The MLS has switched to an unbalanced schedule for 2012 to decrease travel, improve the play on the pitch, and bolster rivalries. Not many fans believe that this change is a good one, mainly because with more rivalry games being played, it may diminish the special feel these games have. Some fans thought that the 2011 schedule was perfect and did not need to be changed. But, with the addition of Montreal into the league, the MLS would have had to change the schedule so that each team would play 36 MLS games during the season. If the MLS had kept a balanced schedule it would have increased travel along with lengthening the MLS season.
But, with the MLS restrictive travel rules in place, teams are forced to fly coach while traveling around the country. These rules caused many logistical problems because of delayed or cancelled flights. With these types of unexpected hiccups in travel plans, this inevitability increased the travel time between games. This was one of the many factors increasing player fatigue while diminishing the quality of play during games. With the introduction of the unbalanced schedule, the MLS hopes to fix that problem. While this is a positive change, many fear that more games against rivals will make them less important.
Because of the new unbalanced schedule, teams will only play the opposing conference teams once and then play every team in their conference 3 times. This means that each team will have to play the same in conference teams away or at home an additional time. This would in turn increase rivalry games around the league. Some rivalry games are overhyped and do not have a huge following. But in the NW, we are in the center of a three way rivalry where the winner between the teams will win the Cascadia Cup. The Sounders got the shaft and will be playing 4 out of the 6 rivalry games in Portland and Vancouver. It may come as good news to some traveling supporters, but not everyone can afford to go to Portland and Vancouver twice. With the clubs not yet announcing whether they will increase the 500 away supporters limit, no one knows how many will travel to the Sounders four rivalry games.
In 2011, I personally traveled to and attended both NW away rivalry games. In both games the Sounders were able to win and I was able to go out to celebrate, spend the extra money, and stay in a hotel. While I was at the games in Portland and Vancouver, I witnessed many Sounder fans that were seated outside the designated 500 supporter seats. After talking to a few of these fans, they informed me that they were able to buy tickets from scalpers and off of sites like stubhub.
(The above video is of a traveling fans experience to Portland.)
It was an impressive site to see so much rave green spread throughout the stands in Vancouver, and some players even said it was like playing at home. With the added games at both Vancouver and Portland, less people might be able to travel, thus in turn make the atmosphere less intense as it was in 2011.
(The above video is of a traveling fans experience in Vancouver.)
And this is what many feared when they heard the MLS may change to an unbalanced schedule. With the MLS still growing and changing, we will see many changes that we don’t agree with and some that we do. But with less travel, the players and the league will benefit from an increased quality of play among teams. This positive change should help make those extra rivalry games more intense for all invovled.