-1 win last September having earlier seen a come-from-behind effort quashed at Gillette Stadium.

The full schedule can be viewed here.

Every match is vital. But littered throughout the year are a plethora of dates that get the narrative juices flowing. Here are ten of the most mouthwatering matchups in chronological order:

Saturday, April 13: at Seattle Sounders FC

Having met in successive MLS Cup Finals in 2016 and 2017 at BMO Field, whenever TFC and Sounders FC meet, talk of a rematch of those two epic nights will not be far away.

Seattle lifted the 2016 edition in a penalty shootout, famously without a shot on goal, but Toronto got the better of them come 2017, running rampant in an emphatic 2-0 win. Last season, Seattle took the only meeting 2-1 at BMO Field in May.

Rest assured that TFC will be looking to return the favour when they visit CenturyLink Field in April.

Wednesday, May 15: vs. D.C. United

Drafted 7th overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Nick DeLeon spent all seven of his MLS seasons with D.C. United before making the move to TFC via the Re-Entry Draft in December. The first meeting with his former team will be special for one of the new additions.

Throw in the attacking prowess of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, as well as memories of that wild 4-4 draw in Toronto last June, and this has the makings of a scintillating match. DeLeon and TFC will face D.C. again on June 29 in the return fixture.

Friday, May 31: at Vancouver Whitecaps FC

With Marc Dos Santos replacing former Red Carl Robinson at the helm of Whitecaps FC, this Vancouver side will have a very different feel to the one that had some memorable clashes with TFC over the years.

No one will ever forget Will Johnson's late, soul-crushing strike in the second leg of the 2016 Canadian Championship that saw Toronto lift the first of three-straight Voyageurs Cups, a streak that was continued in 2018 with a 7-4 aggregate victory over Vancouver in last year's edition.

Whitecaps FC got some revenge come October with a 2-1 win at BMO Field that all but ended any hopes of a late playoff surge. The only league clash between these two Canadian sides always makes for interesting viewing.

Wednesday, June 26: vs. Atlanta United FC

The 2018 MLS Cup Champions return to BMO Field in June.

In two seasons, Atlanta has yet to beat Toronto. The first three encounters ended in rollicking 2-2 draws, while on Decision Day last season a 4-1 TFC win was an important lesson for Atlanta in how the games at the business end of the season require something extra. It was a reminder that served them well en route to the cup.

With Tata Martino departing for the Mexican National Team, Dutchman Frank de Boer will get his first taste of the simmering dislike between these two clubs when TFC visits Mercedes-Benz Stadium on May 8; the match at BMO Field in June, scene of that humbling, will be even more spicy.

Thursday, July 4: at Los Angeles Galaxy

Zlatan. Fireworks. Goals.

Undoubtedly one of the games of the year, for spectators at least – Greg Vanney was certainly displeased with the general state of defending in TFC's 5-3 win last September, though even he had to marvel at Ibrahimovic's roundhouse finish – the action shifts to the West Coast this time around when TFC and the Galaxy clash once more.

The ties between the Toronto coaching staff and the California-based club run deep, while it marks a return of sorts for Marky Delgado, who began his professional career at Dignity Health Sports Park, albeit having chosen to join now-defunct Chivas USA rather than the Galaxy.

With Guillermo Barros Schelotto taking over the reins at the Galaxy as they look to rebound from a handful of disappointing seasons and Zlatan looking to build on his impressive debut season in the league, this one has the makings of another exciting, high-profile contest.

Saturday, July 13: at Montreal Impact

Little need be said about the action when these two rivals meet. The animosity, the history, the matches, all speak for themselves.

But adding another degree to this clash will be the return of Laurent Ciman to his former stomping grounds.

The Belgian defender departed Montreal via trade ahead of the 2018 season and then left MLS altogether with a midseason move from LAFC to French club Dijon FCO, only to return to the league in December, but with their most-despised foe.

Toronto and Montreal will meet again on August 24 at BMO Field in the midst of the Canadian National Exhibition (The Ex). With the possibility of further matches in the Canadian Championship in between, those six weeks will be an interesting period.

Wednesday, July 17: vs. New York Red Bulls

In 2017, en route to the cup, TFC outlasted the Red Bulls to take a razor-thin Eastern Conference Semifinal series, advancing on away goals having won in New York and lost at home. In the tunnels at BMO Field, a dislike, always present, was emboldened.

Come 2018, New York won both matches as they set a new record for most points in a single-season, ensuring Toronto's mark from 2017 was short-lived, only to fall short once more in the post-season.

The margins each way were thin as these two clubs, along with Atlanta, Columbus, and NYCFC have duelled over who will emerge from a crowded conference field the past few seasons. This first meeting and the second on August 3 in New York will go someway to determining the order this time around.

And with Ali Curtis stepping into the General Manager role at TFC roughly two years removed from his exit at Red Bull, another layer has been added.

Saturday, July 27: vs. FC Cincinnati

The first-ever match against an expansion club is always a treat: a chance to witness the start of something new. This time, however, there is a little extra on the docket.

Whereas in most situations, the expansion side will be arriving with a blank slate, Cincinnati and TFC's USL side, TFC II, who are preparing to make the move to USL League One in 2019, have a history of their own with which to contend.

TFC II had a knack for upsetting Cincinnati: stunning the runaway USL regular season champions with a thrilling comeback in Toronto and then nearly turning them over when they visited Ohio later in the year. The last three have been goal-fests with either six or seven combined goals scored.

With a good amount of their USL roster intact, including Mississauga-native and former TFC draft pick Emery Welshman, those recent memories will be fresh in the mind as Alan Koch's Cincinnati makes their first MLS trip to Toronto.

The return fixture, on September 7 in Cincinnati too will be interesting, as Nick Hagglund is set to play a professional match in his hometown.

Saturday, September 21: at LAFC

The Bradley Bowl Take II, as father and son, coach and captain, Bob and Michael, meet once again in MLS action.

LAFC won the first in a raucous six-goal thriller at BMO Field last season, where TFC mounted a late comeback that was ultimately stymied by a ludicrous Carlos Vela tight-angled blast in the final throes.

It will also mark Toronto's first visit to Banc of California Stadium. Can't wait.

Sunday, October 6: vs. Columbus Crew SC

The Trillium Cup may have lost some of its initial lustre as the years have passed and other, more fitting rivals emerged. That said, there will always be a vibe between these two sides; had they not been saved by the new ownership group, something would have been lost.

Columbus took four points from the two matches last season to earn their first series win since 2015. The stage will be set with the first meeting on August 17 in Ohio, but add in the finality of Decision Day and the return of Tim Bezbatchenko, one of the architects of TFC's success, and this is set to be a special one.

Honourable mentions go to the return of Clint Irwin with the Colorado Rapids on September 15 and each and every clash with NYCFC – March 29 at BMO Field and September 11 at Yankee Stadium, who look to a new future with David Villa, a stalwart throughout their first four years – and constant pain in Toronto's side – having moved on.

The 2019 MLS regular season schedule is set, the MLS SuperDraft is on Friday in Chicago and players report to camp next week. Preseason matches will follow quickly, with the initial stage of the Concacaf Champions League and the MLS regular season trailing swiftly behind.

Who's ready?