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Tweaked format highlights 2008 schedule
by Ridge Mahoney, February 8th, 2008 8:30AM
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[MLS] A stadium delay in San Jose, a revamping of its scheduling format, and the usual issues of conflicts and TV considerations forced MLS to push back the release of its 2008 schedule until Thursday.

The season kicks off March 29 and concludes Nov. 23 with MLS Cup 2008 at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The league is back to an even number of teams, 14, after playing with 13 last season, yet deviated somewhat from its intended format.

At MLS Cup 2007, deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said each team would play 30 games based on the following formula: two games against each league opponent (two times 13 for 26 games) plus an extra home and away match with two designated rivals (two times two equals four games).

Instead, a team will play four of its conference rivals three times for a total of 12 games, and everybody else twice (18 games) to make up the 30. As an example, expansion San Jose will play its California rivals Los Angeles and Chivas USA, as well as Western Conference foes Houston and Real Salt Lake, three times; and the other nine teams twice.

The league has played an unbalanced schedule the past few years - with an odd number of games against a few teams -- and not until it expands to 16 teams could it possibly play each team an equal number of times. That's not saying it will, only that it could.

The four national broadcast partners - ESPN/ABC, Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports en Espanol, HdNet, and TeleFutura - will telecast 113 of the 210 games. ESPN2 telecasts will also air on ESPNDeportes, except for the All-Star Game.

ESPN2 and TeleFutura will televise the July 24 All-Star Game from BMO Field in Toronto, as well as MLS Cup 2008. ABC will air a unique doubleheader June 29: D.C. United-Los Angeles, a matchup of the 1996 and 1999 championship games, followed by the European Championship final from Vienna, Austria.

The Thursday night telecasts introduced by ESPN2 last year are back, with a rivalry doubleheader opening the slate April 3. Chicago hosts New England in the Eastern Conference leg, followed by the revival of the Quakes-Galaxy (a.k.a. Smurfs vs. Gals) bitterness at HDC.

Also getting into the doubleheader act is Fox Soccer Channel, which last year unveiled the first three-hour block of MLS programming in league history. On opening day, FSC and FSE will show New England-Houston, followed by Colorado-Los Angeles, with 30-minute pregame and postgame shows adding up to a five-hour block.

For the rest of the season, FSC will wrap its format of wrapping the pregame and postgame shows around one Saturday match each week. TeleFutura will air games on Sundays, HDNet has 29 Saturday telecasts and one Friday (July 4) match.

Regional broadcasts will again be available on the Direct Kick package, with details to be announced at a later date.


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