NEW YORK — Trying to pick 10 games out of a haystack of 323 is like asking a parent to decide on their favorite child. They all seem so promising, then you start whittling down the list and former shoo-ins and favorites fall to the cutting-room floor without a second thought. It's no time to get sentimental, I guess.
In the end, you can only choose 10. And while it's hard to settle on the final group, you know you've done what was required. These are the games I'd watch above all others – for now, at least – even if plenty of the others have potential for greatness.
There will be disagreement, of course, but the back-and-forth is half the fun, so let us know what your 10 must-see MLS matches of 2013 are in the comment section below.
Without further ado, here are 10 dates we’ve already got blocked off.
March 2: Houston Dynamo vs. D.C. United — Presumably, this time both sides will be fully fit – unlike during 2012's rough-and-tumble Eastern Conference Championship series – as Houston and D.C. provide the nightcap on the opening night of MLS action. NBC Sports Network's cameras will be at BBVA Compass stadium to distribute the match on a national scale as two of the league's most talented sides clash for early bragging rights.
March 3: Portland Timbers vs. New York Red Bulls — The Timbers Army is bound to provide the requisite spectacle on ESPN2 during opening weekend, but this one makes the list based solely on the unknown. Who will be at the helm of the Red Bulls? How will Caleb Porter shape his first professional side? How many new faces will be wearing green or white following a busy transfer window and dog-eat-dog preseason? It's safe to say there will be plenty of intrigue to be had at JELD-WEN Field.
March 16: Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC — Speaking of unknowns, what is going on in Quebec and Ontario? We know two new coaches – the Impact's Marco Schällibaum and Toronto FC's Ryan Nelsen – are in the MLS fold, but that's about it right now. Nelsen may not even be around for this one, but these cities don't particularly like each other and the teams predictably feed into that acrimony on the field.
May 5: LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo — There's no MLS Cup on the line this time, but you know Dominic Kinnear and his team will be itching to leave the Home Depot Center with their heads held high after two straight years of playoff disappointment. Even without Beckham around to draw the spotlights, these are two of MLS' best teams, if not the best, and ESPN2 should have an absolute cracker in store, especially since both sides are bound to keep improving this offseason.
May 8: Sporting Kansas City vs. Seattle Sounders — Just three days after MLS Cup 2012's participants clash, Sporting KC and Seattle will replay the US Open Cup final at Livestrong Sporting Park. And it may actually be a positive thing that no cup is up for grabs this time around. Last season's USOC triumph was huge for Sporting – and earned the Game of the Year tag from the fans – but the game itself was generally cagey and offered far less than what these two burgeoning rivals have put together in regular-season matchups. Here's hoping for more drama.
August 31: New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United — Fortunately for both sides, the forecast surely won't be calling for massive snowfall this time around. D.C. will have already traveled to Red Bull Arena for a rematch of the wild playoff game that defined one of the most-memorable postseason series in MLS history on March 16, but both sides should be in mid-season form by late August. You know United will cart up plenty of fan support, while New York fans will determined to exert dominance – on the field and in the stands – in the house that Red Bull built. As Bart Scott would say, I can't wait.
September 29: Portland Timbers vs. LA Galaxy — Think back to July 14, 2012. LA 5, Portland 3 ... all in all, one of the year's most compelling games. Well, here's the rematch on NBC proper. By now, Caleb Porter should have his guys on the same page, whether that equates to success remains to be seen. Meanwhile, you'd expect Bruce Arena to have the Galaxy firing on all cylinders ahead of the playoffs. Must-see MLS TV? There's absolutely no doubt.
October 13: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders — Portland's defense of the Cascadia Cup could very well come down to this match, the final meeting of the 2013 season between the competition's three participants. And what an occasion it promises to be, regardless of table position, Cascadia standings or recent form. The Timbers Army will be out and force, with Seattle providing a significant counterweight in the stands, as Caleb Porter leads his men against the club's archrivals for the first time at JELD-WEN Field on ESPN.
October 20: LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes — The Galaxy may share a hallway with Chivas USA, but San Jose are quickly taking on the role of the plucky Republic bent on challenging the Empire's hegemony. The Earthquakes handled LA in the regular season during 2012, winning the Supporters' Shield and handing their southern neighbors two losses and a draw in three games, but the Galaxy came up trumps when it really mattered. Here's another prime opportunity – on ESPN, no less – for Frank Yallop's men to take their in-state rivals down a peg. Who knows, maybe Wondo will be chasing another goal record, too.
October 27: Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy — On the final day of the season, we get a rematch of last season's deciding game in the Western Conference Championship series on ESPN. Of course, the Galaxy and Robbie Keane broke the Sounders' hearts in that match, but this one is sure to carry real significance as well. Playoff seeding will almost certainly be on the line, and the ECS and the rest of Seattle's dedicated fanbase won't be treating this one as just another regular season game. Not a bad way to transition to postseason soccer.