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MLS Schedule and Conference Format Revealed; Frustration Ensues

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This is a tad late so you might have read about it elsewhere already, but essentially we know what the 2012 season is going to look like. We don't have a hard schedule, mind you, but we know, at least, what the format is going to be... And it's not pretty.

We knew already that the schedule was going to change and that it was going to be unbalanced. With the Montreal Impact joining the league MLS HQ made it known for a while that we were looking at an unbalanced schedule rather than adding two extra games a year.

As such here is what they've given us:

REGULAR SEASON:

Each of the 19 MLS clubs will play 34 games, 17 at home and 17 away.

All clubs will play an equal schedule within their respective conference.

Western Conference – 24 in-conference + 10 out-of-conference games:

  • Western Conference clubs will play each West opponent 3 times (24 games):
  • West clubs will play 4 conference opponents twice at home and once away
  • They will play the other 4 conference opponents once at home and twice away.
  • The home and away games will be reversed in 2013.
  • Western Conference clubs will play each East opponent once each (10 games):
  • 5 of these will be at home and 5 will be away.
  • The East opponents each team faces at home and away will be reversed in 2013.

Eastern Conference – 25 in-conference + 9 out-of-conference games:

  • Eastern Conference clubs will play 25 games against other East clubs:
  • East teams will play 7 conference opponents three times each (21 games) and
  • 2 conference opponents twice each (4 games).
  • Eastern Conference clubs will play each West opponent once each (9 games):
  • Some will play 4 at home and 5 away while others will play 5 at home and 4 away.
  • The West opponents each team faces at home and away will be reversed in 2013.

So essentially this means that the Portland Timbers will play Seattle (and all other Western Conference teams) three times each with half the western conference teams being played home, away, home and the other half being played away, home, away with the reverse being true for 2013.

Against Eastern Conference teams the Timbers will play each team once half at home and the other half with the teams being reversed in 2013.

Confused yet? Good because you should be. MLS is known for being a convoluted league and they sure as hell didn't disappoint this time around.

My biggest frustration is simply how it cheapens the entire league. Try as MLS does it's very tough to argue that an unbalanced schedule doesn't cheapen the Supporters Shield and, more locally, the Cascadia Cup.

Let's look a bit more in depth at the Cascadia Cup competition.

Last year, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver each played against each other once at home and once away for a total of four games each. This year it will be a six game series which is all well and good except now whoever wins the Cup will have an asterisk applied because scheduling imbalances mess up the competition. Seattle could very well play both Portland and Vancouver at home four times. That would give them a meaningful statistical home advantage over Vancouver and Portland. Ergo, the Cup means less to the supporters.

I won't say it'll become meaningless, but, especially for new fans, it's going to be really difficult for them to become enamored in the local rivalry because it's simply not fair.

The same argument holds up for the Supporters Shield. LA won it this year and was by and large considered to be the best team for it. Everything was fair. Next year? Well now there are other things to consider. Who did they play at home? Who did they play away from home? Were they an Eastern Conference team (largely regarded to be an easier conference)? These things matter now.

It also places much more weight on MLS Cup which MLS HQ probably wants anyway. The problem there is that the play offs are still flawed so that a bottom dwelling play off team can win it, thus cheapening the whole thing.

There were some fairly large changes in the format though, which I do like:

  1. Conference champions will now be decided by a 2-game home-away aggregate goal format (as opposed to the singular game from this year)
  2. MLS Cup will now be hosted by the team with the better regular season. (!)

That second point is what I'm most exited about. MLS Cup traditionally has been a neutral ground affair. But as more teams invested in stadiums MLS Cup will now be properly played at the home stadium of the play off team with high regular season points.

Anyway, I've probably rambled on enough. What do you think of the new format? Are you excited about playing Seattle and Vancouver more next year? Sound off!