The NASL schedule is still young, very young, but in the end it is final (with the exception of a Cosmos match that could be flexed for the USOC final). After all the drama that occurred during the offseason, and the league nearly collapsing, an eight team schedule was bound to have some quirks. When it was initially released on Monday, I immediately checked my team’s schedule and realized how odd it was. Looking then to the entire league overlook, I realized how unbalanced it really was.
It had been rumored that the mid-season break would be shorter, and it is, only down to two weeks. That shortened break hardly leaves room for a mid-season friendly that many clubs usually take advantage of. Eight teams, 16 matches, 17 weekends. The spring split opens up on March 25 and wraps up on July 15. In a logical world, one would think we would see four matches each weekend, with the exception of possibly four weeks of three matches to give teams a bye.
That is not the case though. The league opens with only three matches the first weekend, giving Edmonton and Jacksonville a week off. The next weekend sees those two teams open up against each other but, again, only three matches with San Francisco and North Carolina FC having the week off. Teams are given byes mostly through the early stages of the season. Three of the first four weeks see teams on byes. In fact, on the weekend of April 15, week 4 of the NASL season, there are only two matches, giving the remaining four clubs a week off.
Mid-week matches have been exceptionally poor in terms of attendance for the league. It is a common trend in American soccer for years now and is something the owners are aware of. It seems to be an issue that has been cleaned up for the most part. There are a few quirks, including two 4th of July matches on a Tuesday, but the damage seems to be limited. This season there are seven Wednesday matches and only one Tuesday match that is not on Independence Day. I’m sure there were scheduling conflicts that would have pushed matches to midweek, but having this many seems unnecessary.
With only eight teams, back-to-back matches against the same opponent was bound to happen. Well, it happens to the Cosmos three times in the spring, against Miami, Indy and North Carolina. Indy has an odd quirk as well. In their first four matches, they play San Francisco twice and Puerto Rico twice, not playing PRFC again until late September. Quite the odd decision that could have been avoided. Not to mention the fact that Edmonton and Jacksonville play a home and home series to open their seasons, as well. In fact, Edmonton opens both the spring and fall split with a home and home series, with Indy in the fall as well.
That seems like a lot of back to back series within the league. As I mentioned, with only eight teams, it was bound to happen. Looking at the balance between them though, there is a vast difference between how many times it happens in the spring and the fall. During the opening half of the season, seven times will teams go head to head in back-to-back matches. On the other hand, in the closing half, it will only happen once. With 16 matches per team in each season, that seems odd to me.
Travel also is something that seems weird. Sure, there are some long trips in this league, but the way the schedule is made doesn’t seem very favorable for some teams. The Cosmos open at Puerto Rico, then home vs Miami, to Miami, back home to take on Jacksonville, then out to San Francisco and then to Jacksonville. A quick search (although very basic) says that the stadiums for Miami and New York are available on opposite days. Switching the order of that home and home would make things much easier and have minimal impact on Miami’s travel schedule. Indy has an odd travel schedule in the fall as well, where they host the Cosmos on a Saturday, play at San Francisco on the following Wednesday, then return home immediately to play against Miami. That just seems like a lot of travel.
The most extreme example of all of this is the Eddies “road trip of hell” as some have called it. They start the week at home against Indy, on a Sunday nonetheless. From there, the team takes a 14-hour series of flights to get from Edmonton to San Juan for a midweek match. It gets better though because, then, the team has to hop on yet another series of flights and travel all the way back out to San Francisco for a Saturday night game against the Deltas. That road trip ends up being over 7100 miles in the course of a week. To put this into perspective, New York City and Beijing, China are a little over 6800 miles apart. To travel that far in less than a week, playing a match in the middle of it all could take quite the toll as the Eddies head down the stretch.
With all that being said, I do not blame the league entirely for this. With a limited number of teams some of these could not have been avoided. I’m sure there is a good reason for all of it, but it is what it is. The weirdest part of it all to me is the imbalanced spring and fall of the back to back matchups, but in the end, we can’t complain too much. Thankfully we will get a 2017 NASL season that many thought would never come.