MLS announced its plan for realignment earlier this week, adding Orlando City and NYCFC to the Eastern Conference, and moving Houston Dynamo and Sporting KC to the Western Conference. Chivas USA has gone bye-bye and will be replaced in the city of angels in 2017 by expansion LAFC. Herein, we’ll look at what that likely means for the Lions’ schedule in 2015.
Realignment into two 10-team conferences required the league to create an unbalanced schedule. Each team will play all the teams in the opposite conference once each, with five coming at home and five on the road. For Orlando City, a worst-case scenario would have the Lions traveling to Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose and Los Angeles. The Lions would host Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC, Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas.
Why is this the worst case? Well, one reason is if the schedule stacks up that way, it would mean that two of the more attractive teams in MLS—Seattle and L.A.—wouldn’t be on the home slate. Both would be potential games where Orlando City might open the upper deck of the Citrus Bowl, with stars like Clint Dempsey and Robbie Keane visiting. The other reason it would be bad for the Lions is that it would mean a lot of travel. A lot.
The best case would be the opposite, with the four westernmost teams visiting Orlando. Fans would see the two big draws in the Sounders and Galaxy, and have the lightest possible travel schedule.
The most equitable solution would be for MLS to split Seattle and LA Galaxy, with Orlando City visiting one and hosting the other. Then Portland and Vancouver, San Jose and Real Salt Lake, Colorado and Sporting KC, and Dallas and Houston could be similarly split pairings.
Teams will face all of their conference opponents twice—nine at home and nine away. That leaves six more games—three home and three away—to round out the 34-game schedule. Those six games will be intra-conference affairs.
If we again look at the worst case scenario, Orlando City would travel to the three top teams in the east a second time. That would be D.C. United, New England and Columbus. And, the worst teams to bring in for those three remaining home tilts, from a box office standpoint, would be the likes of Montreal, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Best case in the six additional in-conference games would be additional home tilts against attractive foes like NYCFC (with stars like David Villa and Frank Lampard), New York Red Bulls, and New England (Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen) or Toronto (Michael Bradley).
Again, the fair thing is to probably rotate those six extra intra-conference match-ups, splitting the teams that are most and least attractive home dates and/or competitive to achieve as much balance as possible.
At the end of the day, MLS can do whatever it wants to do. But this will at least prepare you for what may happen and how easy/rough the team has it when the 2015 schedule is eventually released.