Starting next season, the Rapids will cease playing every team in Major League Soccer at least once, according to an announcement made by the league Monday.
The shift in scheduling comes as a result of two new expansion franchises – Inter Miami C.F. and Nashville S.C. – joining MLS in advance of 2020. With twenty-six total clubs split evenly across two conferences, it was impossible for the league’s existing scheduling procedure to continue without a dramatic change. While MLS has typically required teams to play two matches against all conference opponents, an already-constrained schedule of thirty-four games and continuous expansion have put the league in a tenuous position.
Details surrounding the new schedule are vague, but the gist of it all is that the Rapids will play every Western Conference team twice, and ten Eastern Conference teams once. Furthermore, the league guarantees that all teams will continue to have an equal number of home and away matches.
Nashville: A Western Rival?
As part of the alignment, Nashville has joined the Western Conference and will appear twice on Colorado’s schedule once it’s released to the public. This all-but-guarantees that supporters will witness a home match featuring the return of Colorado’s only MLS Cup-winning manager, Gary Smith.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to see a team from Tennessee competing primarily against conference rivals two time zones away. However, it’s unlikely that Nashville will remain in the “Western” Conference for many years. With the imminent arrivals of Austin F.C., Sacramento Republic, and St. Louis, more conference re-alignment is expected to come.
Strength of (Unbalanced) Schedules
The league schedule in MLS has been unbalanced for quite some time and this change only complicates matters further. With three Eastern opponents dropping off Colorado’s 2020 schedule, the league must tread carefully as it allocates cross-conference matches. Cries about “strength of schedule” – a phrase rarely applied to the world’s top flights – will become an oft-cited talking point in the United States. Think of the three Eastern clubs that would have missed out on a match against the 2019 LAFC juggernaut had the schedule shift taken place a year earlier. What if a Western team managed to avoid both Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls in 2018?
If there’s no method to the madness of assigning cross-country rivalries, the league might end up playing favorites in interconference play – a problem that will only further persevere with future expansion.
Image Credit: @MLS