With the holiday season having come to a close, the 2020 MLS season is fast approaching.
The 2020 MLS SuperDraft begins with the first two rounds on January 9 – three and four are set for the following Monday, players will begin to report to training camp January 18 as preseason gets underway, and the season proper gets kicks off on February 29 when D.C. United host the Colorado Rapids at Audi Field at 1 pm.
The addition of two expansion clubs – Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF – brings the number of teams in each conference to 13 and sees MLS enters its 25th season with the competition format continuing to evolve.
The 34-match schedule remains, but no longer will a team meet every cross-conference opponent at least once. The home and away matches against in-conference rivals stay in place, accounting for fixtures, but only ten opposite conference games can be accommodated.
For Toronto FC that means they will not face FC Dallas, LAFC, or Minnesota United FC this regular season.
With home openers announced early last month and the full schedule released on December 19, here are my 10 most anticipated TFC matches in 2020.
February 29 at San Jose Earthquakes
The season opens in California for TFC when they visit Avaya Stadium to face Matias Almeyda’s Earthquakes. This past season, his first in MLS, the Argentine coach rejuvenated San Jose, turning them into a force to be reckoned with by the middle part of the season.
The Quakes could not sustain the effort into the final months of the campaign and ended up missing out of the MLS Cup Playoffs, but will no doubt be looking to build on that foundation when 2020 gets underway.
March 7 vs. NYCFC
A week on, TFC make their return to BMO Field when NYCFC come to town.
With so much of the 2019 MLS Cup run played away from home, it will have been nearly five months since the Reds last graced their home pitch. And with a rematch against NYCFC, who were one of the victims in that surge to the final, it couldn’t begin in better fashion.
NYCFC topped the Eastern Conference last season only to falter at the first hurdle in the playoffs, thanks to an Alejandro Pozuelo double, ending Dome Torrent’s tenure in a devastating manner. Norwegian Ronny Deila will be taking over the reins of the club this season and will be eager to see the side start out the new one by overcoming the obstacle that defeated his predecessor.
The last time the Reds hosted the blue side of New York, Pozuelo made his TFC debut in some style. What will he have in store this time around?
The return match in New York City is set for May 13.
April 25 at Inter Miami CF
Toronto will host Nashville, the other expansion club, on March 14 – Sadly, there is no road trip to Tennessee this year, but with the hype that has been circulating around Inter Miami since it was rumoured that David Beckham would look to spearhead an ownership group there all those years ago has them getting all the attention heading into the season.
Head coach Diego Alonso will have his hands full living up to the promise of the new side; it should be fascinating to see how the Uruguayan settles into MLS. Add in that former TFC midfielder Jay Chapman made the move to Florida and it is a date that must be circled on the calendar.
Miami travels to Toronto on May 30 for the opposite fixture.
May 27 at Atlanta United FC
Another month, another defeated playoff opponent lies on the schedule for TFC as they head to Georgia once more, returning to the scene of the crime.
It was October 30, 2019 when TFC, having already dispatched NYCFC, went into Atlanta’s home ground and despite early struggles and a ferocious Five Stripes attack, held firm throughout, setting the table for Nick DeLeon’s screamer to seal a spot in a third MLS Cup Final in four years.
Frank de Boer’s side, having lifted the cup themselves in 2018 under Tata Martino, were aiming to return to the finale for a second straight year after a strong campaign that saw them finish second in the East. Just another layer to the burgeoning competition between the two clubs.
Atlanta come to Toronto on September 12.
June 13 vs. Montreal Impact
No explanation needed.
The Impact return to BMO Field midseason with the memory of their shootout win in the final of the 2019 Canadian Championship final fresh in the mind.
And with Wilmer Cabrera replaced in the off-season, they will be led by a new, albeit familiar, face: Thierry Henry. Should be fun.
TFC head to Montreal on August 22.
June 20 at Colorado Rapids
Though lacking some of the high-profile appeal of other opponents, the ties between TFC and the Rapids have grown deep in recent years, so when Toronto travel there in June they will be confronted by several true friends.
Drew Moor, veteran defender, rejoined his former club this offseason, while long-time TFC assistant coach Robin Fraser took over the lead job in Colorado in the latter stages of last season. Clint Irwin, who helped lead Toronto to the 2016 MLS Cup Final, is set to be there too, hopefully established as the starting keeper with the retirement of Tim Howard.
July 18 vs. Seattle Sounders FC
The two 2019 MLS Cup finalists will meet at least once in 2020, though having clashed in three of the last four season finales, it would be foolish to rule out another come November.
Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders took round three of the heavyweight tilt by a 3-1 scoreline, finally scoring in open play to lift their second MLS Cup in the conclusion of the 2019 campaign.
It falls to Toronto to respond this year.
August 1 at Chicago Fire
With all the attention on the expansion clubs and the flashy lights that have come to MLS as the league has continued to grow in recent years, it is easy to overlook more subtle changes by some of the longstanding clubs.
One such move will take place in Chicago with the Fire returning downtown to Soldier Field having spent the last decade-plus in Bridgeview, Illinois, well outside of the city’s core.
The relocation is part of an effort to reinvigorate a club that has failed to reach the playoffs in eight of the last ten seasons – both times they did, they were defeated in the Knockout Round – a mammoth task that falls on the shoulders of newly installed head coach Raphael Wicky.
Should the Fire hope to compete in the East, Toronto are one of the teams they must be gunning for.
Chicago comes to town on June 17.
September 19 at Portland Timbers FC
Every season of MLS action has distinct phases.
There is the early season warm-up, then the spring flurry, the midseason pause, the summer grind, and then the fall race which culminates in the playoff push.
By September, who is in contention for a post-season berth and who is on the bubble will be clear.
That makes these final matches of the season so very crucial for a club’s ultimate fate. The excitement is elevated ever more as the stakes get higher and higher. The atmosphere in these matches reaches another level, and so a trip to Providence Park in Portland to face Giovanni Savarese’s side is one to look forward to.
October 4 at New York Red Bulls
Decision Day 2020. Red Bull Arena. TFC and the New York Red Bulls.
Always a difficult place to play, final days in New York City for TFC have not been kind in the past, but with the new year looking bright all obstacles are welcome.
However the season plays out, it is certain that Chris Armas’ side will be a tough opponent when this day comes in ten months. Book it.
The Red Bulls come to Toronto on April 11.
Bonus: July 7-9 and July 14-16
TFC will enter the 2020 Canadian Championship in the Quarter Final Round with the two legs to be played over these two windows.
With the competition set to be more regional this edition, the Reds will face a new Ontario rival for the first time as the winner of Qualifying Round 1 between York9 FC and League1 Ontario champion Masters Futbol Academy will advance.
History will be made. Exciting days for Canadian soccer.