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Five Must-Watch Games on Orlando City's 2016 Schedule

With the release of Orlando City's 2016 schedule yesterday, it's time to start circling some can't-miss dates on the calendar. We're counting down the five Lions matches you've got to watch in 2016.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

For reasons I don't completely understand, MLS releases its schedule for the upcoming season in early January and not on Christmas morning. With so many intriguing presents to deliver (34 to be exact), Don Garber could probably give Santa Claus a run for his money. But with the MLS schedule dropping on Thursday, we've finally got a chance to scout out who the Lions will face during the upcoming season.

And there are some exciting match-ups in store.

Let's take a look at five games that should be appointment viewing for Orlando City fans in 2016, ranked in terms of watchability.

5. Orlando City at New York City FC (Sunday, May 29) 4 p.m. ET on ESPN

Nothing will match the excitement that preceded the first meeting between these two expansion clubs in 2015, but whenever the Lions travel to the Big Apple, crazy things tend to happen. Players get releasedGoals get scored. And Cyle Larin has himself a day.

There's no telling what shape both these teams will be in ahead of their May 29 clash at Yankee Stadium, but it should be a game worth watching. Both clubs are coming off 2015 debut seasons in which they missed the playoffs, so this game could be a good indication of who is closer to righting the ship.

And let's not forget what happened the last time Larin kicked a soccer ball in the Bronx.

4. Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City (Saturday, Sept. 17) 7:30 p.m. ET on TV 27

Orlando and Crew SC squared off four times in 2015, with the Lions grabbing two victories from the Eastern Conference champs. All these games were heated contests, with Rafael Ramos earning a red card for this take down of Waylon Francis during the club's first match-up of the season.

It's probably too soon to call this a rivalry, but Columbus is a club that's been somewhere Orlando City would like to go. This has the potential to be a statement win for the Lions if they can take down one of the MLS big boys at the Citrus Bowl.

3. Orlando City at Toronto FC (Wednesday, Sept. 28) 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1

Cyle Larin has already been anointed as the guy who's going to save Canadian soccer, but he'll only get one chance to play in his hometown next season. For Orlando City, that's probably a good thing, as BMO Field was a house of horrors for the Lions in 2015.

Orlando City was outscored 9-1 during two matches in Toronto last season, as Sebastian Giovinco added to his MVP resume with four goals against Orlando. The club's only road game against the Reds will comes late in the season, during what could be another hotly contested playoff race.

For Larin, it will be an opportunity to play in front of family and friends, as he was raised in nearby Brampton. But it also comes amidst a brutal stretch in which the Lions face three playoff teams from '15 in eight days. This should be one of Orlando's most challenging match-ups of the season, but could also be an opportunity for a statement win against a star-studded Toronto club.

2. Real Salt Lake at Orlando City (Sunday, March 6) 2 p.m. ET, channel TBA

This one's obvious right?

While it's going to be hard to top last season's opener (#FillTheBowl), you can expect an electric atmosphere when the Lions welcome Real Salt Lake to the Citrus Bowl on March 6. A healthy Lions squad (fingers crossed) should be favored against an RSL team that struggled in the Western Conference last season.

Opening Day. Citrus Bowl. Be There.

1. Portland Timbers at Orlando City (Sunday, April 3) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

The MLS Cup champs make their only trip to Orlando early in the season, as they face off against the Lions in a prime-time matchup under the lights.

This is a chance for Adrian Heath to gauge the progress of his squad, as the Timbers should give Orlando all they can handle in one of the most intriguing games of the 2016 regular season. Returning almost their entire championship core, Portland is one of the most complete teams in the league and will test the depth of an Orlando City squad that will hope to bring a strengthened roster into MLS play next year.