At long last, we've finally found out how the Seattle Sounders' 2011 schedule is going to look. At SBN/soccer, I took a big-picture look at the MLS schedule and came away with the belief that no team seems to be inordinately put out. On a more team-specific basis, I came away feeling like the Sounders' schedule looks very much like the first draft didn't have to get changed too many times. Their home and road schedules are pretty evenly split between the first and second halves of the season, they don't play too many games on short rest and they never go on a road trip longer than two matches.
While I'm sure there will be plenty of Sounders fans that will find issues with various parts of the schedule, let me assure you that the Sounders did not get it any worse than any other team, and maybe even better. While I don't want to draw too many conclusions before a game has even been played, I don't see any stretches that look like real killers. Rather than address any specific areas of concern, I've decided to go through the schedule month-by-month.
March (three matches)
There might not be a tougher back-to-back on the Sounders' schedule than their first two games. They'll open at home against last year's Supporters' Shield winners, the LA Galaxy, and then head to Red Bull Arena for a match against the New York Red Bulls just four days later. It's perfectly conceivable that the Sounders could open their 2011 campaign with zero points through two matches. They'll close out the month with a home match against the Houston Dynamo, which is a game they really should win.
- March 15: vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (2010 record: 59 points, +18 goal-difference). How it went in 2010: The Sounders lost both regular-season matches by an aggregate score of 7-1; beat the Galaxy 2-0 in Open Cup play; lost 3-1 in the aggregate playoff series.
- March 19: at New York Red Bulls (51 points, +9). How it went in 2010: Each team beat the other 1-0 on the road.
- March 26: vs. Houston Dynamo (33 points, -9). How it went in 2010: Sounders won 2-0 at home, but lost the season finale 2-1 on the road.
April (five matches)
Three of the five matches are going to be on the road, and two of those are against playoff teams. Three of the five games are also against teams that didn't make the playoffs last year, though, and none of these are on short rest. The toughest game, at least on paper, will be the road trip to defending MLS Cup champion Colorado. They'll also visit Philadelphia much earlier than they did last year, which should be good, as the summer heat really seemed to take a toll on the Sounders in 2010. The home games are against the Fire and Toronto FC, which are both undergoing massive rebuilding efforts.
- April 2: at San Jose Earthquakes (46 points, +1). How it went in 2010: Each team beat the other 1-0 on the road
- April 9: vs. Chicago Fire (36 points, -1). How it went in 2010: Sounders won the two games by an aggregate score of 3-1.
- April 16: at Philadelphia Union (31 points, -14). How it went in 2010: Each team won at home, with the Sounders winning 2-0 and the Union winning 3-1.
- April 22: at Colorado Rapids (46 points, +12). How it went in 2010: Each team won at home, with the Rapids winning 1-0 and the Sounders winning 2-1.
- April 30: vs. Toronto FC (35 points, -8). How it went in 2010: Each team won at home, with TFC winning 2-0 and the Sounders winning 3-2.
May (six matches)
This is the most MLS games the Sounders will play in any month and features as tough a two-game stretch as they'll face all year. In fact, this may well be the toughest extended stretch the Sounders will face all year. The month opens with a pair of road games against DC United and the Columbus Crew just four days apart. United should be improved, and is one of my dark horses to make a playoff run. The Sounders will then return home for their first ever MLS match against the Timbers, another team I expect to be pretty good. That's followed with a home game against Sporting Kansas City, which should be a good team but will also be playing their eighth straight road game. The month will close with two games against likely Supporters' Shield contenders just four days apart, as the Sounders will host FC Dallas and then visit Real Salt Lake.
- May 4: at DC United (22 points, -26). How it went in 2010: Both teams won on the road, with DC United winning 3-2 and the Sounders winning 1-0.
- May 7: at Columbus Crew (50 points, +6). How it went in 2010: The teams tied their first match at Qwest 1-1; the Sounders won 4-0 at Crew Stadium; the Sounders won 2-1 in Open Cup.
- May 14: vs. Portland Timbers (N/A). How it went in 2010: Sounders won Open Cup match in penalties.
- May 21: vs. Sporting Kansas City (39 points, +1). How it went in 2010: Sounders won both matches by aggregate of 3-1.
- May 25: vs. FC Dallas (50 points, +14). How it went in 2010: Teams tied both of their matches, 2-2 and 1-1.
- May 28: at Real Salt Lake (53 points, +25). How it went in 2010: Team tied both of their matches, 2-2 and 0-0.
June (five matches)
Coming off what looks like their toughest month and heading into Open Cup season, June looks like it's very manageable. Just one of the teams they'll face made the playoffs last year and that's at home. The other four teams don't look to be very strong, although the Whitecaps are among them. If the Sounders are going to make a Supporters' Shield run, they'll probably need to pick up 12-15 points here.
- June 4: at Chicago.
- June 11: vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (N/A). How it went last year: The two teams haven't played since 2008.
- June 18: at Toronto.
- June 23: vs. Red Bulls.
- June 26: vs. New England Revolution (32 points, -18). How it went last year: Sounders won at home 3-0; lost at Gillette Stadium 3-1.
July (five matches)
This could end up being a pretty busy month as the Open Cup quarterfinals will likely be July 12-13 and there's a chance the preliminary round of CCL could start around July 27 (coincidentally also the date for the All-Star Game). That could create a scenario that has the Sounders playing six matches from July 10-30. Add that to the three road games already scheduled and this could be a tiring month. Road trips will include Los Angeles, Portland and Houston and the Sounders will host two teams that should be pretty good in the Rapids and Union. This could very well be the make or break month for the Sounders.
- July 4: at Los Angeles.
- July 10: at Portland.
- July 16: vs. Rapids.
- July 23: vs. Union.
- July 30: at Houston.
August (four matches)
This might seem like a light month, but this is also where non-MLS competition could really change the picture. The Sounders played three CCL matches in August last year, which seems to be pretty likely to repeat if they advance out of the preliminary round. The Open Cup semis would likely be Aug. 30-31. The MLS matches don't look to be overly tough right now, with trips to Dallas and Kansas City being the most obvious hurdles. The two home matches, against Chivas USA and the Crew, are definite must-wins.
- Aug. 6: at Kansas City.
- Aug. 13: vs. Chivas USA (28 points, -14). How it went in 2010: Sounders tied at Home Depot Center, 0-0; won 2-1 at Qwest.
- Aug. 20: at Dallas.
- Aug. 27: vs. Crew.
September (three matches)
All six teams that have already qualified or have a chance to qualify for this year's CCL (this includes Toronto and Vancouver) are only scheduled for three MLS games this month. Combine that with Don Garber's insistence that the All-Star Game selections wouldn't be affected by CCL and it seems to suggest CCL could start a little later than it did last year. If the Sounders make it to the group stage, that will likely mean three more matches this month. As it stands now, this does not look to be particularly tough. The Sounders' toughest match will almost certainly be hosting Real Salt Lake. They'll also host DC and visit Vancouver.
- Sept. 10: vs. RSL.
- Sept. 17: vs. DC United.
- Sept. 24: at Vancouver.
October (three matches)
This is a month that looks like it might have some "trap" games. There's a chance the Sounders' focus could be on CCL, and maybe even another Open Cup championship game. Meanwhile, they'll visit New England (where they never seem to have much luck), host an Earthquakes team that will probably be tough and visit Chivas USA, somewhere they've never won. Those are three games that netted the Sounders a total of one point in similar games last year.
- Oct. 1: at New England.
- Oct. 15: vs. Earthquakes.
- Oct. 22: at Chivas USA.