USL Championship Home Openers Announced
Dish best served cold and all that
Today the USL announced the home opener games for all 24 Championship teams. There are a few unexpected dates in there, but the Birmingham Legion gets to play at home in the opening weekend for the 5th straight year. And the 2023 opener is going to be a doozy.
In what has to have been a shameless move for a big national TV game (more on that in a bit) in Week 1, the USL is sending the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to the Magic City for a rematch of what was easily the most contentious game in Legion history. Yes, that’s right, the team that benefitted from dubious refereeing decisions in both its visits to Protective Stadium last year is back already. The game will be played Saturday March 11th at a time to be decided. There will be one other playoff rematch that weekend, San Antonio v. Oakland Roots, but that doesn’t come close to the heat that the Three Sparks’ game should generate. Other appealing games that weekend will be the Charleston Battery v. Phoenix Rising, two teams that are looking to rebound from tough years in 2022, and El Paso Locomotive v. Sacramento Republic. The Battery in particular should be an interesting watch, as they poached Memphis 901’s highly successful coach Ben Pirmann and have been rebuilding the roster actively.
The Legion will also feature in Hartford Athletic’s home opener in Week 3 on March 25th. That means the Legion’s game in Week 2 will either be another home game or at a team that also played its home opener in Week 1 (and assuming there’s no double-game week in there).
New Mexico United’s many fans will have to wait a while to see their team – they don’t play at home until April 15th. And Las Vegas’ rather fewer fans will have to wait even longer, as the Lights will be on the road until May 5th.
Back in October, 10,227 fans showed up for that epic playoff game, and most of them stayed long enough to cram themselves into the north end for the penalty shootout. That last part won’t happen in March, of course, but the rematch is crying out for another 5-digit attendance number. The realignment of seating for this season with all regular seats being on the west (and shadier!) side of the stadium means that Protective will look much more filled up for the TV cameras (assuming that the cameras will be on the other side).
That being said, the USL deal with ESPN expired at the end of last season and has yet to be renewed. ESPN walked away from its relationship with MLS this year after MLS inked a deal with Apple TV to stream all games (think NFL Sunday Ticket), so who knows what will happen. Still, ESPN potentially has a hole to fill in its scheduling. An eventual deal seems likely, and this game would almost certainly be the #1 choice for a national audience on linear ESPN (and there could be an increased number of USL games on the regular network this year).
National TV or not, you need to be there. As do your family. And your friends. And your coworkers. Your mailman. Your Amazon delivery guy. FedEx and UPS too. Your therapist (you’re a soccer fan, don’t claim you don’t have one). Your favorite bartender (yeah, especially that). And anyone else you can think of. Let’s pack Protective like it’s never been packed before.