Well I knew it would be interesting, given all the changes to the format of the season, but I have to admit that the biggest surprise was that MLS Cup will be held on Dec 1st. First this is huge because it is a Saturday and not on a Sunday, so there will be no date issues when RSL hosts the match, BTW the normal high in Salt Lake on December 1st is 42 degrees, the normal low is 25, the record high is 69 and the record low is 6.
So the first thing that stuck out to me was TV, and while I may think it doesn't best represent the league, I do understand why ESPN/ESPN2 have either the LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, or Seattle Sounders as part of all but 3 of their scheduled broadcast matches in 2012. Two are the top two TV markets in the US, they also have the two highest payrolls and some of the highest profile players in the league. Seattle is also a top 15 TV market, but nobody can argue that they have the highest attendance and the best recognition in their market of any MLS team, and you will never see a Sounders home match with anything less than a full house. I do love that NBC/NBC Sports will broadcast 41 matches in 2012, that is double the number that will be on ESPN/ESPN2.
I found some humor that MLS is promoting the LAG vs. NYRB match as a replay of a heated playoff rivalry, really? LA won both matches, and it was never in doubt, but whatever helps you try to make that more than a DP-fest, go for it. I also thought it was funny that MLS officials mentioned at MLS Cup that midweek matches now were drawing very well, but then did as much as they could to avoid them, thus making the season longer. Yet there was room for all the FIFA dates, and I believe every team has at least 2 bye weekends (wanna bet many are leveraged for international friendlies? Hint LA is off August 18th)
I will give MLS some huge credit for their very well done download system, you can download your teams schedule to mobile devices and various other calendar programs. That is very cool.
Some RSL specific thoughts after the jump:
RSL has 3 weekends without matches, but they have 7 of 34 matches (20%) on either Wednesday or Thursday nights (one is the July 4th home match against Seattle). For Comparison Los Angeles plays 6 midweek matches, as do New York, Seattle and a majority of other teams I looked at.
A couple of things look a bit strange given that MLS went with this new format to avoid travel and fatigue, yet they have RSL in 6 matches in April, including 3 in 7 days ( at San Jose, at FC Dallas, home against Toronto FC), and then again in July with 6 matches including 3 in 7 days (at San Jose, at Seattle, home against Colorado). There are actually several times where the schedule is very crowed, which with the 3 bye weekends is kinda confusing but could be helpful with Champions League (should we get past the qualification matches)
You will also notice that RSL faces both of the teams that finished above them in 2011 on the road twice, both LA and Seattle, those teams were a combined 21-4-9 at home and 16-8-10 on the road. RSL also gets to play host to two very solid road teams, FC Dallas and Colorado, both of them had 6-7-4 road records in 2011 (only 2 MLS teams won more matches on the road than they did). We do get to face Vancouver twice at home, they were 0-12-5 on the road last year, as well as the Portland Timbers who were 2-9-6 away from home in 2011.
There is no way I can slice or dice this schedule that I like, there wasn't ever going to be a way that MLS could present it with this new format that I would like and sure enough I don't like it. Not that we are given any voice or choice as fans about it. I do find some real hypocrisy from MLS who said they wanted to reduce travel so teams would be at the top of their games at the end of the season, yet we have the longest season in MLS history, to the point that MLS Cup has to be moved into December to fit it all in, so we start earlier and end earlier but it was all to make the fatigue of players less? Something doesn't add up for me, but I am sure the apologist will say it is about more time off between matches, while the reality is that just adds up to more practice sessions and while it might aid a bit in recovery, it also means 3-4 weeks more work for most players.
It will be an interesting season for sure, I will predict now that the best record in MLS will be in the East this year, despite the better teams being in the West. I predict that we will see MLS again change the DP rules, and that LA and New York will sign yet another DP before the playoffs. For RSL the reality is simple, don't lose at home, get a couple more road wins and find a way to make MLS Cup at Rio Tinto a reality.
OFF MY SOAPBOX