The 2020 MLS schedule looks a bit different than any of its 24 predecessors. While the classic double-round-robin is long gone — and was short-lived, anyway — the league will now play its first-ever season in which every team doesn’t play every other at least once.
Exactly how big of an impact this will have remains to be seen, but a quick look at the schedule illustrates that it will have at least some effect. Teams’ schedules look more different from one another than they ever have before.
Here are some of the big takeaways from the Sounders’ 2020 slate (big h/t to Soccer Photogrametry on this):
No games on international dates...
The Sounders are one of 14 teams who won’t play any matches during official international dates. That’s more than half the league’s teams, and no one is playing more than three games, which is generally good and a significant improvement from years where MLS acted as though international dates didn’t exist.
... but June and July will be a doozy
But playing through the summer comes at a cost, and this year MLS teams are getting hit particularly hard. Both the European Championship and Copa America — yes, again — will be played this summer from June 12-July 12. The Sounders will have seven!!!! games squeezed into that relatively tight timeframe. A cursory check suggests this is a pretty standard workload for teams during this period of the season, but the Sounders could be missing Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay), Raul Ruidiaz (Peru), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) and Gustav Svensson (Sweden). I doubt anyone else will be missing such a significant chunk of their spine.
Toss in two killer road-trips for good measure
As if playing a bunch of games without some of their best players wasn’t bad enough, the Sounders will also be in the midst of a couple killer road trips. The first starts on June 13 with a Saturday match at the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Sounders then fly across the continent for a midweek encounter with the New England Revolution on June 17 before heading back across the country for a Sunday match at the LA Galaxy on June 21. After a couple home games against likely playoff teams New York City FC and Minnesota United, the Sounders go back on the road for another three-game road trip to the East Coast. It starts with a Wednesday match against the New York Red Bulls on July 8, followed by a Sunday match against Atlanta United on July 12, and concludes with a match at Toronto FC on July 18. Even in the best of circumstances, there aren’t a lot of automatic points in that stretch.
Playing on short rest will definitely be a thing
Even without accounting for Concacaf Champions League and potential U.S. Open Cup dates, the Sounders are already scheduled to play 12 matches on four days of rest or less. That’s tied with Atlanta for the most short-rest games in MLS, and the overall trend seems to be strongly correlated with not playing games during international dates. The Sounders did, however, manage to get all but three of those short-rest games to be played on four days, as opposed to three days of rest. Atlanta, by contrast, has just six of their short-rest games with that extra day.
The ones that got away...
Probably the way the new schedule format will most notably impact teams is the the quality of the teams each team doesn’t play. In the Sounders’ case, that means no matches against FC Cincinnati, Orlando City, and the Philadelphia Union. Cincinnati and Orlando were the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference last year, and all three teams had a combined points per game of just 1.14. Among Western Conference teams, no one is missing out on an easier set of opponents (at least when using last year’s numbers as a guide). Minnesota United, by contrast, misses three opponents who all made the playoffs and posted a collective PPG of 1.66. FC Dallas is the only other Western Conference team to miss out on playing three playoff teams from 2019.
Add all of this together — not to mention that Seattle will almost certainly travel more than any other team once CCL is factored in — and there’s a decent case to be made that no one is playing a tougher schedule than the Sounders. The Sounders clearly will have their work cut out for them.