Toronto FC's 2012 schedule was released on Tuesday. Not officially it wasn't, instead it was leaked a couple of days ahead of schedule by those rascals at Canadian Soccer News. We already knew MLS was going to be using an unbalanced schedule, now for TFC at least, presuming this is correct and aside from the no Sporting Kansas City home games error I'd guess it is, we get to see exactly what that means.
We'll journey down that rabbithole of who our brave boys in Red get to play 3 times, who they play twice at home, and who won't grace BMO Field at all this year after the jump. I'll start by looking at the dates involved, when TFC will be busy, when they won't be, when they'll be insanely busy, and what effect the two or three cup competitions they might hope to compete in will have.
The first thing to acknowledge is when they won't be playing. To start with, that's the first week of the season, March 10th. With hugely important CCL games to play on the 7th and the 14th, TFC have been given the week off to ensure they'll be fully rested. Presumably LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders will be extended the same courtesy, meaning MLS clubs will get the optimum preparation, a forward thinking move I wholeheartedly and unreservedly applaud.
Also, though MLS will continue through Euro 2012, they will break for each of the international breaks that see CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying games going on, again, a very good move.
After the first international break is really the only time TFC's league schedule by itself gets crazy, with 10 games from June 16th to July 21st, with only one midweek break between games. Aside from that, it's a fairly standard once a week affair, with only cup competitions to interfere. There's a guaranteed 2 Voyageurs Cup games in May, and depending on just how good they are this year, another 14 potential midweek games to clog up the schedule, 4 more CCL games in March and April, 2 more V-Cup games in May, and 8 more CCL games from July through October. If TFC are going to be able to compete in all those tournaments, there'll have to be a noticeable increase in the quality of the depth players in the squad as player rotation will become a necessity.
The other thing to note about the schedule is that we once again have a lot of home games to start the season, and going by how teams finished last year, the first half of the season is a lot easier than the second. If TFC's going to have any chance of making the playoffs, they'll need to be looking very good on May 26th, when they'll have played 7 of the first 11 games at home, and only 4 of those 11 against teams that made the playoffs last year.
As for the unbalanced schedule nonsense, well it's wacky. In some ways it will help TFC, in some ways it will hurt them, and by the time everyone's schedule is out, there'll no doubt be some clubs that feel aggrieved with fans crying conspiracy. Here's how it works for TFC.
Against the 9 Western Conference clubs, they play them all just once, and here, whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing, and it could certainly be argued both ways, the home games are a lot easier than the away games. Ridiculously so. There's no mixing it up, it's a direct split between the best and the rest. L.A, Seattle, Real Salt Lake and F.C. Dallas, the top 4 in the west last year, we play them all away. The bottom 5, they all come to BMO Field. Yes that means we do get to host Vancouver, but fans don't have the option of travelling there, or to Portland (or to Chivas, Colorado or San Jose, but you know, meh!). Given that we won't be seeing three of the best teams in the league in L.A, Seattle and R.S.L, it should be interesting to see which games get given 'premium' status in the ticket package this year.
In the East, well there's two teams we get a straightforward balanced schedule against, New England and Sporting Kansas City, everyone else we play 3 times. The teams we play at home twice? Well we get to see everyone's favourite disgruntled former players, Dan Gargan with the Chicago Fire, and Dwayne de Rosario with D.C. United, as well as the Philadelphia Union. That leaves two tough trips to both Houston and New York, two potentially big away trips to Montreal (with the first confirmed for April 7th) and we also get punished by having to visit Columbus twice. Playing teams three times will also breed a bit of familiarity, helped by some quirks that see TFC three timees play teams twice in two weeks, in May against D.C, in July/August against Chicago, and August /September against Kansas City
That right there is the ridiculousness of the whole thing. No team's schedules are identical, and while there's no way of knowing which teams will end up with an advantage until the season's over, it's a certainty that some teams are going to feel a bit screwed over once it's all said and done.
I mentioned earlier TFC's relatively easy start, and that's balanced by a very tough last 10 games. From August 11th to September 29th, while TFC is potentially also playing a lot of CCL group stage games, they play 7 straight games against teams that made the playoffs this year. It then ends with a series of grudge matches that could either be a very satisfying way to clinch a playoff spot, or end up being a burn of horrifically epic proportions.
D.C United and Dwayne bloody De Rosario, then Montreal, then Columbus, that's the last 3 games. Imagine if TFC were to go into those games needing points to make the playoffs, then not actually get them? That's 3 teams, well 1 player and 2 teams and fanbases actually, that would love nothing more than to stick it to TFC and condemn them to another playoff-less season. Imagine the glee and schadenfreude at our expense if they pull it off, let's hope it doesn't come to that.