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Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

The four phases of the 2018 Houston Dynamo schedule

The MLS season is a beast: 34 games spanning eight months. It's best if we break it down a bit:

The Opening Stretch: March 3-May 11
International Break: March 19-27

The open to the 2018 Dynamo schedule is an even one – five home, five away in the first 10 games. Last year, with seven of their first 10 games in Houston, the Dynamo jumped out with 19 points midway through May. If they want to replicate the same start this year, they’ll need to figure out how to get points away from home earlier rather than later. The first road game of the year is at D.C. United, however – site of the only regular season road win in 2017.

The other factor playing into these stretches will be FIFA international breaks. Like last year, the Dynamo will not have any games played during these weeks (except the FIFA World Cup – more on that later). But during his postseason press conference, head coach Wilmer Cabrera expressed displeasure with how the team came out of those extended breaks.

“Every time we had to stop nine or 10 days, we had some difficult moments to come back,” Cabrera said, noting that the team’s creativity suffered after the off time. “It happened with the hurricane and the Western Conference final, it was too long of a break.”

The Dynamo went 1-2-2 coming out of international breaks in 2017 (plus one win during a rescheduled fixture in the October break), but the two losses came towards the end of the year at inopportune times: the only home loss of the regular season against the Colorado Rapids, and the loss to Seattle in Leg 1 of the Western Conference Championship. Managing those breaks will be a focus point for Cabrera and his staff again this season.

Pre-World Cup Break: May 20-June 9

Before the World Cup starts on June 14, the Dynamo face a tough stretch to close out May. Starting with a home match against New York City FC on May 25, the team then goes to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday and goes immediately to Montreal Impact the following Sunday. The team will get an extra day of rest between games than they normally would for such a stretch as they play Friday-Wednesday-Sunday instead of Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday, but combined with the travel it will still test the depth of Cabrera’s squad.

The team will take a little bit of a breather as the FIFA World Cup begins, with two weeks away from MLS competition. The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open tournament will likely begin after hosting the Rapids on June 9, based on start times from previous years.

Summer Stretch: June 23-August 23

Here’s where the Dynamo will hope to rack up the points. With seven home games in 11 matches, it’s the opportunity to take advantage of the summer heat at BBVA Compass Stadium. The start of the stretch coincides with the close of the FIFA World Cup group stage, but Panamanian defender Adolfo Machado is the only player currently on the squad that will likely be involved with the tournament.

The club will have to deal with one Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday week, but the first two games of the stretch will be in Houston (vs. FC Dallas and Philadelphia Union) before traveling to Portland. Both home legs of the Texas Derby against FC Dallas take place in these summer months (July 21, August 23) – so points will be crucial both in the MLS standings as well as the rivalry tally.

Final Stretch: September 1-October 28
International Break: September 3-11, October 8-16

It doesn’t end on an easy note for the Dynamo. Five of the final eight and three of the last four games of the year are on the road. Road trips to Frisco, Orlando, Seattle and two to Los Angeles will be crucial as the Dynamo hopefully look to lock up another playoff berth in 2018. On the flip side, each of the final three home games will be against 2017 playoff teams: Portland, San Jose and Seattle. Again, it looks to be imperative to take care of business early in the year so as not to leave themselves with an uphill battle against a tough closing slate.