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MLS Schedule Details Matter

Cascadia road trips rock. How they are distributed on a schedule is a detail that matters.
Cascadia road trips rock. How they are distributed on a schedule is a detail that matters.

Spend too much time examining the MLS scheduling format and the philosophies therein, and one will inevitably fall down a logical rabbit hole - though, to be fair, this doesn't differ significantly from other "major-league" North American sports.

MLS version 3.0, or 2.1, or whatever we are up to, has become all about "local rivalries", or so it seems. Never mind that this is a spiritual epiphany that seems to have suddenly occurred to Don Garber, et al. once Seattle belatedly joined the League - causing a rush to "promote" the much deserving municipalities of Portland and Vancouver, which, in turn gives the Current Era an admittedly self-indulgent Seattle/NW-centric feel. (I write for a Sounder blog, popular amongst Sounder supporters and fans, and live in a world where EVERYTHING is Seattle/NW centric. Nonetheless, I openly invite rival supporter/fans to take me out of context and blow this utterly self-indulgent opinion piece disguised as "analysis" completely out of perspective)

It could also just as easily be said that the Current Era is just as likely all about "the supporters". This is certainly the case insofar as a hallmark of the last few years is an open effort - or at least an ostensible one - to make MLS culture seem less "manufactured". In other words, take what is already there and nurture it, rather than try to start from scratch and ignore the actual history soccer-football has in this country (which is far more diverse than many people seem to realize).

There is no doubt that MLS has done a fantastic job at growing the game in the USA/Canada - the results speak for themselves. Even so, things that work in a macro sense can still fail in the micro. The basic idea is that once you get the machine working you can fine tune it and get it running better and better. This is a process that is actually quite intuitive and is fundamentally built into the way we handle a lot of things in our daily lives. So a lot of us knew that we needed to tolerate things like 10-team, 32-match seasons which resulted in 8 teams "making" the playoffs and asinine shootout rules. We knew better things were coming... or at least we could reasonably hope.

Given all this, it seems an odd contrast that we face the reality of unbalanced schedules and a geographical segregation in the Era. The very people who it would seem most stand to benefit from unbalanced, "local rivalry" influenced schedules - the supporters - seem to be almost dead set against it. This makes intuitive sense to me, as a supporter, but find myself having a hard time explaining why. And thus we can help define a disconnect.

Many people would have you believe that a disconnect exists when groups of people don't understand each other's ideas, but this actually misses the point. Understanding an idea is one thing; I have no difficulty "understanding" philosophies I ardently disagree with. The barrier - and thus the disconnect - arises when one, or both, or all, of the groups involved can't understand the other'[s] Way of Thinking. In other words, you may have what you feel is a great idea, I may think it's a shitty idea. You will say I don't "understand" your idea. I will say I do and its still shitty. We'll both walk away angry and frustrated, wondering why the other can't comprehend the "truth" about the idea.

Which leads us all to the 2012 MLS schedule. From where I sit the fact that MLS completely bolloxed the Cascadia Cup is essentially an unforgivable sin. I am left to mutter to myself things like "it's about local rivalries, my ass" and eye Garber, et. al. with genuine disdain (despite the fact I am perfectly aware of all the good things he/they have done for soccer-football).

Not to put to fine a point in it, but the 2012 schedule contains a flaw so egregious I have a hard time believing that it was possibly accepted by the three Cascadia clubs. What has seemingly been written into the schedule for the near-term is that the Cascadia Cup itself is now intrinsically unbalanced.

I am basing my reasoning on two assumptions. I think that they are logical and sound assumptions - to the point where I am essentially accepting them as reality - but they are still nonetheless assumptions. The first is that the idea of playing "local rivals" 3 times a year is something that will be around for a while (as I outlined in a previous post), and the idea that with odd numbers of matches against teams in any given year, over any 2-year period any one team will have an equal number of home matches against any other team (this is a complicated way of expressing that if I play there this year, They will play here next year... and if I play them twice there and once here this year... etc.).

Like most people, the first thing I looked at is when we would play our Cascadia rivals, expecting to see two home matches against one of them, and two road matches against the other. What I did NOT expect to see is that one Cascadia team will have 4 home matches and another 4 road matches. This, as the Chewbacca defense clearly states, Does Not Make Sense. In MLS V3.0 (or 2.1 or whatever) Garber, et. al. ought to be trusted by getting at least THIS detail correct. They have forced unbalanced schedules, too many playoff teams, a questionable championship tournament, and an odd aging former-European superstar complex all down our throats.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the schedule.

My objection is not that the Sounders have four road Cascadia matches. Frankly, road Cascadia matches are great fun - and easier on the pocketbook that even San Jose or Salt Lake - our next-closest "rivals." Yes, there is the dilution effect, which is best explained as the "part of what makes Christmas so awesome is that "it only happens once a year" concept. I had resigned myself to the fact we would no longer have a simple "home and away" against our "local rivals" and had come to an odd acceptance of it. (truth is, I saw this type of format as an inevitable a year ago). What I had was reasonable hope that Cascadia would at least remain partially intact, with each team having 3 home and 3 away. No this...this... is just F-edup.

Its not just this year, as this seems to lock Cascadia into a cycle in which even years will see the Timbers with 4 home matches and odd years the Sounders with 4 home matches. Granted, there is the possibility that when the 20th team is added (in 2014 I would suppose) there will be a "reset" on the scheduling and 2012 and 2013 will be a "two-off" in the cycle. But this just ads to the concern. What other things will MLS get wrong?!

Another way to look at it is like this.

There is an old bromide about certain big-time musical acts including in their contracts with show venues certain clauses that prohibit specific esoteric items from being provided to the band. The most common iteration is that a band will demand a bowl of M&M's, but with a specific color removed. This has long been associated with the eccentricity and ego commonly associated with performers, but in fact it serves another purpose. High achieving people are very often perfectionists, and the details are important, vital, even, as in some cases they can be the difference between a bad show and a good one. sound, lighting, equipment, all need to be just right. If a performer walks into his dressing room and sees a certain color of M&M's, they can be immediately alerted that the people at this venue may not be as detail oriented as they would like, and other, more serious, problems may arise.

So I guess what I'm saying is, the first thing I did when I saw the schedule is look at the bowl of M&M's.

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