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MLS releases full 2018 schedule, including shorter World Cup break

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The 2018 MLS season will feature a shortened break during the World Cup after the United States failed to qualify for the tournament in Russia. The league announced its full schedule on Thursday.

The regular season kicks off on March 3 and concludes Oct. 28. The playoffs begin on Oct. 31, with MLS Cup set for Dec. 8.

A nine-day hiatus will start on the same day as the World Cup opener, June 14, and last through June 22 -- four days fewer than the break taken in 2014, when there were no MLS games between June 12-24.

MLS will resume play while the World Cup is still in the group stage and continue through the FIFA event's knockout stage. Five league games will be broadcast on Fox immediately following World Cup matches, including after the final on July 15, when Atlanta United will host the Seattle Sounders.

The home openers for each team were announced last month. Defending champion Toronto FC will host Columbus Crew SC, which it defeated in last season's Eastern Conference Championship, while beaten MLS Cup finalists Seattle will be the first opponents for LAFC on March 4 on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

The expansion club will play the first of three derby games against the LA Galaxy on March 31, with another on July 26 and the third taking place on Aug. 24 as part of a Friday night Rivalry Week doubleheader on ESPN following Orlando City against Atlanta.

The Sounders will play the Portland Timbers three times in the Cascadia Cup rivalry. But those two teams will each play the Vancouver Whitecaps just twice, impacting the point system for the rivalry's annual trophy.

The Timbers open the season with five matches on the road because of the expansion of Providence Park. Portland will play its home opener on April 14 against Minnesota United.

D.C. United will officially open its new soccer-specific stadium, Audi Field, on July 14 when it hosts the Whitecaps.

The All-Star Game will be held in Atlanta on Aug. 1 and air on ESPN, with the opponent to be "announced in the near future," the league said in a release.

As has been the case in recent years, the regular season's final day will feature matches kicking off concurrently, with 11 games starting at 4:30 p.m. ET. However, because the league has 23 teams in 2018, one team will be idle on that day.

In all, each club will play 34 games -- 17 home and 17 away -- and face each conference opponent -- 10 in the east, 11 in the west -- twice.

The 12 Western Conference teams will play one extra intra-conference game and the 11 Eastern Conference teams will play two. Additionally, all clubs will face each non-conference opponent once.

Fox will broadcast seven regular-season games on network TV and another 26 on FS1, while ESPN will air 28 games, three more than last season, as well as three more on ESPN2.

Univision will air 14 games on Saturday afternoons, up from six a year ago, with another 11 games on UniMas.