The English Premier League and other prominent football leagues around the globe may be heading toward a dramatic conclusion, but football in the U.S. is just about to get underway.
Major League Soccer will return in March 2014 as 19 clubs begin the journey to what they hope will be a championship. Sporting Kansas City enter 2014 as the defending MLS champions, but they are set to face a stiff challenge from the rest of the league, starting on opening day in Seattle.
With the recent announcement of an expansion franchise in Miami, things are clearly looking up for the underrated league. But as commissioner Don Garber points out, the MLS hasn't yet reached its destination, per MLSSoccer.com:
"I think the league is poised for more teams in time, but we're going to be careful about ensuring that we get them into the league at the right time and when the league can handle it from a player perspective and from a resource perspective."
Below, we'll highlight the key dates to remember ahead of the start of the 2014-15 season.
*Click here to view the complete 2014-15 MLS season schedule via MLSSoccer.com.
March 8: Season Kicks Off
After months of anticipation, the 2014-15 MLS season will kick off on March 8 with a slew of matchups.
The very first match will pit defending MLS champions Sporting Kansas City up against the Seattle Sounders in the Emerald City. But that intriguing afternoon showdown is just the beginning. Opening day will also feature four matches in prime time followed by two clashes on the West Coast in L.A. and Portland.
But as Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl highlights, the decision to open the season on March 8 won't be met without criticism.
By mid-March, all 19 clubs will have played at least one regular-season game.
June 12-24: World Cup Break
Similar to the NHL during an Olympic year, the MLS will take an extended break during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer.
The break won't last the length of the tournament but will last nearly two weeks during the group stage.
Although a handful of players could still be competing for the sport's top prize in South America when the break ends on June 24, a majority are likely to be ready to return to North America as only 16 of the 32 competing nations qualify for the knockout stage.
The MLS regular season will pick back up on June 25 with one matchup: Vancouver vs. Montreal.
August 6: MLS All-Star Game
It may not garner nearly as much attention as the NBA or MLB All-Star Game, but the MLS All-Star showcase is sure to thrill football fans this summer as the league's top players are set to face off against reigning European Cup champions Bayern Munich in Portland.
Unsurprisingly, Garber is excited about the opportunity to put the overlooked league up against one of the planet's elite clubs, per MLSSoccer.com:
The AT&T MLS All-Star Game is one of the premier soccer events on the North American sports calendar. We are pleased that Bayern Munich, one of the most prominent and successful clubs in the world, will be part of our All-Star celebration. This will be the first MLS special event in Portland since the Timbers joined the League in 2011.
One of the great stories in Major League Soccer over the last number of years has been the enormous fan passion, civic support and stadium atmosphere in Portland. We look forward to showcasing this phenomenon to the rest of the world.
The MLS All-Stars have struggled in their recent matchups against European powerhouses, falling 3-1 to Roma in Kansas City last summer. However, the MLS' best were triumphant against Chelsea in Chester, Pa. back in 2012.
However, Bayern are a loaded juggernaut, and they are likely to steamroll assuming they field a quality lineup.
October 26: Regular Season Concludes
The regular season will wrap up just a few days before Halloween on Oct. 26, with the playoffs set to begin a week later once the calendar flips to November.
There are three matchups scheduled for Oct. 26, and that said, it's possible that each could feature playoff implications as clubs look to secure berths and position themselves for a run at a title.
Luckily for fans, while the regular season will come to an end on Oct. 26, the postseason will just be getting started.
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