Toronto FC faces a tough early-season road in its bid for a first MLS win since last July.
The Montreal Impact, meanwhile, gets their first taste of the fervent fans in the Pacific Northwest while the Vancouver Whitecaps look to take advantage of a schedule that opens at home with games against Toronto and the Columbus Crew.
Major League Soccer had previously announced the first three weeks of its 2013 schedule but fleshed out the rest Wednesday.
Each of the league’s 19 clubs will play 34 matches, 17 at home and 17 away, over 35 weeks.
“I like it,” Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said of the schedule. “I think that it’s fairly balanced. There’s not too many long spells, either at home or away. That’s more in line with what you would expect, and I think that will be a benefit to us.”
The season kicks off March 2, the earliest start date in MLS history. It will conclude Oct. 27, with 10 teams moving into the playoffs with an eye to the MLS Cup scheduled for either Dec. 7 or 8.
Toronto lurched to a league-worst 5-21-8 record last season, finishing with an 0-10-4 league run. Its last league win was a 2-1 decision over visiting Colorado on July 18.
New president and GM Kevin Payne has remade Toronto and hired Ryan Nelsen as coach, although it is unclear whether the veteran New Zealand defender will be clear of his Queens Park Rangers playing commitments in England by the time the MLS season starts.
This season, Toronto opens March 2 in Vancouver before hosting Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City on March 9, likely at the Rogers Centre. Toronto plays in Montreal on March 16 before hosting the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy on March 30 at BMO Field.
The Whitecaps are unbeaten (2-0-4) at home against Toronto, although the two teams have never played a league match at B.C. Place and Toronto holds an overall series edge at 5-3-5. Kansas City, meanwhile, boasted the best road record in MLS last season.
Ten of Toronto’s 17 home matches come against clubs that made the playoffs during the 2012 season.
The Toronto-Montreal game in Week 3 of the season is part of the league’s new Rivalry week. Other fixtures that weekend include Seattle against Portland and a Texas derby between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo.
The Impact, under new coach Marco Schallibaum, open their second MLS season on the road with games March 2 in Seattle and March 9 in Portland before hosting Toronto on March 16 and the New York Red Bulls on March 30, both at Olympic Stadium.
It will be the Impact’s first league visit to the Pacific Northwest, with games at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field — where the Sounders led the MLS in attendance last season at 43,144 per game — and Portland’s JELD-WEN Field.
Montreal will play its first game at Saputo Stadium on April 13 against the Columbus Crew.
The Impact plays 15 of its 17 regular-season home games on a Saturday, along with a Sunday afternoon matchup versus Chivas USA on July 7 and a Wednesday contest June 19 against the Houston Dynamo.
“Working in collaboration with the league, we are pleased to have developed a more balanced calendar in 2013,” Impact executive vice-president Richard Legendre said in a statement. “The season is spread out over the length of the schedule to avoid playing games over short stretches or to have too many gaps in between games.”
Toronto will play 14 of its home matches on Saturdays, two on Wednesdays and one Friday.
Vancouver wraps up its March schedule with away games against Houston and Chivas USA.
The Whitecaps play in Montreal for the first time in MLS on Sept. 21. The Impact also visit the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center for the first time on April 6.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi is also happy that regional rival Portland and the Galaxy will each will pay two visits to B.C. Place Stadium.
“Although I’m suggesting that it’s a great schedule, what you need to do is win more games than you lose, and that’ll be up to us,” he said. “But it certainly does more going for it than it did last year.”
The Whitecaps will not confirm times for some home games until the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks release their revised schedule.
“Obviously, the broadcasters (who also air hockey games) will have to determine the time on those games,” Lenarduzzi said.
Vancouver will play FC Edmonton on April 24 before hosting the North American Soccer League side on May 1 in the two-leg semifinal series of the Amway Canadian Championship. In the other semifinal, Montreal plays Toronto in BMO Field on April 24 and Stade Saputo on May 1.
The Amway final series will be played May 15 and May 29.
Toronto and Montreal close out their season Oct. 26 in BMO Field, one day before Vancouver hosts Colorado.
More than 90 per cent of all regular-season MLS games will take place on weekends or holidays.
All three Canadian teams open training camp later this month.
Montreal and Toronto will hold the bulk of their camp in Florida, where they will take part in the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic tournament in Orlando from Feb. 9 to 23.
Vancouver is playing its pre-season schedule in Arizona and South Carolina.
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