The 2016 Major League Soccer schedule was released late Thursday afternoon and it was not as kind to Columbus Crew SC as fans would hope. We already knew that the Black & Gold would open their season with a trip out west for an MLS Cup rematch with the victorious Portland Timbers followed by a home contest with the Philadelphia Union coming at MAPFRE Stadium.
An away-then home start to the season is not unreasonable or remotely surprising. More surprising, however, is that the next three matches are all on the road, meaning Crew SC have four of their first five games away from MAPFRE Stadium. Two of the four are against Eastern Conference foes -- the Chicago Fire on March 19 and the Montreal Impact, who Columbus bested in last year's playoffs, on April 9. Crew SC face the Impact three times total this season, all in the first half of the year, including two matches at MAPFRE Stadium.
In addition to the travel-heavy start to the season the Black & Gold also face their annual October exodus to make way for the Quarter Horse Congress at the fairgrounds, meaning Columbus' last home match this year is on October 1 against the Fire. The team then has an 11 day break, followed by a second trip to the Greater Chicago Area, and trips to play the New York Red Bulls on October 16, finishing up the year at Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC on October 23.
With a travel-heavy start AND finish to the year, Crew SC will look to the summer months as a key to a successful season. Particularly the month of July, where they have three straight home matches in a ten day span, all against Eastern Conference teams.
On July 13, Toronto FC comes to town for the second leg of the Trillium Cup (the first being at Toronto on May 21), followed three days later by old foes D.C. United at MAPFRE Stadium to renew MLS' oldest rivalry. The home stand closes on July 23 with the visit of second-year franchise Orlando City SC. The Black & Gold will hope to take all nine points from this 10 day span to make the most of their only three game home stand of the season.
The following month also features two home matches against Eastern Conference foes, with NYCFC again coming to town on the 13th and Philly back at MAPFRE Stadium on the 24th. After under-performing in 2015, Columbus will look to take maximum points from these two contests.
Every year brings the renewal of old rivalries, and this year is no exception. Crew SC will be in Toronto twice this year, looking to retain the Trillium Cup. The lone home match with TFC being the aforementioned July 13 contest. The Black & Gold also travel to Bridgeview twice to play the Fire. As noted above, United comes to Columbus on July 16, for the first part of the season's two-match series. The second is in D.C. on September 28.
Though at first glance the deck looks stacked against the club with both a road-heavy start and ending to the regular season, Crew SC has a very enticing list of summer fixtures and feel could have a real shot at being contenders for the second straight year.