The 2023 MLS season kicks off this Saturday and we couldn't be more excited. A full slate of matchups greets fans on Feb. 25, beginning when Nashville SC hosts NYCFC at 4:30 p.m. ET and ending with Real Salt Lake traveling north to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps at 10:30 p.m. ET. All 12 matches will be available to stream on Apple TV via the MLS Season Pass.
Looking ahead to the new campaign on the horizon, several games jump out from the page. So as you plan your weekends and months around following Major League Soccer, here are ten games you’re not going to want to miss.
Ten MLS games we're looking forward to in 2023
LAFC vs. LA Galaxy
Date: Feb. 25 | Time: 9:30 p.m. ET | Location: Rose Bowl
El Tráfico between LA Galaxy and LAFC will be played on the first day of the 2023 MLS season, and it will be at the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium— which seats 90k[Anthony Kyaw/ussoccerplus] pic.twitter.com/czKdOnxa09
— US Soccer Plus (@ussoccerplus_) December 20, 2022
Opening day’s nightcap is also the season’s first taste of El Tráfico. The game will be played at the Rose Bowl to attract a larger crowd for what is quickly becoming one of the league’s most marketable and intriguing derbies.
Headlined by Vela vs. Chicharito and Acosta vs. Puig, this showdown in Pasadena will no doubt live long in the memory of neutrals and fans alike.
St. Louis City FC vs. Charlotte FC
Date: March 4 | Time: 8:30 p.m. ET | Location: CITYPARK
St. Louis City SC will call CityPark, the 22,500-seat soccer-specific stadium in downtown St. Louis, home starting this 2023 MLS season!Would you visit the newest stadium to debut in @MLS? (via @stlCITYsc) pic.twitter.com/OeU3u4Hb9v
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 21, 2023
After a trip to Austin in week one, St. Louis will play its first home MLS game in front of a packed crowd at the brand-new CITYPARK. Coincidentally, MLS’s newest franchise is hosting last year’s debutants in Charlotte FC. With a new squad, this early season test against a solid midtable side in Charlotte will give players and fans alike an idea of what to expect in St. Louis City’s inaugural season.
LAFC vs. Austin FC
Date: April 8 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET | Location: BMO Stadium
MLS CUP BOUND. #ForLosAngeles pic.twitter.com/MmglnDTgXX— LAFC (@LAFC) October 30, 2022
A rematch of last season’s Western Conference Final, LAFC will host Austin FC in an early season matchup that could have a massive impact on seeding, come the end of the season.
LAFC will have a lot to prove with the loss of the club’s top-scorer Cristian Arango as well as Gareth Bale, while Austin’s new signings, including Emiliano Rigoni and Gyasi Zardes, may even the playing field in Southern California.
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders FC
Date: April 15 | Time: 10:30 p.m. ET | Location: Providence Park
"I think the history and the fact that both teams have won MLS Cups."@Mauriceedu is siding with @stuholden and the Cascadia Cup rivalry pic.twitter.com/4SRs4secaK— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 9, 2022
Two of the league’s most bitter rivals clash for the first of three meetings as Seattle makes the trip down to Portland to visit the Timbers.
Both sides failed to make the postseason in 2022 with Portland missing out by just a single point after dancing with the playoffs cutoff for the majority of the year. The Sounders also struggled all season but capitulated in the last two months, earning just nine points from its final ten matches.
This season needs to be a step in the right direction for Cascadia’s most successful clubs, and this match will no doubt set the tone.
New York Red Bulls vs. NYCFC
Date: May 13 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET | Location: Red Bull Arena
Nothing better than a season sweep of the Hudson River Derby #NYCFC— John Santoro (@john_santoro) September 17, 2022
The Hudson River Derby has been an exciting clash in recent years, especially as both teams contend for the top spots in the Eastern Conference. The clubs were separated by two points at the end of last season but it was NYCFC who claimed the bragging rights, snagging the third seed and winning both derbies in the regular season.
However, it must be noted that the Red Bulls did oust their neighbors from the U.S. Open Cup with a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing at the Red Bull Arena.
Austin FC vs. FC Dallas
Date: May 13 | Time: 8:30 p.m. ET | Location: Q2 Stadium
I rarely shoot videos. However, I had the opportunity to shoot a 360 video of the unveiling of the Tifo of #AustinFC supporters groups during the semifinal match of Austin FC vs FC Dallas. Austin FC supporters are loud and fun to watch.@LosVerdesATX @LaMurgaATX @AustinAnthem pic.twitter.com/X5zuG83z5z— Alex Rubio (@arubiophotos) October 27, 2022
Last season was huge for this Texas rivalry. One of the league’s oldest sides against the new boys, battling it out for second in the Western Conference.
Both regular season matches in 2022 ended in thrilling draws, but it was the playoff meeting when the deadlock was finally broken. Austin’s 2-1 win at home sent Dallas packing and ensured this matchup needed to be circled on the calendar in 2023.
FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew
Date: May 20 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET | Location: TQL Stadium
TQL Stadium for the Hell Is Real Derby! best rivalry in the MLS. Two great teams just 90 minutes apart. Can’t beat it! pic.twitter.com/1IDZjAmy9i— Adam Lucken (@lucky_lucken) January 26, 2023
This is the first meeting between Ohio’s two MLS sides of 2023 and a chance for Cincinnati to fully claim the state. Despite making a deep run in last season’s playoffs while Columbus missed the postseason entirely, Cincinnati has only beaten their in-state rivals twice and not since 2020.
With an attacking trio of Brandon Vázquez, Brenner and Luciano Acosta, it’s hard to bet against them. Also, the matchup is called the “Hell Is Real” derby. What more could you possibly want?
NYCFC vs. Philadelphia Union
Date: May 27 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET | Location: Citi Field
Gazdag Dániel, after a sensational season for Phila Union, scores in the Eastern conference final vs NYCFCPhila Union will now take on LAFC in the cup final pic.twitter.com/dmXxYrfAeg
— Hungarian Football Xtra (@HunFootballXtra) October 31, 2022
Last season’s Eastern Conference Final went the way of Philadelphia, but NYCFC showed a lot of fight to get as far as it did despite losing top-scorer Taty Castellanos to Girona FC midway through the season.
Now with center back Alexander Callens joining his former teammate in northern Catalonia, NYCFC will have to find a way to stay competitive and a midseason matchup against last season’s league runners-up will be a great opportunity to gauge their potential for 2023.
Atlanta United FC vs. Inter Miami CF
Date: Sep. 16 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET | Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Josef Martinez.. now with Inter Miami FC.. on the Atlanta United fans:"They have a special place in my heart...." pic.twitter.com/jQ8GYZXTVc
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) January 18, 2023
This match’s inclusion is due to one man: Josef Martínez. The Venezuelan left Atlanta United after six seasons, 134 MLS appearances and 98 league goals in red and black, and is set to lead the lines for Inter Miami, filling the shoes of Gonzalo Higuaín.
While the two sides will meet in Florida on May 6, we are more interested in Martínez’s return to Atlanta in September. Will he be given a warm welcome or treated as a lamb to the slaughter upon his arrival in Atlanta? Either way, the tie will likely have playoff implications so you aren’t going to want to miss this one.
Philadelphia Union vs. LAFC
Date: Sep. 23 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET | Location: Subaru Park
CHAMPIONSHIP @LAFC wins it in penalties!LA: ❌✅✅✅
Philly: ❌❌❌ pic.twitter.com/Lma3Sku14g
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 5, 2022
Last but certainly not least, LAFC makes the 2,500-mile journey across the country to face the Philadelphia Union in a rematch of last season’s thrilling MLS Cup Final. This one will have everything: Seeding implications, tactical masterpieces, superstars and late-season drama.
Come for the rematch, and stay for the beginning of a new rivalry in MLS. If there's one game you need to watch all season, let it be this.