With the release of the complete 2016 MLS regular season schedule this week, fans of all 20 teams have been furiously filling out their calendars to make sure they don't miss a single minute of their teams' home games. And for the intrepid few, they have also scoured the schedule for the perfect away games to attend as well. Why limit yourself to 17 home games when there are just as many matches on the road to choose from as well!
The San Jose Earthquakes, whose schedule has a few must-see matches at Avaya Stadium to attend, including the 2016 MLS All-Star Game this summer, take to the air 17 times this season to face MLS opponents on the road. For better or for worse, all of the Quakes away games will require separate trips, as no two games come back-to-back on the calendar inside of a week's time. In fact, only three times this season will the Earthquakes play two straight road games.
Now, for the traveling fan, this may not seem ideal, as in years past he or she could often buddle multiple away games on a single vacation and not have to worry about too many off days. Instead, for 2016, get ready to rack up the frequent flier miles in your quest to cross the continent with the Quakes.
Due to the unbalanced MLS schedule, which has conference foes play one another at least twice and includes only 10 interconference games, the opportunity to see some far-flung East Coast destinations will be very limited. This season, the Earthquakes will play five Eastern Conference opponents at home -- D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC, New York City FC, and the New England Revolution -- and five on the road -- the Philadelphia Union, Orlando City SC, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew SC, and Montreal Impact. No trips to the Big Apple or Beantown for Quakes fans this year.
Against the Western Conference, the Quakes will play each of the other nine teams at least once on the road. Opponents they will face twice in 2016 away from the Bay Area are their chief rivals the LA Galaxy, the reigning MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers, and conference whipping boys Colorado Rapids. At least four of those road dates are worth considering!
So which of San Jose's 17 away games should you be booking tickets for? After considering the opponents, the attractions their cities offer, and the time of year the matches are scheduled, these are the top-five must-see Earthquakes away games in 2016.
1. Portland Timbers at Providence Park, April 16: As mentioned before, the Quakes travel twice to the Rose City this season, with this date being the first of the two. Sure, the El Nino fueled winter of discontent may still be in full force in April, but rain and Portland go together like peanut butter and jelly. The city's famous rose gardens should be in the very early stages of bloom, while nearby majestic Mt. Hood will feature its signature picturesque snow-capped peak.
And even if the weather is less than ideal, Portland and its environs feature enough craft breweries to keep a band of Quakes supporters satisfied before and after the Saturday night contest against the defending champs. Take advantage of your favorite ride-share provider during your travels and keep your umbrella at home. Even the visiting supporters' section is under the awning at Providence Park! If your April is already busy, you could substitute the Quakes game against the Timbers on June 1 and have the same enjoyable experience.
2. LA Galaxy at the StubHub Center, May 22: The only true road-trip on this list -- you can make the drive from San Jose to Carson in less than six hours if you time it right -- the second away California Clasico of 2016 is well worth it. The star-studded Galaxy are never easy to beat at home, but LA is not the juggernaut they once were. Apparently in the hunt this off-season to add every aging free agent in the soccer world, the Quakes biggest rival seems more vulnerable than in years past. Is anyone else excited to see Simon Dawkins blast past Ashley Cole along the sidelines?
The game itself, which will be televised nationally by Fox Sports One, will be played on a Sunday afternoon -- perfect to allow for a full Saturday at any of the attractions the Southland has to offer. Take in any one of the beaches from Manhattan to Santa Monica, or head out to Universal City to the north or Anaheim to the south for theme park excursions. Sunday brunch at your favorite downtown restaurant sets up the day before the trek to Carson for the game. And if all goes well, you'll be enjoying three points for dessert when the Quakes taste victory.
3. Chicago Fire at Toyota Park, July 1: The weekend prior, San Jose will be at Stanford Stadium to face the Galaxy, a game that will feature a huge postgame fireworks show. Impressive it will be, but make it your pyrotechnics appetizer ahead of a visit to the Windy City to kick off July. The Fire is expected to have its own spectacular show, one that times nicely with Independence Day. And stick around Chicago for a few more days and enjoy everything the Midwest mecca has to offer. Wrigley Field, anyone?
The match marks the halfway point in the season for the Earthquakes, so rating the team's prospects heading into the summer months will be paramount for fans and the media. The Fire had a dismal 2015 season, and predictions for 2016 don't seem all that encouraging either. For the Quakes, facing a weaker Eastern Conference opponent on the road could be just what they need to put another three points in their pockets.
4. Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place, August 12: Arguably the best road destination in the league, Vancouver boasts fantastic culinary opportunities, stunning scenery, friendly and inviting locals, and even a ray of sunshine or two. Sure, it is the least hospitable host the Earthquakes have on their schedule -- San Jose has yet to win a game at BC Place -- but even that bad streak of results has to end sometime. And even if the Quakes lose again to the Whitecaps, a bike tour of the city and a tasty beverage in the Gastown neighborhood will have you forgetting everything to do with soccer.
The Whitecaps themselves are worth the watch, as head coach Carl Robinson's team features one of the youngest starting elevens in MLS. Speedy forwards, crafty midfielders, and tough-as-nails defenders make Vancouver one of the preseason favorites to capture the Western Conference in 2016. Whatever result the Earthquakes can get at BC Place will be the measuring stick going into the playoff race homestretch.
5. Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park, October 23: Rounding out the top-five is a visit to America's heartland for the Earthquakes last game of the season. MLS, flush off the popularity last year of scheduling all conference games at the same time to close out the last day of the schedule, is going one better in 2016 and kicking off all 10 matches on October 23 concurrently. Remember the fun last October on Decision Day, scoreboard watching games in Seattle and Kansas City while the Earthquakes played at FC Dallas? It should be double the fun to do the same in 2016.
But it won't just be the season ender that should compel you to visit Kansas City. Number one (and number two and number three...) on your KC to-do list will be to sidle up to a heaping platter of barbeque. With more quality BBQ joints than you can count on one hand within easy driving distance from the city center, you can gorge to your heart's delight on the Saturday before Sunday's game. Then on game day, plan on arriving at the stadium early to enjoy what is certainly a top-three venue in MLS. Will the Quakes post another rout this season, similar to what they did in 2015 to the tune of a 5-0 smackdown? If a playoff berth is on the line -- and it very well may be the case -- nothing should come as a surprise when Sporting hosts San Jose.
Honorable Mentions: Seattle Sounders (May 7), Orlando City SC (June 18), Montreal Impact (September 28).
What away games are you looking forward to attending? Have you already bought your plane tickets and are now looking to fill in your itinerary? Would you have including a different game on this list? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.