2015 MLS Schedule Majorly Lacking Sense
Major League Soccer endured a rather peculiar week last week, as they ramp up preparation to the 2015 MLS season.
The league officially unveiled the 2015 schedule, after Ticketmaster inadvertently leaked the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City home fixtures. The two leaks led to supporters across the country looking at the possibility of their big 2015 away trip, only for the full schedule to largely bring those hopes crashing down.
The new television deal with Fox, ESPN and Univision has certainly left its impression on the fixtures, something that fans in England have consistently been very vocal in their displeasure for. Arsenal fans would complain that they see a traditional 3pm Saturday kick-off as often as they see a league title. Getting down to the lower levels of professional football, and fans in the Vanarama Conference groan at their games, aired on BT Sport, being moved to Thursday nights.
When Luton were a Conference side, they would still take over 1,000 fans to away games. Thursday nights became a bad joke on both ends, as Hatters fans were unable to travel to certain games with their daily life, and those clubs missed out on the one game most considered their big pay day.
For MLS fans, there are extremely limited options for away travel. When I used to travel to local Luton Town away games, the cost would be in the region of a share of gas money on a one or two hour drive and a $20 ticket.
For me to travel to see FC Dallas take on Houston Dynamo, in the closest away fixture, it would mean driving five hours. No-one likes driving ten hours in a day, so add a hotel room. The only fixture at BBVA Compass Stadium is on a Friday, so throw in a day off work for good measure. The culture of traveling fans, is to convert the two hours you watch the game into a full weekend, and experience the host city - something we very rarely do in England.
Friday and Sunday ties will certainly make this difficult, and in turn drastically affects the atmosphere at a number of games. The Texas Derby isn't the biggest of MLS rivalries, although the atmosphere is still increased with the presence of both clubs' supporters. However, of the three fixtures, two will be on a Friday and the other on Sunday.
Even the opening game of the two new teams, Orlando City and New York City, has fallen victim to this scheduling faux pas. With the manufactured rivalry Don Garber seeks to create between his personal stamp on his home town and the sons of Disney, wouldn't it be marvellous to see two sets of fans in a vocal battle from the stands?
Well tough luck, a lot of those New Yorkers won't be able to take Monday 9th March off work in order to make the game. Their games also fall on Fridays and Sundays exclusively, which probably won't help building up the Mickey Mouse Derby.
This is a theme for the traditional rivalry games. Of the 31 ties MLS has identified as a rivalry (having ignored the Columbus/Dallas Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup and Seattle/San Jose Heritage Cup), just 13 take place on a Saturday. Even the 'unofficial' rivalries are affected, as all three ties between FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids will take place on Friday nights. Chicago face Sporting Kansas City, in their only meeting, on a Sunday. They also face their closest local rivals, Columbus Crew, on a Friday, Sunday and Wednesday. Two of these ties are back-to-back on the fixture list. NYCFC and Philly similarly play twice in five days, and FC Dallas will face Vancouver on consecutive Wednesdays.
In this modern age, generating fixtures is both an art and, at the same time, very simple.
Teams send in their requests, such as FC Dallas always playing a 4th July home game, NYCFC avoiding the Yankees' schedule, and the two New York teams not playing in the NY/NJ area on the same day. Even amateur leagues deal with these obstacles, and use the same software as the big leagues.
It's really not difficult to make a schedule with a better spread of fixtures. The Sunday double-headers and Friday evening Univision games, although a great idea, are stepping on the fans that have built the league over the past two decades to reach a few more casual viewers.
It's the same cavelier attitude that many have cited with the Chivas USA collapse, and the New York City transfer debacle.
On that note. Frank Lampard, Oy!