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These three stretches will define Sounders’ 2018 season

There’s a lot to like about the schedule, but this is where the Sounders will make or break their season.

By most reasonable accounts, there’s not a ton to complain about in the Seattle Sounders’ 2018 MLS schedule. They only play as many as three straight games on the road once, and only play back-to-back games away from home two other times; most of their “hot-weather” games are played during cooler parts of the year; and their home schedule is full of Saturday dates.

That said, every team’s schedule has stretches that will be tough. A team’s season is often defined during those stretches. These three stretches of games could well define what becomes of the Sounders in 2018:

April 29-May 13 (4 games)

Opponents: at LAFC, vs. Columbus Crew, at Toronto FC, at Portland Timbers.

If all goes according to plan, the Sounders will be coming off a lengthy CONCACAF Champions League run. But even if they are flying high emotionally, they’ll be playing a bit of catch-up in the league table, having only logged four league games up to that point. That’s about half as many as most teams will have played.

This is where the Sounders will need to start making up some ground.

They’ll start by being the first opponent LAFC ever faces at their new home, and this isn’t shaping up as an average pushover expansion team. From there they’ll return home to host the Crew, a game that looks like it will be a virtual must-win. They’ll next play their MLS Cup rematch in a midweek game at BMO Field before going to Portland on the weekend. There’s only one game in this bunch that looks anything like a sure three points.

June 30-July 29 (7 games)

Wondering where the Sounders will actually make up all those missed weekends early in the season? Look no further than right here.

The Sounders pack in seven games over the course of about a month, and that doesn’t even include potential U.S. Open Cup dates (last year this is when the Round of 16 and quarterfinals were played). To make matters worse, the World Cup overlaps with the first four of these games, which means the Sounders could be missing a few key players.

The stretch starts with a home game against the Timbers, then a midweek road game against the Colorado Rapids which is followed by a weekend road game against the New England Revolution. The following week could very well include a mid-week Open Cup quarterfinal, followed by a road game against Atlanta United. They’ll close out the stretch with a weekend home game against the Whitecaps, a midweek trip to San Jose, and a home game against New York City FC.

Perhaps more than any other stretch of games, this is where the Sounders’ season could be made or broken. Those three home games are all virtual must-wins and the team will probably need to steal several points on the road to feel good about their season at this point.

Sept. 15-Sept. 29 (4 games)

While the other stretches are all notable for how difficult they promise to be, this one is included more because of the opportunity it presents. If the Sounders are in desperate need of points, this is a spot they should be able to clean up.

All four of these games should be winnable, even though only two are at home. The stretch opens with a game against the Whitecaps at BC Place (a location where they’ve gone 3-1-3 in all competitions over the past three seasons) before a midweek home game against the Philadelphia Union. They close out the sequence with a road game against the Galaxy (where they are 2-0-1 over the past two seasons) and a home game against the Colorado Rapids.

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