Of course you know the Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer schedule came out earlier today. You don't live under a rock.
Schedule day is always a big one for the hard-core soccer fan, as we all figure out which road trips we'll make in the coming season and start pleading with our bosses for days off. With Vancouver's home opener already announced last year, most of the real suspense was gone: what was left was the fascinating but ultimately inconsequential details.
Major League Soccer schedules get a lot of heat, but most of the dramatic revelations were out of the way already. Will the schedule be unbalanced?! (Yes, we've known that forever). Will MLS finally respect FIFA international dates?! (They promised to make an effort for World Cup Qualifying again and have done so; the likes of Andre Hainault may still skip the occasional national team game but there aren't going to be any more playing-a-scout-on-an-international-date nightmares). The only questions remaining surrounded other competitions, and those haven't been announced yet.
After the jump, I list the Whitecaps' schedule as it stands today, with international dates and projected Voyageurs Cup game days listed. And I also give my thoughts on the most interesting dates, the few problems in the schedule, and a couple areas of promise.
|2011 Vancouver Whitecaps MLS Regular Season Schedule|
|Saturday, March 10||Montreal||3:00 PM||BC Place|
|Saturday, March 17||Chivas USA||7:30 PM||Home Depot Center|
|Saturday, March 24||DC United||7:00 PM||BC Place|
|Saturday, April 7||San Jose||7:30 PM||Buck Shaw Stadium|
|Wednesday, April 18||Kansas City||7:00 PM||BC Place|
|Saturday, April 21||FC Dallas||7:00 PM||BC Place|
|Saturday, April 28||Columbus||4:00 PM||Crew Stadium|
|Saturday, May 5||San Jose||4:00 PM||BC Place|
|Wednesday, May 9||Voyageurs Cup first round, first leg|
|Saturday, May 12||New England||4:30 PM||Gillette Stadium|
|Wednesday, May 16||Voyageurs Cup first round, second leg|
|Saturday, May 19||Seattle||2:00 PM||BC Place|
|Wednesday, May 23||Voyageurs Cup final round, first leg|
|Saturday, May 26||Portland||7:00 PM||Jeld-Wen Field|
|Wednesday, May 30||Voyageurs Cup final round, second leg|
|Friday, June 8||World Cup qualifying: Canada @ Cuba|
|Sunday, June 10||Houston||4:00 PM||BC Place|
|Tuesday, June 12||World Cup qualifying: Canada v. Honduras|
|Saturday, June 16||Colorado||4:00 PM||BC Place|
|Wednesday, June 20||New York||8:00 PM||BC Place|
|Saturday, June 23||Los Angeles||7:30 PM||BC Place|
|Wednesday, July 4||Colorado||6:30 PM||Dick's Sporting Goods Park|
|Saturday, July 7||Chivas USA||7:30 PM||Home Depot Center|
|Wednesday, July 11||Toronto FC||4:00 PM||BMO Field|
|Saturday, July 14||Chicago||5:30 PM||Pizza Hut Park|
|Wednesday, July 18||Los Angeles||7:00 PM||BC Place|
|Sunday, July 22||San Jose||4:00 PM||BC Place|
|Friday, July 27||Salt Lake||6:00 PM||Rio Tinto Stadium|
|Saturday, August 11||Salt Lake||4:00 PM||BC Place|
|Wednesday, August 15||FC Dallas||7:00 PM||BC Place|
|Wednesday, August 15||FIFA international date|
|Saturday, August 18||Seattle||1:00 PM||CenturyLink Field|
|Saturday, August 25||Portland||7:30 PM||Jeld-Wen Field|
|Saturday, September 1||Los Angeles||7:00 PM||Home Depot Center|
|Friday, September 7||World Cup qualifying: Canada v. Panama|
|Tuesday, September 11||World Cup qualifying: Canada @ Panama|
|Saturday, September 15||FC Dallas||5:30 PM||FC Dallas Stadium|
|Sunday, September 23||Colorado||4:30 PM||BC Place|
|Saturday, September 29||Seattle||6:00 PM||BC Place|
|Wednesday, October 3||Chivas USA||7:00 PM||BC Place|
|Friday, October 12||World Cup qualifying: Canada v. Cuba|
|Tuesday, October 16||World Cup qualifying: Canada @ Honduras|
|Saturday, October 20||Portland||1:00 PM||BC Place|
|Saturday, October 27||Salt Lake||6:00 PM||Rio Tinto Stadium|
|MLS Regular Season - home||MLS Regular Season - away|
|Voyageurs Cup||FIFA international dates|
|all Voyageurs Cup fixtures speculative and unofficial until schedule announced by Canadian Soccer Association|
For the most part the schedule is free of surprises. Vancouver gets an even mixture of good and bad with their rivalry games: of course we're hosting the Montreal Impact for the home opener and we play Seattle at home twice, but we're away to Portland twice and our only regular-season game against Toronto FC will be on the road.
That Toronto game is fascinating: a 4 PM Pacific start on a Wednesday (making it both difficult to travel to and impossible for most working Vancouverites to watch on television) after a Saturday game in Los Angeles (Vancouver's only cross-continental mid-week trip of the MLS regular season). Toronto gets the advantage of hosting Vancouver at their travel nadir with Vancouver fans largely cut off from seeing the game live: you could hardly tailor a scenario more to Toronto's liking. I'm not alleging dirty tricks: I'm sure it's all just another Toronto-friendly coincidence.
The next-biggest sting on the calendar is August 15, when the Whitecaps host FC Dallas on a FIFA international friendly date. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl has stated that the date was initially clear of MLS games and clubs had to opt into playing, but six MLS teams are playing that day (including Toronto FC, who may well be savaged by Canadian national team call-ups). Apparently it wasn't too easy to keep the only friendly date of the summer open. The next worst day from an international standpoint is June 10, when the Whitecaps host Houston between two CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers: the saving grace here is that, while the Whitecaps will flirt with losing Jay DeMerit and Russell Teibert, the Dynamo will almost certainly be without Andre Hainault, Jermaine Taylor, and Je-Vaughn Watson.
The Voyageurs Cup dates listed above are largely speculative but they fit. If the dates are accurate and, as we all fear, the Canadian Soccer Association matches Vancouver against Montreal in the first round, then the Whitecaps would be wise to ask the first leg to be played at home: they would be in the same time zone as their previous league game for both legs and would run the best chance of a result in our national championship. If the CSA does the right thing for once and has second-seed Vancouver against rightful third seed Edmonton, they should probably still play the first leg at home but it's a bit less cut-and-dry.
Vancouver has two Saturdays in the summer without any action whatsoever: June 2 and June 30. There are no international dates, no Voyageurs Cup games, and no possible CONCACAF Champions League games. If you're looking for dates for a big international friendly, those are them, although some fans (like me) will hope the Whitecaps Residency make their annual trip to the Victoria Highlanders one of those days. That trip has been a lot of fun for both Victoria and Vancouver soccer fans in past years and, with the Highlanders playing in Victoria proper for 2012, if the derby happens on a weekend without a Whitecaps first-team game a fantastic turnout is all-but-guaranteed.
The worst part of the Whitecaps schedule will obviously be July 4 to July 14: four road games in three time zones within ten days. The dedicated road trip fan will notice August 18 and August 25 with a smile, as the Whitecaps play two consecutive road Cascadia Cup games. A week gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest bracketed by soccer games sounds like fun to me. There are no other really good opportunities for multi-game road trips, although depending on the breaks there may be a good Montreal - New England single week trip in May.
Finally, if the Whitecaps are in the playoff hunt late in the season they'll control their own destiny. Vancouver's last fourteen games are all against Western Conference opponents; their last eastern game is on July 14 at Chicago.