The Philadelphia Union has released its schedule for 2012. A downloadable file containing the entire schedule can be found here. With the addition of the Montreal Impact to the Eastern Conference this year, MLS has moved to a conference based schedule. Each team will play 34 games, but instead of the balance schedule we enjoyed last year, we will be seeing the following:
Due to the higher number of clubs in the Eastern Conference, each club will play a total of 25 conference matches. Each club will play seven of their conference opponents three times each (21 total games) and the remaining two conference opponents twice each (4 games). East teams will then play the nine West teams once each. Those nine games will be split either five at home and four away or vice versa. The locations will be reversed in 2013.
Western Conference clubs will play each other three times, totaling 24 matches. They will play four conference opponents twice at home and once away, and play the other four conference opponents twice away and once at home. The location arrangement will be reversed in 2013. West clubs will complete their schedule by playing each of the 10 Eastern Conference clubs once. Five of matches will be at home and five will be on the road. Again, the arrangement will be reversed in 2013.
The Philadelphia Union is also scheduled for pre-season activity including training in Orlando, Florida from February 15-19 and a February 18 match against the Orlando City Lions.
The Union will play the Colorado Rapids, Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake at home in 2012. The Los Angeles Galaxy and other West teams will be faced on the road only. The Union will see East rivals New York Red Bulls and DC United three times – twice at home and once on the road. The Sons of Ben will have twice the fun this year tormenting Pink Cow and Eagles supporters.
The schedule also thankfully keeps weeknight home games to a minimum. We will be at PPL on the following nights: Friday, August 24 versus Real Salt Lake (this barely counts as a weeknight), Wednesday, August 29 versus Columbus Crew, and Thursday, September 20 versus DC. The Union will contend with the Texas heat and humidity with away games at FC Dallas on May, 19 and Houston Dynamo on Jun 30 and October 20. Extreme heat hopefully will only be a factor at the June 30 game.
The Union faces a challenging start to the season with an opener in Portland versus the Timbers on Monday, March 12. The team will have its home opener Sunday, March 18 versus the Colorado Rapids. They follow-up with an away game at the Chicago Fire on March 24 and a home game with the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 31. The Union also have a difficult run into the playoffs in October with late season matchups against the New England Revolution (home), Sporting Kansas City (away) and New York (home). The game against the Pink Cows on Saturday, October 27, will be the last of the regular season.
Although I would prefer a balanced schedule, the conference based schedule is inevitable if MLS has designs on expanding past twenty teams. A balance schedule is difficult to maintain with a large number of teams, and therefore, games. A conference based schedule also helps control travel costs and player fatigue and helps foster regional rivalries. Although no twentieth team has yet been announced, the league was again talking about a second team in New York (because one team isn’t bad enough) around the time of MLS Cup. MLS Cup in 2012 will be hosted by the finalist with the most points during the regular season. This should be a big improvement over the neutral site concept the league has been using. At least the Cup final will be hosted in a city where the fans have a vested interest in the outcome. Changes are also in store for the playoff format, but that will be the subject of another post.Twitter It!