Union schedule coming next week?

We know that the Union's first game of the 2011 season will be March 19 at Houston.

We know that the club's first home game will be a week later, on March 26, against Vancouver.

But we don't know when the other fixtures in the 34-game schedule will be announced.

It was exactly one year ago today that MLS released its fixture list for the 2010 season. At the time, there were two reasons for there being so many delays: a labor dispute between MLS and its players union, and uncertainty over when PPL Park would open.

This year, the reasons are not so clear. The only concrete reason I can think of is that the Vancouver Whitecaps haven't figured out when they will start playing in B.C. Place, their main stadium. The former former Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony venue is being converted from an indoor dome to an outdoor facility.

Until the construction is done, the Whitecaps (and B.C. Lions of the CFL) will be playing at Empire Field, a specially-built temporary facility.

There is a less concrete reason for the delay, and it's one that has soccer fans across North America just a bit miffed. Major League Soccer is reportedly trying to re-negotiate its television contract with Fox Soccer Channel in order to get a bigger right fee.

There have been rumors swirling in recent months that the league may be leaving FSC forVersus, but I've never seen hard proof that a deal might actually be done with the Philadelphia-based cable network.

If that's what's causing the hangup, I would like to think that it wouldn't trouble MLS too much to at least release dates for games and not times. Fans want to plan their summer weekends, especially when road trips are involved, and the clubs need time to sell ticket packages.

This morning, I wondered aloud on Twitter about when the schedule would be published. Somewhat to my surprise, Judah Levine of the Union's media relations staff responded that the club is "now hearing next week" for a release date.

I asked a spokesperson at MLS headquarters for a statement, and was not given any comment.

As I said a moment ago, getting the schedule out there it is not just in the fans' interest. It is in the clubs' interest too.

Last year, the schedule was released on February 3 for a First Kick on March 25. This year, the first game of the season is March 15. So there's even less of a turnaround.

Here's hoping all the necessary deals get done as soon as possible. I understand why there have been so many delays, but the process really has taken too long.