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Los Angeles' schedule challenge
by Ridge Mahoney, May 3rd, 2012 1:57AM

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TAGS:  los angeles galaxy, mls

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[MLS SPOTLIGHT] A glance at the list of 34 Los Angeles Galaxy league games this season points out some possible ramifications of a new scheduling format. Is the imbalanced schedule adopted for the 2012 season likely to affect the balance of power in the Western Conference?

In the case of the Galaxy, it just might, given its mediocre start to the season and the excellent form shown by several conference rivals, particularly Seattle and San Jose. Since teams play each conference foe three times, in the head-to-head matchups one team will play an extra game at home. Which teams get those extra home games could have a significant effect on the standings, especially if those teams can exploit any edge they have over their tougher conference rivals.

In drawing up the 2012 schedule, MLS wielded the unbalanced schedule to maximize regional rivalries. It also tried to spread out the extra home games equitably, but the process can’t account for sharp improvement by teams from 2011 to 2012, and it is this factor that could turn against the Galaxy.

Fielding a weakened lineup lacking David Beckham,Todd Dunivant and Robbie Keane, the Galaxy’s record (3-4-1) dipped back below .500 when it lost, 2-0, to Seattle at CenturyLink Field Wednesday night. The result ended a run of six games against the Galaxy the Sounders had failed to win, and perhaps gave the players and Coach Sigi Schmid a boost of confidence about also winning when the Galaxy returns to Seattle on Aug. 5.

The Sounders plan to open up the entire stadium for that match, as they will do for the visits of Cascadia Cup rivals Portland and Vancouver. (Ironically, if Beckham plays for Great Britain in the Olympic Games, he could miss that match as well.)

The Galaxy must also play twice on the road against San Jose, which straggled to a seventh-place finish last year but is currently atop the Western Conference at 7-1-1 after outlasting D.C. United, 5-3, on Wednesday. For the June 30 encounter, the Quakes will eschew tiny Buck Shaw Stadium for the much larger Stanford Stadium and put on a post-game fireworks show. The teams will also play at Buck Shaw on Oct. 21.

Maybe the schedule-makers thought a good Seattle team would balance out a mediocre San Jose squad in regards to the Galaxy playing an extra road game against those teams, but right now, the Quakes look nothing like last year’s shaky strugglers. They will still have to make that extra home game count, of course, which ratchets up the importance of all three meetings between the teams.

Because the playoff slots will be allotted to the top five finishers in each conference, the intraconference games take on greater importance. Teams losing conference matches concede ground to their rivals, a critical factor as nine teams fight for five spots. Last year, the top four teams in the league on overall points came from the Western Conference, and while Sporting Kansas City may have a say in the Supporters’ Shield battle, the rest of the race looks Western.

MLS did give the Galaxy an extra home game against perennial contender Real Salt Lake, so at least during the regular season Los Angeles needs to make just one trip to Utah. However, on the opening weekend of the season, RSL thumped the Galaxy, 3-1, at Home Depot Center, so that edge is canceled out unless the Galaxy can win at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The Galaxy must also cope with opponents fueled by a double-dose of motivation. Already envied for its high-priced talent and glamorous persona, Los Angeles is the defending champion, and usually faces opponents bringing their ‘A’ game whenever possible. How else to explain Toronto FC’s stunning upset in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals? TFC hasn’t won a game since.

A stronger Galaxy lineup is likely Saturday for the visit to HDC of the Red Bulls. There is no corresponding game in New York for the Galaxy this year; one other effect of the imbalanced schedule is teams on both coasts won’t have to criss-cross the country so often to play Eastern teams. The Galaxy plays at Montreal, Chicago, Houston, Columbus and Kansas City; it hosts the other five Eastern teams.

Maybe reduced travel to the East can soften the impact of more tough games out West for a defending champion still finding its feet in 2012.



10 comments
  1. Tom Symonds
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 8:28 a.m.
    Why does LAG field an understrength (no Becks or Keano) side against a fierce rival (Seattle) in the strong Western Conference when it makes sense to 'rest' your stars (if they really need a rest after only 7 or 8 matches) against an understrength NYRB (no Henry or Marquez) on Saturday. Could it be that MLS Corporate believes only Becks and Keano will 'guarantee' a viewing audience for the nationally televised match on ESPN? Gotta keep them healthy, Bruce...the 'eyes of the world' will be watching on Saturday; need those ratings.

  1. StrikerBob Norman
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 10:04 a.m.
    Let's hope the unbalanced schedule is not ever seen again after this year. It would be poetic justice for Garber to see LA fail to make the playoffs as a result, with weak eastern teams lacking quality embarrasing the league on national tv. The supposed interest in maximizing regional rivalries is belied by the fact the Seattle has two away matches against Portland and Vancouver, and one at home, showing no appreciation for the history of the Cascadia Cup. This is the only true "regional rivalry" in the league with large, enthusiastic fan bases and the league knuckleheads peed all over it! Home and home next year, just like the big boys do it!

  1. Juan Salas
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 11:55 a.m.
    I'm certain we'll see the unbalanced schedule one more year until the 20th team enters the league. I'm sure next year all the games will be flipped. So two home games for LA vs SJ, Seattle and two road games vs RSL. While the team will also travel to NYRB and DCU since LA hosted this year.

  1. Robert Lopez
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 12:08 p.m.
    MLS continues to destroy soccer in this country. How do you screw up scheduling after seeing how easy it was to have a balanced schedule? Conferences are stupid, playoffs are stupid and manufactured corporate rivalries are stupid.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 12:43 p.m.
    To Robert Lopez: YOU HIT THE NAIL DAB SMACK ON THE HEAD! YOUR COMMENT IS SPOT ON!!! In this world of computer programs, I wonder if the MLS scheduling gurus are still using colored beads/beans to schedule the league play?

  1. John Soares
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 1:34 p.m.
    I would MUCH prefer a balanced schedule, period. Having said that; complaints about schedule, weather, field.... are a bit bogus. In the end both teams play with the same conditions. LA is having a very bad start. 13 goals aloud in 8 games, about half of their total in 2011. They just lost to (only 2 wins) Portland, at home. I'm sure Bruce will fix it soon. But it's not the schedule's fault. They looked mediocre yesterday.

  1. Mark Johnston
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 2:22 p.m.
    COULD NOT AGREE MORE AND I AM A GALAXY FAN. THE SCHEDULE THIS YEAR IS TERRIBLE. I CUT MY SEASON TICKET DOWN TO A PICK 6 BECAUSE OF IT. NO MONTREAL COMING TO LA, BRAND NEW TEAM ETC. ALL THE LEAGUE HAD TO DO TO ACCOMODATE 2 MORE LEAGUE GAMES WAS TO CUT THE PLAYOFFS BACK BY 2 GAMES TO WHAT THE PLAYOFFS HAD BEEN IN PRIOR YEARS. THEY HAVE YET TO LEARN IT IS EASIER TO SELL TICKETS TO REGULAR SEASON GAMES THAN SHORT NOTICE TO PLAYOFFS. PLUS WITH THE GREATLY EXPANDED AND IMPROVED US OPEN CUP THIS YEAR, THAT IS THE TRUE NATONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AND SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH. IS IT SO HARD TO FOLLOW TRADITIONS AS SET BY THE REST OF THE WORLD ?

  1. Eugene Hiigel
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 2:44 p.m.
    I am not defending the MLS schedule makers though I do understand they have to deal with an odd number of teams, two or three teams without control of their venues, travel expenses and player wear and tear, etc. However, the computer here is overstated as a solution---amazingly even the best run US sport (clearly the NFL) still does scheduling by hand, as does MLB, the NBA and the NHL). As this article about the NFL states "scheduling is till more an art than a science".

  1. Ken Jamieson
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 6:57 p.m.
    What is the real reason for LA's dismal start, the unbalanced schedule or improvement of their opponnents? I have a tendancy to believe that LA is not keeping up with its competition, all teams in the west face basically the same challenge. Considering LA and Chivas are the only teams that will play six games in the one stadium this year, scheduling should be the least of their excuses especially with the reduced travel to the east.

  1. Margaret Manning
    commented on: May 3, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.
    Let's see--Seattle embarrassed the Galaxy last night before 39,000 fans, even after losing its keeper at the half, and the story is about how tough the schedule is on the Galaxy? Not sure how to break this to you, but the schedule is hard on everyone in the Western Conference, because Western teams are better than Eastern teams.


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