With the reveal of Major League Soccer's 2019 regular season schedule on Monday, the countdown to Opening Day has begun in earnest.
Head coach Veljko Paunović and the Chicago Fire can now officially start preparing for the hurdles they'll face come March, which includes the league's brand new schedule format, a jam-packed summer, a trio of firsts for the franchise, and more. As we continue to look ahead to the Club's March 2 season opener on the road at the LA Galaxy, here are six key takeaways from the 2019 schedule reveal:
As announced by MLS in December, the league’s regular season schedule will be compressed beginning in 2019 to allow the entirety of the MLS Cup Playoffs to take place between FIFA’s October and November international windows. With that compression -- and a two-week respite in June during the 2019 Gold Cup -- comes an even heavier-packed summer schedule that will see the Fire play six matches in the months of May, July, and August, to say nothing of a potential run in the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament alongside them. The Men In Red will wrap up their campaign on Sunday, Oct. 6 (a trip to Orlando), a full three weeks earlier than their 2018 finale played on Oct. 28 of last season.
The 2019 regular season schedule boasts a handful of firsts for the Fire, beginning with the Men In Red’s trip to LAFC on Saturday, May 4. The match will be the Fire’s first trip to Banc of California Stadium, after taking full points off of Bob Bradley’s then-expansion side in the two clubs’ inaugural meeting played in Chicago last September. The Fire will then welcome 2019 expansion side FC Cincinnati for their first-ever meeting in MLS play on Saturday, July 13, before making the return trip to Ohio and Nippert Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 21.
Breaking it Down
As it stands, 23 of the Club’s 34 regular season games are set for Saturday kickoffs (12 home, 11 away). Among the remainder of the fixtures are six Wednesday night matches, two Friday night kickoffs, and three Sunday matches that include a Decision Day trip to Orlando on Oct. 6 on the final day of the regular season.
An Early Home Stand
After kicking off the campaign in Los Angeles against the Galaxy on Saturday, March 2, the Fire will return home to play five of their next six matches at SeatGeek Stadium. The early season home stand begins with the 2019 home opener against Orlando City SC on Saturday, March 9 (12 p.m. CT) and will see the Club welcome three opponents from the Western Conference (Seattle, Vancouver, Colorado) as well as the New York Red Bulls, with a visit to Toronto wedged in between.
On the Road
Coming out of the aforementioned home stand is the Fire's longest road trip of 2019. The Men In Red's late spring three-game swing will see them travel to take on NYCFC at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, April 24, before heading to Canada to take on the Montreal Impact on Saturday, April 27, and wrapping with their first-ever trip to Banc of California Stadium on Saturday, May 4.
A Holiday Visit from the Champs
Paunović and his side will host 2018 MLS Cup winners Atlanta United FC -- now under the direction of new manager Frank de Boer -- on the eve of Independence Day when the two sides meets on Wednesday, July 3 at SeatGeek Stadium. The Fire are unbeaten over the last eight seasons in matches leading up to July 4 (4-0-4), which includes wins in each of the last three years. Last season, the Fire were 0-2-0 against Atlanta in MLS play, but knocked the eventual MLS Cup champions out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament with a 1-0 victory in Atlanta in June.