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Highlights of the 2012 schedule

Sounders travel to Portland and Vancouver twice, but will see over 9,000 fewer travel miles than 2011.

Major League Soccer announced the 2012 schedule on Thursday and it left plenty of intrigue for the Sounders and their fans.

First, let’s take a look at the month of March.  Seattle has been used to opening the MLS calendar with First Kick on a midweek game after they opened the season with home matches against the New York Red Bulls in 2009, the Philadelphia Union in 2010 and the LA Galaxy in 2011, giving ESPN a great show on and off the field on all three occasions.  This year, Seattle will have to wait until the second weekend of the league season before opening up their campaign against Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field.

That will give the Sounders the chance to focus all of their attention on their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with Santos Laguna on March 7 and 14.

Also of not is the new formatting of the unbalanced 34-game schedule.  The Sounders will face each team in the Eastern Conference once, with five games coming at home and five coming on the road.  They will also play each Western Conference team three times, playing two home matches and one road match against four clubs and one at home and two on the road against the other four.

Once the MLS season kicks off, the Sounders will play their first three matches of the season at CenturyLink Field – first with Toronto FC, then each of the next two weekends against the Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes.  The match against the Dynamo falls on Friday, March 23 and will be the first time that Seattle will be featured on the new NBC Sports Network.

They will continue to have a good chance to earn some early points with six of their first matches at CenturyLink, with home matches against the Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy and Philadelphia Union all coming before their third road game of the year.

The May 2 match against LA will be the first of two home matches against the defending MLS Cup champions, with the second coming August 5, one of three matches Seattle will play during the Olympic games.

Seattle will play six matches this year against their nemeses in Portland and Vancouver.  The first will come in Vancouver on May 19 and Seattle will host the Whitecaps on August 18.  The final meeting between the two will be September 29 at BC Place.

The Sounders first meeting with the Timbers will come at Jeld-Wen Field on June 24.  The Sounders will play in Portland again on September 15 before finally seeing the Timbers at CenturyLink Field on October 7.

The Sounders will take to the road five times against the Eastern Conference, while hosting the other five teams in the East.  Seattle’s road opponents in 2012 will be DC United, the Chicago Fire, the expansion Montreal Impact, the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls.

That means they will host Toronto, Houston, Philadelphia, the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City.

The move to the unbalanced schedule means Seattle will log just 41,220 travel miles in 2012, over 9,000 miles less than they did in 2011.

The Sounders will have another look at the Real Salt Lake side that knocked them out of the playoffs at CenturyLink Field on May 12 and July 18 and will play at Rio Tinto Stadium on the 4th of July.

Fan-favorite James Riley will make his return to Seattle on September 8, but the Sounders will play two road matches earlier in the season against his new club, Chivas USA.

With the new unbalanced schedule placing an emphasis on competition within the same conference, the Sounders will play their final 14 matches against the Western Conference, with their last match against an Eastern Conference opponent coming on July 15 against New York.

Seattle will play five games in 15 days from April 28-May 12.  However, three of those matches will be at home.

Four other times, Seattle will play stretches of three games in seven or eight days, though only one features back-to-back road matches.

In one scheduling anomaly, Seattle will have a break from May 26-June 16.

Seattle is currently scheduled to play 12 nationally televised games on the ESPN and NBC families of networks.  This includes playing four of their final five matches in front of national TV audiences.  There is an even split between NBC and ESPN on those 12 matches.