MLS Needs a True Fair and Balanced Schedule for 2010

MLS commisioner Don Garber seeks a balanced schedule

MLS commisioner Don Garber seeks a balanced schedule

Last week’s press release announcing that MLS will take a two week break during the World Cup Finals group stage has stirred some debate from supporters of the league. However, hidden at the end of that same press release is news that all MLS fans must be pleased to read. Next season, all sixteen clubs will play a balanced schedule – facing each of the other fifteen teams twice, once at home, once away.

For the first time in the history of MLS, the 30 game regular season schedule will be equivalent for ever team. This milestone for the league will finally put to rest the imbalance that currently exists for clubs that, as a whole, are competing for the same eight playoff spots. No longer like the NFL or Major League Baseball schedules, MLS’ new regular season will further resemble the best European leagues that it strives to model.

The next step for the MLS schedule makers is to get rid of the curious, albeit infrequent, cases of home-and-home series within the season. An example of this occurs this evening, as the Colorado Rapids host the San Jose Earthquakes just 5 days after they visited Northern California. For the Rapids, this comes on the heels of a home-and-home series they finished earlier this month against Toronto FC. In all, there were nine cases in 2009 of teams playing each other in consecutive or nearly consecutive games. If you care to count the US Open Cup, add three more occurrences to the tally.

I don’t see any real positives to including these scheduling quirks in 2010 and beyond. When asked about playing home-and-home series in the regular season, Colorado Rapids coach Gary Smith remarked “I’m not sure there are many advantages. I think the fact that you go away then come back home is a balanced schedule in that respect, but I’m not sure the players enjoy it too much. You can sometimes get a staid affair and the teams know too much about each other.”

Playing the same team two games in a row can present additional problems. Player injuries and suspensions can put one team at a disadvantage for both season’s meetings instead of perhaps just one. Perhaps a team struggles earlier in the year, but improves with the summer signing period – is it fair for one club to meet them twice in June and another club to meet them twice in September? Using Colorado as an example, their team captain, Pablo Mastroeni, was suspended for 3 games earlier this month. As a result, he missed both games with Toronto this season. Maybe the 3 points TFC earned in their second game against the Rapids helps them sneak into the playoffs this season – ahead of the Rapids, no less.

On the flip side, getting to face the same team twice in a short amount of time allows you additional training time to focus on your opponent. Coach Frank Yallop of the San Jose Earthquakes even sees the home-and-home series as an opportunity for the team to prepare for the post-season. ”I guess it is similar to the playoffs, you play teams back to back a lot in that situation. The first game becomes important because it sets you up for the second one. But you still have to prepare for each game.”

Being better prepared for your opponent can lead to a better performance on the field, something all fans should look forward to with anticipation. Of course, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt – perhaps a physically demanding first game will lead to a different mindset going into the second game. Earthquakes captain Jason Hernandez knows all to well how this can affect a team facing an opponent in successive games; “I really don’t see it as an advantage at all. I think going back-to-back, it can get a bit too personal. They might come in and get a good result, then you have to go back to their home and fight twice as hard to get those points back.”

I see no reason to continue with these home-and-home series in 2010 and beyond. If MLS wants to really have a fair and balanced schedule, split the season into two 15 game schedules that essentially mirror each other, and save the two-game series for the post-season.

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15 Responses to MLS Needs a True Fair and Balanced Schedule for 2010

  1. Joe in Indianapolis says:

    With a balanced schedule, the need for conferences is further put into question. It is simply unnecessary to have conferences with a balanced schedule. (Queue the “a single table simply won’t work in America” arguments. Wait for it… Here they come…)

  2. sylc says:

    overall, a great (but logical and almost forced) move for the league.

    i couldn’t have said it better than joe in indy.

  3. PP says:

    Single table is next. Conferences are stupid.

  4. sal says:

    single table would be nice and continue with the playoff format.

  5. man99utd says:

    single table and no conference or playoffs…ok I realise it’s only a dream…

  6. Pat says:

    I still don’t really get why people are so anti-playoffs. Isn’t it more fun to see a series of exciting games than to see the champion take home the trophy after a mid-week draw in front of 8,000 people? Or, in the case of DC United in 2007, after a Saturday night nil-nil draw, and then a loss by Chivas the next day?

    There’s still a Supporter’s Shield and a Champs league spot that comes with it. The playoffs are fun. Sometimes I think the insistence of being like Europe serves no purpose other than to be like Europe. I don’t see how the playoffs are bad for the game.

    • Joe in Indianapolis says:

      I’m not anti-playoffs at all. The Community Shield gets an automatic berth in the Champions League. That’s all I care about. But conferences are arbitrary and meaningless.

  7. Justo says:

    Balanced Schedule, check.
    Single table, check.
    Top team in single table wins the Supporters Shield, and gets a spot in Concacaf Champions League ALONG WITH RUNNER-UP, check.
    Top 8 teams at the end of regular season go to MLS Cup play-offs, check.
    MLS Cup play-offs should be home an away games, quarterfinals and semifinals, check.
    MLS Cup Final winner goes to Concacaf Champions League,(If both finalist are also the top two in the regular season, then the Champions League spot should go to the third place team), check.
    Remember that USA gets 4 spots to CCL (Supporter’s Shield and Runner-Up, MLS Cup, US Open Cup), check.
    Us Open Cup winner and Supporter’s Shield winner plays before the start of the new season, check.

  8. man99utd says:

    Pat, it’s not that I just want to be like Europe (or the rest of the world). I just think the best team in the league over the course of the season deserves the title. Playoffs are exciting, but does anyone really think Fulham FC were the best in the EPL or deserve to be champions? If the EPL had a playoff, they would be in with a shout. The playoffs generate money and “excitement”, they do not always produce the best team.

    • Pat says:

      For me, I still don’t see why it matters though. They award the Supporters Shield. Go ahead and consider them the best team in the league, if you want. I don’t think there’s really any additional benefit to winning MLS cup over the Supporters Shield, unless I’m missing something (different trophy, maybe a tiny bit more in bonus money). To me, the Supporters Shield recognizes the best team over the regular season, and the MLS Cup recognizes the playoff champion. I don’t think there’s much question that it’s more difficult to win the Supporters Shield.

      The championship can be won in such an anticlimactic way with just awarding the regular season champion, and that’s why I like the playoffs. But I agree that the best team doesn’t always win the MLS Cup.

  9. mitch howard says:

    I wrote about some of these scheduling topics in americanizing soccer part 2, , check it out, let me know what you think.

  10. gmonsoon43 says:

    Good article. They should just set up a rotation then go through it twice. The home and home’s due to the Open Cup are always going to happen due to schedules already being set and draws determining Cup games.

  11. Tom says:

    Now go single table, seeds 1-8 in the playoffs, and I’ll be happy. If 8 beats 1, then they have to play 2 next (assuming 2 won their first round game). The 8th seed may win MLS cup, but they’ll have to really earn it.

  12. Charles says:

    No conferences would be fine for now, but is very short sighted.
    What about when the league has 30 teams and they play an unbalanced scedule ?
    We won’t argue about second division, because Americans will NOT support a team trying to win 21st spot, so….
    are you going to play home and home versus 29 teams for 58 games ?
    or are you hoping the league doesn’t succeed/grow ?
    Also, playoffs are the American way and rock ! Win or go home baby !

  13. dan says:

    western conference and eastern conference makes since.
    it prepares the league for when it grows beyond 16 teams which it will in 2011 with portland and vancouver. and between 2012 to 2016 the league will be at least to 20 teams, the next 2 i see will be eastern teams.
    think of it this way the eastern confernce is like its own league within a league and same with the western conference.the top teams in each confernce play each other in a tournement aka playoffs. so there quit crying.

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