Now that the 2015 Orlando City SC schedule is out, we know exactly who, when and where the Lions will play throughout their inaugural season in Major League Soccer. Many of us will be at the Citrus Bowl for the first year in MLS. Our club sources say 10,000 season tickets have been sold so far, and club Founder and President Phil Rawlins echoed that number Wednesday on the Philips Phile radio show.
After taking a couple of days to digest the schedule and see how it shakes out, it's obvious that some match-ups are more intriguing than others. For example, some fans have already lamented the fact that Seattle doesn't visit in 2015. But there are plenty of exciting battles to come.
Here are my picks, countdown-style, for the five most exciting home games this season:
5. DC United - Friday, April 3, 7 p.m.
Defending Eastern Conference regular season champion D.C. United visits the Citrus Bowl for the first time. This will provide an excellent chance for the Lions to test their mettle against the team that set the pace in the conference a year ago. It's also a Florida homecoming for forward Eddie Johnson and possibly a chance for midfielder Lewis Neal to face his old team.
United has some outstanding players, such as goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who is in the USMNT picture after a great MLS campaign last year, veteran midfielders Davy Arnaud and Chris Pontius, and exciting Argentine striker Fabian Espindola. This is one to circle on the calendar.
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4. Sporting KC - Sunday, Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.
On a hot Sunday night, we get to welcome back former Orlando City Lion Dom Dwyer. Sporting KC is a perennial contender and this will be the only time the Lions will face them in 2015 due to their move back to the Western Conference. Orlando City defender Aurelien Collin will square off against his former club. Dwyer and Collin facing their old squads? Sign me up.
There may be some added incentive for Orlando City, which formerly had a loan agreement with their new MLS foes. But if that isn't enough to pique your interest, Kansas City also boasts three players you probably know from USMNT duty in midfielders Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber and defender Matt Besler. They've also added Honduran international midfielder Roger Espinoza this off-season.
3. New England Revolution - Friday, May 8, 8 p.m.
While D.C. United was the East's best team over the regular season, the Revs were better at season's end. Since the mid-season acquisition of U.S. International Jermaine Jones, New England was one of the best teams in MLS, and the Revs showed it by reaching the MLS Cup Final, falling just short of a championship.
The team is stacked. In addition to Jones, New England boasts forwards Charlie Davies and Teal Bunbury, midfielders Lee Nguyen, Chris Tierney and Diego Fagundez, goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and defender Jose Goncalves. The Revolution is probably the pre-season conference favorite. This match will be another barometer of where the Lions are as a club.
2. LA Galaxy - Sunday, May 17, 5 p.m.
The stars all come out on May 17 when the Galaxy rolls into town. Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Rogers, and Gyasi Zardez lead the defending MLS Cup champions into the Citrus Bowl for the first ever league meeting between the two clubs.
Perhaps former Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts will be in net for the Lions. One thing that might spoil this game is that Orlando City plays midweek at D.C. United just four days before this tilt. Still, Galaxy is the team making the cross-country trip. There's a good chance this will be one of the special games where the front office opens additional seating at the Citrus Bowl.
1. New York City FC - Sunday, March 8, 5 p.m.
It doesn't get any more intriguing than the first MLS match in club history. David Villa is already on board for NYCFC and who knows what might happen on the transfer front now that Frank Lampard is staying in Manchester until at least the end of June. The league's other expansion club has been linked to other potential big name signings, including Mix Diskerud.
Orlando City is going to try to sell out all 60,000+ seats for this one. The atmosphere should be incredible. Purple will be everywhere. This is one of those games you'll want to frame your ticket and remember forever because there's only one first time.
Those are my choices. There are other good picks as well. If my five don't match yours, which home games do you think should have been included?