By Mark Janzen
Okay. So, yes, the rugby spotlight is obviously shining brightest upon Japan these days.
But, amidst the first few days of the Rugby World Cup, Major League Rugby officially released its 2020 regular season schedule. And that is reason to pause. This is the third year of the MLR. That’s great. And what’s better is the excitement that will surround what will no doubt be an even bigger, better, and more awesome season than the last.
Indeed the MLR’s opening weekend is nearly five months away and there’s stadium and roster shuffling still yet to be had, but we figured now was as good a time as any to devise the “Ultimate MLR Tour.” This way, you have time to sort out your schedules.
So here’s the plan. I put together a list of games I want to watch (stopping in all 12 cities at least once), a sampling of coffee shops I want to indulge in, and a collection of breweries I’d like to enjoy. And I guarantee you’ll want to come along for the ride.
Now, I just need to convince my editors.
JANUARY 26 (10pm ET)
The Match-Up: Seattle Seawolves vs. Tasman Mako | Starfire Stadium
The Reason: Okay. So, this isn’t actually part of the 2020 MLR schedule, but what better way to kick off the Ultimate MLR Tour than with a preseason tilt featuring the two-time defending champions against the Tasman Mako, who could very well be coming over as the Mitre 10 Cup champions.
The Coffee: Sound & Fog. It’s in West Seattle. Take a bit of drive. It’s worth it.
The Beer: Elysian Brewing Company. There are endless options in Seattle for good beer, but Elysian partners with the Seawolves, so it’s an appropriate place to start.
FEBRUARY 8(4pm ET)
The Match-Up: New England Free Jacks vs. Rugby United New York | TBD
The Reason: It’s the first-ever regular season edition of the “Cold War.” The game helps kick off the 2020 season and marks the Free Jacks official entrance into the MLR. Last December, the teams met in the inaugural Cold War, with RUNY winning 38-35. Also, you are likely to get to see the debut of Mathieu Bastareaud.
The Coffee: Gracenote Coffee. It’s in the Leather District. They have white brick walls, so they must know what they’re doing.
The Beer: Lord Hobo. Get an IPA. You could go to Samuel Adams Brewery, but don’t.
FEBRUARY 9 (8pm ET)
The Match-Up: San Diego Legion vs. Seattle Seawolves | Torero Stadium
The Reason: Yes, you’ll have to get on a plane and fly across the continent in short order, but the reason is pretty simple here. It’s a rematch of last year’s championship game and both teams will certainly be contenders again.
The Coffee: Hawthorn Coffee. It’s regular stop for USA’s Women’s Sevens team and they know coffee.
The Beer: Kairoa Brewing Company. The owners and brewmaster are from New Zealand, so they probably know both rugby and beer.
FEBRUARY 16 (3pm ET)
The Match-Up: Old Glory DC vs. Seattle Seawolves | Catholic University (Cardinal Stadium)
The Reason: This is Old Glory DC’s first-ever home-opener. That’s reason alone to be there. And they host the mighty Seawolves. Should be interesting.
The Coffee: The Wydown. They serve pour-over coffee with a Kalita brewer. Sorry, that’s a dorky thing to point out, but it’s delicious.
The Beer: Atlas Brew Works. It is a 100% solar-powered brewery. That’s cool.
FEBRUARY 22 (6pm ET)
The Match-Up: Glendale Raptors vs. NOLA Gold | Infinity Park
The Reason: It’s RugbyTown USA, so it’ll be fun just to be there. And the Raptors have typically been a preseason favourite. It might still be a bit chilly, but we’ll sort through that.
The Coffee: Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters. Simple. In my world of consuming way too much coffee, they once roasted a bag of beans that remains in my top three of all-time.
The Beer: Grist Brewing Company. They say they are all about “The Pursuit of Fantastic Beer.” Good enough for us.
FEBRUARY 23 (3pm ET)
The Match-Up: Rugby ATL vs. Rugby United New York | Life University
The Reason: We missed Rugby ATL’s home-opener because we were busy in San Diego at the championship rematch. We had to get to the ATL for the next one. We’ll also hopefully get to see RWC-playing Canadian Matt Heaton and former Raptor Harley Davidson in new colours with ATL.
The Coffee: Refuge Coffee Co. It’s a nonprofit organization that cares about both their employees and their community, and they serve good coffee.
The Beer: Creature Comforts Brewery. Take a quick drive to Athens and you won’t be disappointed.
FEBRUARY 29 (6pm ET)
The Match-Up: Austin Herd vs. Old Glory DC | Toyota Stadium (San Antonio)
The Reason: This is Austin’s only game in San Antonio this year. With summertime rumours of the recently rebranded “Herd” potentially moving, the game in San Antonio seems like at least an interesting option to check out.
The Coffee: Merit Coffee. The talk about “respect for the coffee ritual.” I’m in.
The Beer: Alamo Beer Company. They “proudly brew the only beer to bear the ALAMO name since the start of Prohibition in 1919.”
MARCH 7 (8pm ET)
The Match-Up: Houston Sabercats vs. Austin Herd | AVEVA Stadium
The Reason: It’s the battle of Texas. Here’s hoping Austin is better this year because we’re gambling on taking in back-to-back games featuring the Herd.
The Coffee: Siphon Coffee. As their name suggests, they make coffee using the Siphon method. It’s like a chemistry set that makes great coffee. Look it up.
The Beer: B52 Brewing. They have more than seven acres of outdoor space and, if you’ve brought your dog along to Houston, he or she is more than welcome.
MARCH 28 (9pm ET)
The Match-Up: Utah Warriors vs. San Diego Legion | Zions Bank Stadium
The Reason: In theory, Utah should be better on the field and that should translate to a great atmosphere. Despite their two-win season in 2019, they trailed only Seattle, San Diego and Glendale for average attendance.
The Coffee: Blue Copper 2000. It’s in the historic Marmalade district.
The Beer: Unita Brewing. They’re legendary in the area. They started in an old mechanic’s garage in 1993, and now the brewery is entirely powered by the wind and the sun.
APRIL 4 (2pm ET)
The Match-Up: Toronto Arrows vs. Utah Warriors | TBD
The Reason: Finally, the Arrows come back to Toronto for their home-opener. After starting the 2020 with six road games plus a neutral site contest, the Arrows return to Canada to host Utah.
The Coffee: Boxcar Social. They serve coffee from some of the best roasters in Canada and the locations provide some unique spaces in which to enjoy your coffee.
The Beer: Avling. They literally grow ingredients for the beer on their rooftop garden.
APRIL 12 (8pm ET)
The Match-Up: Seattle Seawolves vs. San Diego | Starfire Stadium
The Reason: We had to see this championship rematch again, but this time it’s at the always electric Starfire Stadium. We couldn’t miss this one.
The Coffee: Analog Coffee. Amazing coffee and they also have a wide variety of daily newspapers to peruse.
The Beer: Fremont Brewing. There is something for everyone.
MAY 9 (8pm ET)
The Match-Up: NOLA Gold vs. Houston | The Gold Mine
The Reason: It’s probably time to go to New Orleans.
The Coffee: Hey! Café. A lot of colour and a lot of good coffee.
The Beer: NOLA Brewing. It just seems a little too connected. We’ll just embrace and partake.
MAY 30 (12pm ET)
The Match-Up: Rugby United New York vs. NOLA Gold | MCU Park
The Reason: Last year, these two teams were separated by just one point at the end of the season. We’re hoping this game somehow has the drama that was procured late in the 2019 season.
The Coffee: Ninth Street Espresso. They only have four items on the menu: hot coffee, cold coffee, espresso and espresso w/milk.
The Beer: Other Half Brewing. Lots of tall cans of decidedly bright, flavourful and unique beers.
Let the season begin.