The big news dropped yesterday, with the full 2018 MLS regular season schedule now out for all teams, including expansion side Los Angeles Football Club. With a day to stew on it, here are four observations from the slate ahead.
Starting as road warriors
LAFC start with six straight road games, and many of those games in themselves are no joke, with the opener at CenturyLink Field against MLS Cup finalist Seattle Sounders, followed by a trip to the heights of Real Salt Lake, the first rivalry game against the LA Galaxy, another big trip to an intimidating stadium against Atlanta United, a trip to British Columbia to take on Vancouver Whitecaps, and a cross-continental trip to face the Montreal Impact. Whew.
On one hand, getting some of these road ties out of the way straight away could be a blessing, and given the time needed to make sure Banc of California Stadium will be ready to open, six games isn’t as many as it might have been — in contrast, D.C. United won’t be opening their own stadium this year until July 14, with only two “home” games in alternate venues prior to that. Add to that the fact that LAFC will surely understand the task ahead of them and presumably will be preparing as much as possible to mitigate having to basically play on the road for two months straight.
But, it’s worth noting that this long road trip is a risk. If LAFC start really badly in these six challenging games, it could set the tone for a typical (bad) MLS expansion season, rather than the slump-busting campaign they are clearly trying to attain.
Day games galore
Prior to last season, there had been a trend in MLS where nearly all games were held at night, local time. Last year, they started moving away from that, to a model where games were spread out over the day more, and the establishment of the Sunday doubleheader on national TV meant there were more day games overall on the calendar.
In 2018, I count 13 games that will kick off at 4 pm PT or earlier. Of course, six of those games will take place in the Eastern or Central time zones, which of course also adds some day games because of the time change. Still, roughly a third of LAFC’s schedule will be started or played fully during the day, and it will be interesting to see how that impacts viewership and on-field performance, if at all. At the very least, for those whose jobs conflict with games, having a variety of kickoff times should help appeal to a wider audience, even if there are bound to be schedule conflicts on some dates for some folks.
Three rivalry games
The headline for many was the dates of the games against the LA Galaxy: March 31 away, July 26 at home, and August 24 away. LAFC got a lot of attention for the ribbing of those away games, listing the destination for the “road trip” as Carson:
Mark those calendars.— LAFC (@LAFC) January 4, 2018
Every #LAFC AWAY match of our inaugural @MLS season.
FULL SCHEDULE ➡️ https://t.co/wmFD5aNiGM pic.twitter.com/8c4Dju1gs6
Still, the rivalry games are bound to be marquee events, and will certainly mean more than most of the other games. While the coaches and players will surely downplay the rivalry on both sides, saying it will need time to develop, it’s clear that everyone will get up for these games. And with the amount of banter that’s been thrown around already the past three years, with more coming, I have a feeling these games won’t lack for atmosphere, home or away.
Strength of schedule and traveling
Which team has the easiest schedule, based on the 2017 campaign? LAFC, believe it or not, according to MLSsoccer.com:
Who has the toughest challenge in 2018?— Major League Soccer (@MLS) January 5, 2018
Dig in to the Strength of Schedule Rankings: https://t.co/zMZWMn3rN0 pic.twitter.com/LDrU0ZXCx1
Of course, the results in 2017 have no bearing on what will happen this year, and there will undoubtedly be plenty of movement up and down in the league, like there is every year in MLS. Still, it feels like a good omen that LAFC have the “easiest” schedule coming into the league, as any little bit of help is good for their ambitions.
Another interesting infographic from MLSsoccer.com was the distance that will be traveled by each team in 2018. While the Vancouver Whitecaps are far and away the winners of most miles traveled, like every year, LAFC rank sixth this season:
Racking up those frequent flyer miles. ✈— Major League Soccer (@MLS) January 5, 2018
How far will your team travel in 2018? https://t.co/JRByBTQQe8 https://t.co/2lvnOF9qDi
It should be noted that LAFC will always be near the top of this list, for two reasons — they’re located in a corner of the country, and they are in the Western Conference, where travel distances are generally higher, even with the addition of expansion teams over time. Traveling certainly plays a role for teams, it is something that every team has to deal with, and while LAFC will still be near the top in terms of frequent flyer miles racked up, they will have to do what they can to mitigate the long trips that can sap the energy of players over time.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!