Major League Soccer has clearly learned that a good way to keep up interest during the offeseason is to release little bits of information at a time.
Today we learned the dates of each team's home opener in the 2012 season. The Union will take to PPL Park for the first time next year on Sunday, March 18.
No opponents have yet been determined, but what matters most is that March 18 is the second week of the 2012 season.
This means that unless the Union have a bye on the first weekend - which is possible, though I'd say unlikely - they'll open the campaign with a road fixture.
March 18 is also the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament; that date will feature third-round matchups.
The first weekend of the MLS season will run Saturday, March 10 through Monday, March 12. That Saturday and Sunday are dates on which a lot of conference tournament championship games are played. But conference tournament games don't register as much national interest as NCAA Tournament games, so MLS might be able to get some attention.
In addition, once the NCAA Tournament selection show wraps up early Sunday evening (it runs from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.), there usually isn't much else on TV besides talking heads. So MLS will have a shot at a national TV broadcast window on the Sunday night.
The Monday fixture is the Portland Timbers' home opener. Given the exclusivity on that date and the television-friendly atmosphere in Portland, it's also almost a lock that the Timbers' home opener will be nationally televised. Perhaps that will be the first game of NBC's new deal.
I also would not be surprised if the Union's home opener is nationally televised. It is the only home opener scheduled for March 18, though that does not necessarily mean that no other games are scheduled for that date.
The Saturday kickoff to the 2012 MLS campaign is a departure from recent years. ESPN has had a weeknight game to start the season every year since 2009.
Here is all the information published so far about when teams will have their 2012 home openers:
Week 1 – First Kick presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods
Saturday, March 10: Colorado Rapids, D.C. United, LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Sunday, March 11: Chivas USA, FC Dallas
Monday, March 12: Portland Timbers
Saturday, March 17: Sporting Kansas City, Montreal Impact, Real Salt Lake
Sunday, March 18: Philadelphia Union
Saturday, March 24: Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, Toronto FC
Sunday, March 25: New York Red Bulls
Saturday, May 12: Houston Dynamo
Houston's home opener is so late beccause they are moving into a new stadium this year. Montréal will start the year at Olympic Stadium, the former home of the Expos. Stade Saputo, which is currently being renovated and expanded, will open on June 17.
There is one more small piece of palace intrigue: D.C. United's press release announcing its home opener did not state that the game would be played at RFK Stadium. This caused the Washington Post's Steven Goff to ask some questions, and this is all he got from club spokesman Doug Hicks:
D.C. United is in negotiations with Events DC [the operator of RFK] for a new short-term lease at RFK Stadium, with hopes to have discussions resolved soon. However, RFK is not a long-term solution.
Might the Sons of Ben's buses be heading somewhere other than the District next year? Stay tuned.