I know you can never read too much into how a team does at the start of the season but I think for RSL this year you can. First they will have two hugely important matches in CCL against a top level opponent in Tigres that should help get them ready for MLS action. Second, the first 6 matches are huge as 3 of our 4 home matches before the May to mid June grass replacement at Rio Tinto will take place in the first batch of matches. So let’s take a closer look at those first 6 matches:
- Opening Day – at Orlando FC – Sunday, March 6th
- You can expect a very full house in Orlando for their kickoff of their second season in MLS, in fact they are trying to again get 62,000 plus fans into the Citrus Bowl. Last year RSL was unable to take advantage of a Kaka red card and settled for a 1-1 home draw on July 4th. In a battle of teams that embrace lions, RSL should be able to win the battle of Prides to open the season on a positive note.
- Home Opener – Seattle – Saturday, March 12th
- Every match with the Sounders has been a battle as the two sides seem to bring out the best in each other. Over the last 5 years we are 6-2-5 facing the Sounders, 4-1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium. With the Sounders adjusting to life without Obafemi Martins there may be no better time to lay a beat down on them than our home opener. A early match that will have points on the line that could decide playoff positioning.
- MLS Cup Champs – at Portland – Saturday, March 19th
- Any time you play the defending champ you have something to prove, and given that last year Portland handed RSL a pair of home losses, revenge might be in order. Before last seasons 0-2-1 record against Portland we had only lost twice to them since they joined MLS. Now is the time to notch another win, but I would be happy with a draw.
- Oh My – at Sporting KC – Saturday, April 2nd
- I almost wish this was a Friday night match, cause the April’s fool angle would have been fun. These teams don’t like each other and for good reason, and RSL has never won at Sporting Park and are 1-5-4 all time in KC. Another critical conference match early in the season, have to think we would be happy with a draw but it won’t be easy.
- Rocky Mountain Cup – Colorado Rapids – Saturday, April 9th
- I am not a big RMC fan, but losing it to the Rapids last year sucked. RSL is 9-3-5 all time at home vs the Rapids, and after watching the way the Rapids have struggled so far this preseason, it could be a long year for them. This is a must win match for RSL.
- Can we get a win? – Vancouver Whitecaps – Saturday, April 16th
- It has been two seasons since RSL last got a win over the Whitecaps and that has to change. Vancouver doesn’t talk a lot, they haven’t gone hunting the big name DP’s but they have built a top level team that finished 2nd in the West last year and lost in the playoffs to Portland who went on to win the MLS Cup. Last year RSL simply wasn’t good enough at home with just 7 wins, they have to do better in 2016 and this is their second to last home match before the May to mid June roadtrip.
6 matches with 3 at home and 3 on the road, 5 of them against Western Conference opponents, it doesn’t start any bigger or any harder than this. For RSL coming out of this with less than 3 wins and/or 10 points could put them in a very deep hole to start the season. Getting off to a good start is more critical than ever when you are facing a 6 week gap without a home match, points on the road are hard and if you are in a hole when you start that stretch it could bury you before the summer even starts.
There is an upside for RSL, the impact of playing two tough CCL matches should help RSL get off to a good start. The last time we started the year in the CCL knockout rounds RSL won 5 of their first 6 matches of the season. That is the kind of start we are going to need against a very good Western Conference this year.
That’s How I See It