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Schedule breakdown: The Crew’s most important 2020 stretches

A look at stretches to highlight on your calendar for the 2020 season

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 season schedule was released on Thursday for Columbus Crew SC and the rest of Major League Soccer. With two new expansion sides, Nashville SC and Inter Miami being featured, the total features 24 in-conference matchups and a mere 10 out-of-conference clashes.

At first glance, the omission of two of last season’s seven Western Conference playoff sides, both teams from Los Angeles, stands out in the Black & Gold’s favor. Their second matchup of the season will feature the defending MLS Cup champion, Seattle Sounders on a West Coast road trip.

The 2020 season will certainly be no cakewalk for Caleb Porter in his second season at the helm in Columbus. Massive Report breaks down some important stretches that fans should make note of for the 2020 campaign.

Another tough start

The initial first few games of the 2020 season will be slightly more brutal than seasons past for the Crew. The team’s first three matchups feature playoff teams from last year: a home opener against New York City FC, a trip out west to face the Sounders coming fresh off of an MLS Cup championship and Real Salt Lake, who finished third in last year’s Western Conference. The three sides combined for a 50-23-29 record in 2019.

Not only were each 2019 playoff qualifiers, but these three teams were a few of the best sides in the league. NYCFC finished first in the East and Seattle and RSL were second and third, respectively, in the West. The Crew follows these opening games with a matchup against expansion side Nashville SC on the road then back home against Toronto FC, who fell to the Sounders in the 2019 championship game.

It’s certainly not the first handful of fixtures the Black & Gold hoped to see to begin a campaign in which they’re looking to return to the playoffs. A lot will be said about this upcoming version of the Crew depending on the team’s performance in these fixtures.

Late April - early May

Following their first five matchups, the Black & Gold have games against Orlando City SC and the Chicago Fire in mid-April which should come as light work compared to their opening handful of games. At the end of April going into May, Columbus has a span of three games in eight days against the Philadelphia Union, Minnesota United FC and the New York Red Bulls. Not only is this stretch tough because of the opponents, but it was a similar stretch that the Black & Gold faced in 2019 before going on a historic run of bad results.

Composure is what Porter and the team need to focus on here. More importantly, getting the tactics right for such a quick turnaround game after game will ultimately set the Crew up for the remainder of the season. Dropping points early on might be fixable, but the importance of maximizing results during this stretch will give fans a true taste of how 2020 will largely end up.

A scorching summer

What hurt not only Caleb Porter but the players themselves in 2019 was the number of fixtures players took part in away from the club. International tournaments, which saw multiple key players removed from the squad for so long, clearly impacted the Black & Gold, and fortunately there is no tournament that is slated for the summer. Only the two-game Nations League Finals could impact the roster but those dates have not been schedule. Even with the Nations League, the Crew will not have the number of players miss games for international duty as a year ago.

There is, however, a busy schedule nonetheless.

Nine games, four of which include 2019 playoff sides, run over the course of June and July. The four which feature former playoff sides FC Dallas, D.C. United, Atlanta United FC and Portland Timbers will come consecutively over the course of a 15-day window. The final fixture in Portland on July 1 means the club has to turn around four days later on July 5 and host Inter Miami.

Gross domestic August

This headline should be taken as literal as absolutely necessary. One word that describes the 2020 August for the Black & Gold is simply “gross.” The team will play SIX games in the month of August. On paper, it starts off tough but finishes easy.

To begin the month is three consecutive away matchups at D.C. United, Toronto FC and NYCFC. This follows two consecutive home matchups against the New England Revolution and FC Cincinnati and ends in a road trip to Sporting Kansas City on the 29th. August should be mostly manageable for the Black & Gold but it won’t come easy. This stretch should set the tone for a playoff push if the Crew performs well enough up to this point in order to even be in position to make one.

Overall, it’s tough to see any necessarily easy stretches for the Black & Gold in 2020. It’s a tough schedule for the most part. More competition and higher spending means harder fixtures, and the 2020 season reflects that. A playoff push is undoubtedly possible in the coming season, but it will require a much better effort than a year ago.