With the release of the Major League Soccer schedule yesterday, we now know when and where Columbus Crew SC will play in year two of the Gregg Berhalter era. After a successful first year in charge, Berhalter is looking to build on last year's third place finish in the Eastern Conference and a first round exit from the MLS Playoffs.
The season begins about as good as the team could have asked for with three games in three weeks in the month of March with two of those games played at Columbus Crew Stadium. Crew SC opens with the Houston Dynamo on the road before home encounters with rivals Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls.
Houston is never an easy place to play, but getting to go there in early March as opposed to the middle of the summer is a break for the Black and Gold. Both Toronto and New York are going through transitions. The Reds are attempting to establish themselves after a disappointing finish to last year and the Red Bulls will be breaking in new head coach Jesse Marsch.
The Black and Gold's two toughest stretches of the season end up not being too difficult due to hosting teams. From the middle of June to the Fourth of July, Columbus plays the LA Galaxy, the Revolution, Real Salt Lake, and the Red Bulls. The only game over that stretch on the road is the in Salt Lake City and Crew SC get a week and a half break between the match with the Galaxy and their contest with New England.
The other difficult stretch again features three out of four at home, but also brings Columbus against what should be some of the better teams in the league. Between August 19 and September 6, the Black and Gold play New York City FC twice (one home and one away) and also welcome Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas to town.
For the most part, the schedule works out nicely for Columbus with no road trips longer than two games. Crew SC will play every team from the East three times, getting the Chicago Fire, the Red Bulls, and Toronto at home twice in the series.
From the Western Conference, the Black and Gold host four of the six teams that made the playoffs a year ago (Kansas City made it in the East before being moved to make room for the expansion teams). Crew SC host Dallas, LA, the Portland Timbers, the Seattle Sounders, and SKC, while traveling to Houston, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, the Colorado Rapids, and the San Jose Earthquakes.
Unlike in 2014, the schedule does not feature almost exclusively Eastern Conference opponents to conclude the season. This year, the conference and non-conference games are dispersed better throughout the year, although Columbus does face three playoff-caliber teams from the East to end the year in the Red Bulls, Toronto, and D.C. United.
It's difficult to say in January how teams will fair once the season gets underway, but the initial look at the schedule appears promising for Crew SC. Check out our list of the top games of the season to see when you should mark you calendar.