MLS: Top 10 Games to Watch During the 2016 Season

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2016

MLS: Top 10 Games to Watch During the 2016 Season

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    Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

    The 2016 MLS schedule has been revealed, and while most of the games are worth watching, the best 10 will be highlighted here. 

    These games will mainly be graded on the rivalry between the two teams. In addition, if previous matches were entertaining, or the two teams have a history like the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy, then that fixture will be bumped up higher.

    The defending champion Portland Timbers and Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls are featured prominently. However, 10 other teams are also included.

    Here are the 10 matches to watch during the 2016 MLS season.

Honorable Mentions

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo (May 7)

    Brad Davis, now a member of Sporting Kansas City, will make his return to the Houston Dynamo after 10 seasons with the team. It will be an emotional night for all at BBVA Compass Stadium.

    Sporting KC and the Dynamo are also budding rivals, but it's still not as fierce as other derbies across MLS.

    SKC and the Dynamo have had some entertaining matches in the past, especially in 2015. The 4-4 draw during the 2015 season was the pick of the lot.

    This match was a serious candidate for the top 10. However, due to the other marquee rivalries in MLS, this game has to settle for the honorable mentions.

    Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union (April 2)

    The Chicago Fire have a new general manager, Nelson Rodriguez, and coach Veljko Paunovic. The Philadelphia Union welcomed sporting director Earnie Stewart during the offseason as well, and he has been deemed a crucial hire for the club.

    Since both sides will enter the 2016 season with new outlooks, it will be intriguing to see how they perform against each other.

    A total of 28 players were either traded or not re-signed by the Union and Fire, and it's still January. As a result, the rosters will be glaringly different compared to 2015.

    Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City (April 2)

    Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City have played in some marquee games over the last few years, which has contributed to the rapid growth of this rivalry.

    RSL and SKC met in the 2013 MLS Cup final and 2015 U.S. Open Cup semifinals, with the latter winning both matches.

    SKC midfielder Benny Feilhaber also referred to the Claret and Cobalt as the team he "hates the most," per the official MLS website.

10. New York Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas (April 29)

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    MLS' top two teams in 2015 will face each other on April 29 at Red Bull Arena, which should be an exciting match.

    The Red Bulls won the Supporters' Shield on the final day of the 2015 regular season, edging Dallas in the process. Both sides will surely contend for top seeds in their respective conferences, so this could be a pivotal game.

    Their only game last year finished in a 0-0 draw, but there were 27 shots in that match. The quality of play should be high without the Texas heat as well.  

    New York and Dallas are not fierce rivals, but the pace and technique from both squads will be worth watching.

9. Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas (April 13)

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    Brad Loper/Associated Press

    The Portland Timbers and FC Dallas were two of the most exciting teams to watch down the stretch last season. 

    Both sides faced each other five times, including the Western Conference final, which Portland won 5-3 on aggregate.

    Dallas will be searching for revenge following its elimination in the playoffs. It should also be a thrilling match if the two-legged series between the Hoops and Portland was proof.

    The game will be at Providence Park in Portland, where the Timbers are unbeaten against Dallas since entering MLS in 2011.

8. Orlando City SC vs. New York City FC (August 28)

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Orlando City SC and New York City FC began their inaugural MLS season against each other. Now, with a year of experience to savor, they will battle three times as they vie for their first playoff appearances.

    A stale 1-1 draw was followed by a stimulating 5-3 win for NYCFC and a 2-1 victory for Orlando. The added star power of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Kaka and David Villa helped in those final two games.

    Any one of the three games should produce similar entertainment. However, the final match on August 28 in Orlando will be especially intriguing. 

    Teams will be jockeying for position as the season winds down. Both New York City and Orlando will be gunning for the playoffs. A win in this game would surely increase those odds of qualifying.

    NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira and Orlando's Adrian Heath will be under pressure if their respective teams miss the playoffs.

7. Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC (April 23)

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    The Montreal-Toronto feud may be one of MLS' most underrated rivalries, but that may change in 2016.

    The first meeting on April 23 at Stade Saputo promises to be heated, especially after Montreal's convincing 3-0 win in the playoffs last year.

    Montreal became the first Canadian team to win a match in the postseason. It was also TFC's first-ever playoff appearance, which made the loss extra humiliating.

    As for the neutrals, they'll get to watch league MVP Sebastian Giovinco, who dominated MLS in 2015 with 22 goals and 16 assists.

    Didier Drogba may not be with the Impact by April 23, but defender of the year Laurent Ciman and midfielder Ignacio Piatti were two standouts for Montreal in 2015.

6. San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy (June 25)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The previous five editions of the California Clasico have been mostly positive for the San Jose Earthquakes.

    The Quakes have only lost once in their last five games against the LA Galaxy. Steven Gerrard scored his first MLS goal for the Galaxy in that 5-2 win on July 17, 2015, but LA was defeated in the other two matches.

    The final California Clasico of the regular season will be at Stanford Stadium on June 25. San Jose was victorious in the same venue last year, which makes this particular match the most intriguing.

    Earthquakes midfielders Marc Pelosi and Anibal Godoy stymied Galaxy forwards Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos in San Jose's 1-0 win in 2015. As long as the Quakes duo is fit, the team can record another win in this rivalry.

5. Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy (July 9)

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy are quickly becoming heated rivals. They're also responsible for some of MLS' best games over the last few seasons.

    The knockout-round game from 2015 was arguably the best playoff match. Both sides combined to score four goals in 17 minutes, with Erik Friberg netting the winner late in the second half.

    Seattle and LA will be two contenders in the Western Conference, which is why these games always deliver entertainment and quality.

    The Sounders and Galaxy don't meet until July 9 at CenturyLink Field, but this is the venue where the craziness ensues.

4. Portland Timbers vs. Columbus Crew SC (March 6)

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    On March 6, exactly four months after the 2015 MLS Cup final, the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew will open the 2016 campaign with a re-match.

    This time, the match will be at Providence Park.

    Both the Crew and Timbers will be sluggish, which is usually the case at the beginning of the season. Nonetheless, watching these two teams in front of the fervent Portland support will be compelling.

    The only regular-season meeting last year was equally absorbing. The likes of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri and Ethan Finlay influenced the game throughout, with Fanendo Adi scoring twice in a 2-1 Portland win.

    The MLS Cup final wasn't a beacon of quality, but it was captivating. The 2016 season opener should produce more of the same. 

3. New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC (May 21)

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    Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

    New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls could become one of MLS' best rivalries after the 2016 season.

    The Red Bulls won all three games last year, but there were plenty of memorable moments.

    The rivalry clearly affected the fans. Both sets of supporters engaged in a tifo battle, and the atmosphere at both venues was electric.

    As for the on-field product, it was end-to-end action and mostly dominated by the Red Bulls. Now that NYCFC has a more settled squad, it might be able to keep up with the Supporters' Shield winners.

    The first Hudson River derby will be on May 21 at Yankee Stadium. That would be a prime opportunity for NYCFC to claim its first win over the Red Bulls.

2. New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United (September 11)

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    Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Red Bulls and D.C. United are two original MLS franchises and are longtime rivals. Regardless of their position in the standings, the Atlantic Cup will always be a must-watch game.

    New York and D.C. have played each other 77 times. The previous two matches were in a two-legged Eastern Conference semifinal, which the Red Bulls won.

    A second straight playoff elimination at the hands of New York will give United extra motivation, especially in the final meeting on September 11 at Red Bull Arena.

    The match will be played on the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. In addition, both teams will be competing for high seeds in the Eastern Conference. 

    It's never difficult to play up an Atlantic Cup tie, but the match on Sept. 11 will be a special event.

1. Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders (August 28)

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Cascadia Cup is MLS' most prestigious rivalry, and for good reason.

    The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders have been rivals since 1975. Both teams also have passionate fan bases, which adds to the spectacle. 

    However, the Timbers have only won three times in MLS against the Sounders. Each victory has been at Providence Park, which is where the two teams will battle on August 28.

    The Aug. 28 game will be the final meeting of the regular season and the second match in as many weeks. The game will be in Portland, which is where some of the most incredible matches have taken place.

    Portland's comprehensive 4-1 win last year was at Providence Park. The incredible 4-4 draw from 2014 and dramatic 3-2 Sounders victory in 2011 were also in the Rose City.

    With Seattle's firepower up front and Portland's pace, this game could be just as exciting.

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