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Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Antigua Barracuda FC, Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions FC, Harrisburg City Islanders, Los Angeles Blues, Orlando City, Phoenix FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Recent, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Tampa Bay FC, USL PRO, Wilmington Hammerheads | 2 comments

Scrutinizing the 2013 USL Pro Schedule

Scrutinizing the 2013 USL Pro Schedule

 

The 2013 USL Pro schedule was released on the heels of the official announcement of the merger between USL Pro and the MLS reserves.  Although most of the attention was garnered by the merger, the release of the schedule did not go unnoticed.  Fans on several internet sites seemed to have plenty to say about the schedule, and not all of it was positive.  This prompted me to take an in-depth look at the schedule.  I was also able to contact Tim Holt, president of USL, to get his response to what I uncovered.

Balance Achieved

This year each team will play once at home and once away against each of the other teams in USL Pro with the exception of Antigua.  Additionally, each team except Antigua will play a home-and-away against an MLS reserve team, which will count in the USL Pro standings.  Antigua will play all 26 of its matches on the road.

In the minds of many fans, fashioning the schedule in this fashion brings balance and fairness to the league.  It prevents some teams from being rewarded with the luxury of playing several matches against lower-quality opponents while facing top-tier competition on few occasions.  It also eliminates teams from being punished by the converse.  This wasn’t true last year when the Dayton Dutch Lions, for example, faced Rochester (2nd in 2012 regular season) 4 times, while playing Antigua (11th in regular season) just once.

Tim Holt said that the numbers simply worked out to have everybody play everybody twice.  He described it as a fortunate set of circumstances based on the number of teams in the league and the number of games that the board of governors desired to have teams play.

Balance Sustained?

Holt’s comments seem to serve as a caution to those fans who hope to see this type of scheduling continue into the future.  The expansion Sacramento franchise will be joining the league in 2014.  There may also be an increased presence from MLS reserve clubs opting to start their own USL Pro teams.  The size of the league in the future will certainly prohibit a home-and-away format in a single USL Pro table.

With this in mind, Holt expounded upon the vision for the league in the future.  Given the immense area of the United States, the objective is to move toward regional competition with western, central, and eastern conferences.  The league might try to establish a balanced schedule within each conference.  He listed 2 primary reasons that the league wants to head in this direction.  The first is to reduce travel costs and the physical toll on players associated with traveling.  The second is to increase the number of fans that travel to away games and promote the formation of rivalries.

Balance Really Achieved?

It’s would be easy to simply claim that the schedule is balanced based on the fact that every team plays every other team the same number of times.  Superficially, this is true, but the truth is rarely that easy or simple.  There are a number of other factors to consider before declaring that real balance has been attained.  I’m supposing that fans of Antigua Barracuda don’t consider this to be a balanced schedule.

It makes sense that teams playing on consecutive days have a competitive disadvantage compared to teams that don’t play on back-to-back dates.  The wear and tear of playing the night before ought to diminish a team’s chances of performing well in a match the next day.  Based on an analysis of 2012 USL Pro results conducted over at Doherty Soccer, this line of thinking seems to hold up.  With this in mind I decided to look at how many times teams are scheduled to play on back-to-back days in 2013.

Too much time between games, though, might allow some rust to form.  Training is fine, but teams need real competition to stay sharp and truly develop.  I also examined the number of off days between matches.

Most of the teams are scheduled to play the same number of home and away games.  It stands to reason that it’s important when those games are played.  Extended travel has the potential to wreak havoc on a player.  Extremely extended travel has the potential to wreck momentum that has been built in a fan base.  I’ve looked at the length of road trips and home stands for each team.

Antigua Barracuda

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 3 (occurring in 3 consecutive weeks)
  • Average number of off days between games: 4 (4.18 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 12 (3 times. Also has breaks of 11 and 10 games)

Antigua plays its entire schedule on the road, but will return home at various times throughout the season to rest and train.  This schedule is completely off kilter with respect to the rest of the league.

Charleston Battery

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 2
  • Average number of off days between games: 3.96 (2.55 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 12 (1 time.  Next highest total is 7)
  • Longest home stand: 4 games
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 2 games
  • Shortest road trip: 2 games

Charlotte Eagles

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 3 (2 of these are on consecutive weekends)
  • Average number of off days between games: 4.04 (2.58 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 9 (1 time.  Next highest total is 8, which happens twice)
  • Longest home stand: 5 games (from July 13 to August 2)
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 5 games (from June 22 to July 4)
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Dayton Dutch Lions

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 4 (2 of these are on consecutive weekends)
  • Average number of off days between games: 3.76 (2.45 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 7 (3 times.)
  • Longest home stand: 4 games
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 3 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Harrisburg City Islanders

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 2
  • Average number of off days between games: 4.04 (2.18 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 7 (3 times.)
  • Longest home stand: 5 games (from June 5 to June 28)
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 3 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Los Angeles Blues

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 1
  • Average number of off days between games: 4.88 (4.21 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 20 (Followed immediately by a 10 game break.)
  • Longest home stand: 4 games
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 3 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Los Angeles has the fewest number of back-to-back games, but this advantage is more than offset by playing only 1 USL Pro match between June 2 and July 3.

Orlando City

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 2
  • Average number of off days between games: 4.28 (4.33 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 19 (Also have breaks of 13 and 12 games.)
  • Longest home stand: 4 games
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 3 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Orlando’s schedule has features several games played within a short period of time with 3 large breaks in USL Pro competitive action.

Phoenix Wolves

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 2
  • Average number of off days between games: 4.84 (2.52 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 11
  • Longest home stand: 3 games
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 4 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 2
  • Average number of off days between games: 5.33 (2.95 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 11 (twice)
  • Longest home stand: 6 games (May 9 through June 15)
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 5 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Pittsburgh begins the season playing 6 out of 7 matches on the road.  The team then plays 11 of the next 12 at their newly constructed home.  This is followed by another 4 game road trip.  Things could be a lot worse for the Riverhounds.

Richmond Kickers

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 4
  • Average number of off days between games: 5 (2.93 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 13
  • Longest home stand: 8 games (May 4 through June 22)
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 8 games (June 28 through July 23)
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Kickers fans seem to have a legitimate reason to complain about the schedule.  Start with the fact they are tied for the most number of back-to-back games.  Couple that with the fact that they have a 13 day break without a USL Pro match.  Top it off by considering that they play only 3 games at home after June 22.  That’s a tough way to end the season and make a push for the playoffs.

Rochester Rhinos

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 4 (Twice in consecutive weeks to start the season)
  • Average number of off days between games: 4.33 (2.25 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 7
  • Longest home stand: 5 games (June 7 through June 29)
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 5 games (April 13 through April 27)
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

The Rochester faithful also have an ax to grind.  It’s similar to the Richmond schedule, but in reverse order and not quite as extreme.  The Rhinos start the season with 5 straight road games and only 3 of the first 11 at home.  They also are tied for the most sets of back-to-back games.

VSI Tampa Bay

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 2 (Twice in consecutive weeks to start the season)
  • Average number of off days between games: 4.57 (4.57 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 20 (and another break of 14 games)
  • Longest home stand: 5 games (May 3 through June 9)
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 4 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Tampa Bay only plays 2 games in the month of May.

Wilmington Hammerheads

  • Sets of back-to-back games: 3
  • Average number of off days between games: 3.71 (2.27 std dev)
  • Longest number of off days between games: 7
  • Longest home stand: 3 games
  • Shortest home stand: 1 game
  • Longest road trip: 3 games
  • Shortest road trip: 1 game

Charleston, Charlotte, Dayton, Harrisburg, Phoenix, Wilmington, and Pittsburgh (to a large extent) have schedules that are fairly indistinguishable from one another.  There are some teams, though, with long home stands and long road trips.  Others have big gaps in the USL Pro schedule.  Some teams play more consecutive dates than others.

I talked with Tim Holt about some of the circumstances that lead to half the league having such variance from the other half.  Here are some of the reasons that he gave to me:

  1. Availability of home venues.  Some of the teams aren’t the primary, or even secondary, tenants of their facilities.  This being the case, certain dates could not be scheduled at those locations.
  2. The league attempted to accommodate how teams requested to travel.  There are some teams that actually prefer to play on back-to-back dates when on the road.
  3. The league tried to minimize games played during the middle of the week.
  4. The schedules of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and other exhibition matches had to be considered.

Holt stated that fans aren’t privy to all of the information that is available to league when a schedule is constructed.  He indicated that to look at the USL Pro schedule in a vacuum is to miss a large part of the story.

So, What About Antigua?

When asked why Antigua is playing all of its games on the road in 2013, Holt responded that Antigua is in a unique situation, and there are challenges stemming from being a relatively new franchise and being geographically remote.  He asserted that this is “not a step back, it’s a step sideways” for the Barracuda squad.  He said that the league and the team are searching for ways to make the club viable in the long term.  One short-term solution is to have each of the other 12 clubs support some of the travel costs when Antigua visits their cities for the second time in 2013.

Playoffs Expanded

In addition to announcing the regular season schedule, the league announced the format for the playoffs.  In 2013 the USL Pro playoffs will include the top 8 teams from the regular season competing in a single-elimination tournament to determine a champion.  This is an increase in the number of teams from 6 in 2012.

Fans of all sports seem to have an opinion when the league begins to tinker with the playoff format.  One argument asserts that increasing the number of teams in the playoffs diminishes the value of the regular season.  Tim Holt offers this line of thinking as a counterargument.  More teams in the playoffs means that more teams are playing meaningful games deeper into the season.

Some of you might be concerned that the top 2 finishers in the regular season won’t get a bye-week and automatic insertion into the semi-finals.  Holt reminded me that neither team that had a bye in  2012 was able to emerge victorious in their semi-final matches.  Perhaps having a bye is not such a big advantage?

What to Think?

Balance has been imparted into the schedule in the sense that each team plays each of the others at home and away with the exception of Antigua.  It would appear, though, that the way those games were scheduled leaves something to be desired for a significant number of teams and their fan bases.  Mr. Holt was forthright in his explanation of how the schedule came together, and it seems like the league put forth an honest effort to make the puzzle pieces fit to form a pleasing picture.  Nonetheless, I understand the indignation of some of the fans.

2 Comments

  1. Schedule is definitely better than last season, some things are hard to improve and for the traveling clubs it may not be ideal to have back to back games but it does cut travel costs down for the clubs, most of which operate in the red anyway.

    • Oh, this is definitely a lot better than last year. You’re also right about the financial impact of playing back-to-back games on the road. Mr. Holt indicated that some teams request back-to-back games during road trips to help reduce operation costs. Thanks for chiming in!

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