As MLS looks ahead to its 25th season, the regular-season schedule is venturing into new territory. In previous years, every team played every other team at least once. But with expansion stretching the league to 26 teams -- as well as four more sides coming on board in the next two years -- tradeoffs had to be made.
That doesn't mean there will be a lack of matchups to keep an eye on, even beyond the set-tos that take place during the much-hyped Rivalry Week. Here are 10 fixtures to watch as the next MLS campaign looms ever larger on the horizon, and don't forget to watch all season on ABC, ESPN and ESPN+.
Nashville SC vs. Atlanta United | Feb. 29, 8 p.m. ET
Given the relative proximity of the two cities, this will no doubt be hyped as a rivalry. We'll see how Charlotte's entry in 2021 impacts things, but for now this contest will go down in history as Nashville's inaugural match. One can only hope that Nashville's modestly assembled roster (at least so far) can compete with the talent-laden outfit that is the Five Stripes. Granted, Nashville does have an MLS Cup-winning manager in Gary Smith. Frank de Boer must be jealous.
Inter Miami CF vs. LA Galaxy | March 14, 2:30 p.m. ET
It doesn't quite rank up there with Jesus feeding the multitude, but Inter Miami finally kicking a ball in anger more than six years after the initial news conference announcing a team in South Florida, counts as an MLS miracle. Of course, the fact that the game will take place in Fort Lauderdale on the site of the old Lockhart Stadium instead of in Miami proper amounts to a considerable imperfection, but the sight of David Beckham's old team squaring off against the team he now co-owns will make for quite the spectacle.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. D.C. United | April 11, 5 p.m. ET
You can see it in your mind's eye. The San Jose Clash's Eric Wynalda nutmegs D.C. United defender Jeff Agoos and then curls a right-footed shot inside the far post to give the Clash a dramatic 1-0 victory in MLS' inaugural match. The two sides will meet again to help the league celebrate its 25th season. Plenty has changed since, and not just San Jose's nickname -- they're now known as the Earthquakes. The league now has more than double the teams that began the 1996 campaign. This day will be an opportunity to soak in all the milestones MLS has achieved, survival not the least.
LAFC vs. LA Galaxy | May 16, 3 p.m. ET
Yes, this rivalry has been manufactured, but it has also managed to live up to the considerable hype. The Galaxy dominated the early encounters, but LAFC's playoff triumph finally tipped the scales in its direction. The presence of one Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped the intensity-meter go well past the red line, but with the rivalry's primary antagonist having now departed, "El Trafico" faces a challenge of sorts: finding a new villain. This may take a while, but fortunately, the passion of the respective sets of fans should keep the energy -- an enmity -- flowing.
New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact | June 27, 7:30 p.m. ET
Thierry Henry will make his return to the venue where he played for five seasons, this time as the Impact's manager. The Frenchman won't find too many familiar faces. Both Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips have departed, leaving goalkeeper Ryan Meara as the lone holdover from Henry's final season with the Red Bulls in 2014. With the possible exception of noted hecklers Vince and Vance Moss, Henry will no doubt receive a warm welcome from the Red Bulls faithful. But once the whistle sounds, the former Red Bulls forward will be looking to prove his worth as a manager.
Portland Timbers vs. Columbus Crew | July 1, 10:30 p.m. ET
Timbers fans will get a glimpse of their past when the Crew come to town. Caleb Porter and Darlington Nagbe were instrumental in leading Portland to the 2015 MLS Cup. Both departed following the 2017 campaign, and while Nagbe returned last season -- and in 2018 helped orchestrate Atlanta United's MLS Cup victory over the Timbers -- Porter will make his first trip back to Providence Park. It figures to be an emotional return for the man who is now the Crew's manager, given that Portland was where he entered the professional managerial ranks.
FC Dallas vs. Orlando City | July 17, 8:30 p.m. ET
The master has returned to MLS to take on his onetime apprentice. Oscar Pareja, who had three different stints in the Dallas organization, including five years as manager, heads back to the Lone Star State for the first time since he left for Club Tijuana after the 2018 season. On the other side will be current FCD head coach Luchi Gonzalez, who ran Dallas' academy for six years, the last five of which were under Pareja. Gonzalez led a youthful FCD side to a playoff berth last season, while Pareja -- who won two trophies in Dallas -- will be attempting to help Orlando reach the postseason for the first time in its history.
Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders | July 18, 7 p.m. ET
Toronto and Seattle have had a knack for meeting up with an MLS Cup on the line. The two sides have met in three of the past four finals, with the Sounders prevailing twice, including the 3-1 triumph at CenturyLink Field last month. Some faces will no doubt be different -- MLS Cup MVP Victor Rodriguez has already departed -- but with TFC's Michael Bradley having been re-signed, and the likes of Nicolas Lodeiro and Stefan Frei still in the Seattle fold, it won't take much for old memories to be rekindled.
Atlanta United vs. LAFC | Aug. 16, 3 p.m. ET
It was the MLS Cup final that neutrals wanted last year but didn't get, especially after the regular-season tilt ended 4-3 in favor of the black and gold. Given the respective talent levels, this encounter figures to be just as captivating, especially with the last two MVP award winners -- LAFC's Carlos Vela and Atlanta's Josef Martinez -- set to take the field. Atlanta will be hoping that hosting this edition will help it reverse last year's result.
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers | Aug. 22, 4 p.m. ET
Rivalries have become increasingly disposable in MLS. The must-watch games of the past (D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes, to name two) have receded in favor of more-manufactured matchups. But the Sounders and Timbers has stood the test of time over many years and several leagues. There's always a bit of juice added when one of them is defending a title, which has taken place three of the past five years. In this case the Sounders are the kings of MLS, and Portland will love nothing better than to inflict some regular-season pain.