Sunday, October 5, 2014

Crew Loss Highlights MLS Scheduling

The loss last night on the road in New England certainly doesn't spell doom for the previously red hot Columbus Crew but it does have me peeling back a couple layers and asking a couple questions.

First big one is how on earth did this Crew team get on a historically good run (modern)? Berhalter? New excitement? Players believing in themselves? Guys just taking quantum leaps in development? #NEWCREW?!

Turns out it's probably due to wonky MLS scheduling. A closer look the team's record poor run in the middle of the season was due to the fact that the Crew didn't have a run of games at home and are now (or just finished) a fairly unprecedented set of home matches.

This chart below shows how many home games the team had in the previous four weeks. Farther up the chart - the more home games during the previous month, down - less.

The red dots indicate when the Crew were playing more games on the road over a couple month's period. The first dot (left) happened towards the end of the 2010 season. Everybody remembers the end of that year as the Crew - after having a great year, suddenly went winless in six, shut out three times.

That team ended up playing on the road to Colorado and lose while the head coach sat his best player in the first half. The reasoning at the time was because of a poor run of results leading up, well, turns out the schedule was harsh and the coaching staff were not tuned to it. Mistakes all around.

The dot on the right shows this year's Berhalter team playing slightly more on the road and never stringing more (3) at home in a four week time. That tough run put the Crew in a historically bad place on a few metrics (10 and 20 game results, goal difference) but they came out of it well over the last two months, when the schedule pointed back to Columbus.

Where this leaves the Crew is with a brutal three game road trip right at the most critical time of the year. Yes, you have to play the games in front of you but the unbalanced way Major League Soccer handles it's schedule is frustrating as it seems more interested in smoke and mirrors than actual competition.

In the case of the 2010 Crew you see the results of a tough, unbalanced road/home schedule. The team crashed and burned spectacularly to the point where the team was blown up in the offseason. Even this past year you had fans and league watchers wondering if Gregg Berhalter was the guy after they went on a one win in previous 16. A different owner might have sacked the coach there, even.

Last night's result is a normal road final. Isolated, it's not that big a deal but because the time of year and with two more weeks in a row away from home ramps up the possibility of a drop in standings which could have a catastrophic impact on the post season MLS Cup.

In a league that institutes rules and bi-laws upon bi-laws to keep things as even as possible, scheduling needs to be fair and free of any hint of late season engineering.

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