Sounders schedule announced; will play Portland 3 times, but Vancouver just twice

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2017, file photo, Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey (2) is greeted by teammates after he scored the first of two goals in the second half of the second leg of an MLS soccer Western Conference semifinal against the Vancouver Whitecaps in Seattle.  (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Major League Soccer's upcoming season includes a nine-day break in June for the World Cup in Russia.

The league's hiatus for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was two weeks. But the U.S. national team, which played in 2014, did not qualify for soccer's premier tournament this year.

More than two dozen MLS players from other national teams are expected to play in the World Cup, although rosters have not been announced.

The World Cup break will run from June 14-22, during the group stage of the tournament.

The MLS season opens on March 3 with Toronto hosting the Columbus Crew in an afternoon match.

The league's newest team, Los Angeles FC, debuts on March 4 in Seattle against the Sounders.

LAFC will play its first rivalry match against the LA Galaxy on March 31 at StubHub Center in Carson, California. LAFC was named as an expansion team in late 2014 shortly after Chivas USA folded.

The team's ownership group is led by venture capitalist Henry Nguyen, as well as Mandalay Entertainment CEO Peter Guber and former NBA executive Tom Penn.

The addition of LAFC puts the Western Conference at 12 teams and the Eastern Conference at 11.

The East teams will play two league opponents three times each, and the rest twice, while the West teams will play one league opponent three times and the rest twice.

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.

DC United will officially open its new soccer-specific stadium, Audi Field, on July 14 when they host the Whitecaps.

The New York Red Bulls have opening weekend off because they play Club Deportivo Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League round of 16. The Red Bulls open the MLS season at home on March 10 against the Timbers.

The Colorado Rapids and the Chicago Fire, originally set to meet March 3, will also miss the league's opening weekend because of Champions League play. The Rapids join the Red Bulls, Sounders and FC Dallas in the club competition for the North America, Central America and Caribbean region.

In all, there will be 96 nationally televised MLS games this season, up from 88 in 2017. ESPN will broadcast 28 games, three more than last year.

The MLS All-Star Game is set for Aug. 1 hosted by Atlanta United, with the international opponent yet to be announced. The regular season concludes on Oct. 28 with Decision Day when all the league's teams play simultaneously.

The season could be the last in Columbus for the Crew. Anthony Precourt and Precourt Sports Ventures, which has owned the Major League Soccer club since 2013, announced the team will move to Austin, Texas, following the 2018 season unless a privately financed stadium is built in downtown Columbus.

The Crew, one of the 10 founding clubs in MLS, have been playing since 1996 and won the MLS Cup championship in 2008. They have played at Mapfre Stadium, the first soccer-specific stadium in the league, since 1999.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

1/4/2018 12:32:18 PM (GMT -8:00)

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