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Columbus Crew announce 2014 schedule weeks earlier than usual

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Major League Soccer released its 2014 league schedule on Monday, revealing that the Columbus Crew would open play next season on the road to DC United, and finish the season at home to Philadelphia.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the announcement, however, was its timing. This was the earliest announcement in several years for the league, which as recently as 2011 released its schedule in the second week of February. The last time the slate of games was posted before New Year's Day was 2009, when it came out on December 2nd.

A pair of factors likely play into the change in timing. League membership has been stable since 2012, when Montreal joined as the 19th team. An increasing number of teams also play in venues that they control, making the scheduling process subject to fewer outside influences. These considerations allow for more predictable processes and greater lead time in decision-making.

The early release could also have benefits for teams' bottom lines. Throughout the Crew's history, games later in the season have tended to draw bigger crowds. The sales team has more time to sell tickets, arrange promotions, and conduct group sales. In 2013 this was phenomenon was especially pronounced - the first six games (through June 1) averaged 12,540 people while the remaining eleven drew more than 18,000. Having two additional months to sell tickets, on top of improvements already implemented in the team's sales office, could bring larger gates during those first half dozen games before the summer starts.

The schedule itself follows several patterns familiar to longtime fans of the Crew. The team will play an unbalanced 34-game schedule, with most games coming against Eastern Conference opposition. The Crew will play almost every team in the East three times, except for Chicago and Kansas City who appear twice. Columbus will face all nine teams from the Western Conference only once - with the venues for those games reversed from their 2013 arrangement. For example Chivas USA, to whom the Crew travelled early last season, will be coming to Columbus next year.

One feature of next season will be the 2014 World Cup, scheduled for June 12-July 13. As it has for previous editions, the MLS schedule will continue during this period - albeit with fewer games. The Crew will play only three times during this period, including a stretch of no games between June 7 and June 28. The team will then make up for last time after the tournament finishes, with home games on June 16 and 19.

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