Houston opens its brand-new BBVA Stadium Saturday, and I hope Coach Dominic Kinnearand his players are ready for a hard grind as well as a grand celebration.
The punishing 34-game MLS season is a tough slog through radical weather changes, jet lag, friendlies, external competitions and FIFA dates, and I know the people – and the computers – who make up the schedule don’t have it easy. There’s probably some good reason the Dynamo have played only six games while most of the other teams have played eight or nine, and a few more have 10 or 11.
I know that an odd number of teams complicates the scheduling, since at least on team has to be left out of a round of games, and an unbalanced schedule rather than the two-game, home-and-away format of past seasons lays on additional complications. And despite the undulations and quirks of the schedule at some point the situation will stabilize and the discrepancies in games played will shrink, to eventually zero out on the final day of the season.
But already teams have sat out two successive weekends, which unless half the team is hobbled by significant injuries no coach or player would ever want. Due up next for a long layoff are the Quakes, which finish a busy-but-not-ridiculous May of six games in 26 days on May 27. Then they don’t play again until June 20. Now that’s ridiculous.
The team formerly known as the Quakes is wandering through its own bizarre dimension. Maybe the schedule-makers wanted to ease Houston’s long road trip to start the season so its games were spread out, and taking away a home-game option for just one team – especially with an odd number of teams – can do funny things.
Still, playing on the first three weekends of the season and then sitting out the next two had to disrupt the Dynamo’s regimen. That it was able to post a 2-2-2 record – as compared to Sporting Kansas City’s 1-7-2 nightmare last year prior to the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park – gives it real hope of moving up the standings with all those games in hand.
Yet four of those come in a quick burst. Houston, which sat out – again – last weekend, plays in New York Wednesday to kick off a rigorous stretch of four games in 11 days that includes the first two at BBVA on Saturday and week from Tuesday. Then it plays at New England May 19 and returns home a week later to face the Galaxy.
Some semblance of scheduling sanity, you think? Not so fast.
A very light league schedule to accommodate the FIFA international dates in early June will send most of the teams, including Houston, to the sidelines. The Dynamo will play Spanish club Valencia May 31 to alleviate some of the inactivity, yet after a heavy May schedule that might be a game for the backups and a few young players.
Backloading the schedule with home games certainly worked out well for SKC last year, but it’s no guarantee of success. Just ask the Galaxy, which went winless (0-4-4) to open the 2003 season while Home Depot Center was being completed and finished 9-12-9.
As a 2011 MLS Cup finalist, Houston will also play in the next phase of the Concacaf Champions League and since the preliminary round has been eliminated, the Dynamo is guaranteed four more games starting July 31. That workload could offset some of the edge provided by all those home league games.
The Dynamo used the weekend to train for the first time at BBVA and rave reviews came forth. The team had a strong record at Robertson Stadium, and there’s little doubt that waves of orange will fill the new facility and generate much the same atmosphere enjoyed by SKC, Philly, Portland and teams on other freshly minted venues.
With a few wins in the new digs, the quirky start to 2012 will most likely be forgotten. But still, there persists that for the initial phase, at least, of the current season, something just ain’t right.
The Fire has played only seven games with no stadium permutations. What’s that all about?