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The Crew’s most interesting stretches in 2019

A look at both potentially tough stretches and easier ones for the Crew in 2019.

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer announced the 2018 regular season schedules for all of the league’s 24 teams Monday afternoon. Columbus Crew SC open the year against the Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls at home on March 2. Looking at some trends from last year’s installment, Massive Report takes a closer look at a few different stretch of games that may, by the end of the season, may define the 2018 Crew.

Stretch 1: A tough start

Opponents: New York Red Bull, at New England Revolution (A), FC Dallas (H), at Philadelphia Union, Atlanta United

The Black & Gold open their season against Eastern Conference runners-up Red Bulls in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal, where the Crew will seek revenge after a 3-0 second-leg loss (3-1 aggregate). Next, Columbus travels to Gillette Stadium in a bout with the Revolution who look to improve on a 41 point effort from last season. The next three fixtures feature tough opponents in Dallas and the Union, while they will finish this stretch at home against the reigning MLS Cup campions.

It’s certainly not the easiest start to 2018, facing two of the best teams in MLS from a year ago and two other playoff teams. Given the change in coaching staff this offseason, this early stretch will give us a good idea of what to expect from the Black & Gold in the first half of the year.

Stretch 2: Scintillating Spring

Opponents: at D.C. United, LA Galaxy, Los Angles Football Club, at Minnesota United

Columbus travel to Audi Field on May 4 in a repeat of last season’s Eastern Conference Knockout Round game where the Crew saw a 2-2 (3-2) penalty shootout victory against the hottest team in the league at the time. With a full offseason under his belt, Wayne Rooney will be looking forward to this one and will have it circled on his calendar given the postseason collapse. The Crew will then subsequently host both teams from Los Angeles and travel to the brand-new Allianz Field in a clash with Minnesota on May 18.

This will be an exciting time for fans with the rivalry game against D.C. kicking things off. Then it’s star-studded rosters in back-to-back games before anyone who wants to travel gets to check out MLS’s newest stadium.

Stretch 3: Midseason Make-up

Opponents: at Orlando City SC, at Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact

While the Crew may show some early signs of struggles along the backline after Zack Steffen’s departure to Manchester City, this stretch looks like a great opportunity for some easy points thereafter. The Crew travel to both Orlando and Chicago in a four-day span in mid-July to face the bottom two teams from last year’s Eastern Conference. The team then returns home to face off against Montreal Impact on July 20.

Assuming preseason projections are correct — and they usually aren’t — this will be a good time for the Black & Gold to make up any points dropped earlier in the year.

Stretch 4: The “Final Four

Opponents: at Atlanta United, at Vancouver Whitecaps, Philadelphia Union, at Toronto FC

This is where last year’s Crew has all the potential to show itself again. It’s a little early to tell just how well the team will handle the departure of Steffen, and it may take a toll on the rest of the team when it gets to the last few and most pivotal games of the season. Unarguably Columbus’ hardest game all year will come against Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. While Vancouver, Philadelphia and Toronto are all more-than-winnable games, this is where the Crew will be at the point of no return and will have to prove themselves worthy as a playoff contender yet again.

Black & Gold teams of the past have made their money late in the year as they head into the postseason. Will that remain the case under new head coach Caleb Porter?