A report out of Toronto indicates that MLS fans had better get their overcoats ready for First Kick 2012.
Duane Rollins reports that Toronto FC executives told a fan gathering that they expect the MLS season to begin Saturday, March 10, with the First Game logically falling on March 8. The start, which would be the earliest in MLS history, would be earlier than usual because the league would incorporate the three World Cup qualifying periods into the schedule. The executives also confirmed that the league would be keeping the 34 game schedule which, with the addition of Montreal, would necessitate unbalanced scheduling.
The Toronto FC executives confirm what many season ticket holders knew and subsequent league sources have confirmed, that the league would keep its 34 game schedule for now. How the unbalanced schedule will shake out is unknown, although the league executives did meet two weekends ago to discuss next year’s schedule.
While the new schedule will allow players to participate in World Cup qualifiers, the earlier schedule will conflict with the CONCACAF Champions League. The quarterfinals are scheduled to take place March 6-8 and 13-15, meaning some MLS teams could miss the beginning of the season and First Kick would be hosted somewhere besides Seattle for the first time in four years. Some teams may also start the season on the road as the weather may prevent hospitable home openers; Rollins notes that Toronto would likely play at Rogers Center to begin the season.
So assuming the five teams currently in the CCL are not eligible to host First Kick due to continuing in the competition, where is the logical place to hold First Kick 2012? It would have to be somewhere that could guarantee a huge crowd, TV viewers, and not be too cold. My guesses for hosting would be Portland (crowd guarantee) and New York Red Bulls (big names, good crowd) with the MLS Cup winner (assuming it isn’t one of those teams) paying a visit.
What do you think of the early start to the season? What is your prediction for the First Kick match-up?