Coronavirus / Union

Guesses about the Union’s unannounced regular season schedule

Photo: Rob Simmons

The Union know their opponents for the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando but not the schedule for those matches, or what the remainder of the season will look like after the tournament concludes.

While complications among ESPN, Fox, and Univision may be delaying further announcements, three determinants for MLS’s revised 2020 schedule are now known:

  • All future inter-conference matches are eliminated, and with them all coast-to-coast travel.
  • Nashville has switched from West to East for 2020, to make the numbers divisible by two.
  • The three games of the Florida tournament’s group stage will also count in this year’s regular season standings.
Games, beginnings, and endings

The Union’s as-yet-unannounced revised 2020 schedule could have as many as 13 Eastern Conference opponents. But the NYC FC, Inter Miami, and Nashville games in Florida will count for the regular season, so under this theory the “home-market” matches would total 23, not 26.

Under this setup, the Union could play as many as 28 games in virus-truncated 2020, not the original 34.

The earliest plausible home-market start date is the weekend of August 14-16, three days after the MLS is Back tourney’s final. So if the Union played two games a week for 11 ½ weeks and played each of its 13 Eastern Conference opponents twice, the latest such a schedule would end would be on October 30th – November 1st,

Recovery, rosters, and travel

Several first-division European professional leagues are finishing their seasons by playing two games a week. Two-a-week seems to approximate the maximum pace normally acceptable in adult professional soccer.

MLS has been clear it wants to maximize the number of games, but MLS and the MLSPA are not likely to try to play at a pace faster than two a week, particularly for as long as two-and-a-half months. MLS rosters are noticeably smaller than those of prominent foreign first divisions.  And the smaller its roster,  the less “finesse-able” are a squad’s health-maintaining recovery requirements. With Cory Burke in Austria the Union have 25 players available, pending an expected two-day transfer window expected before the start of the tournament at Disney.

Since time between games would be roughly halved, road trips might involve more than one game, for example playing Orlando and Inter Miami without returning home, or Cincinnati and Columbus, rather than flying to Florida, or Ohio, twice. For the foreseeable future clubs will probably be required to use the safety of charter flights.

Starting over?

Aside from the Dallas and LAFC games already played, the old schedule has recently disappeared from the Union’s website.

It would seem simpler for the schedule-makers to start over with the new requirements than to jury-rig around the surviving elements of the old.  If the other assumptions further above happen to be proven correct, from the original edifice Philadelphia would have lost eight Western Conference games—five home and three away—and 13 Eastern ones—seven home and six away, including three home-and-away sets (Montreal, Atlanta, and Columbus). Meshing similar complexities for all 26 clubs seems overwhelming.

Orlando’s matches against Miami and NYCFC will have to be designated either home or away.  The Nashville match in Florida might count as away since it was scheduled to be so when the Tennesseans were in the West, but the totality of the scheduling labyrinth may override that.

As an added complication beyond TV’s programming imperatives, varying local disease conditions and permission procurements still impede uniform league-wide announcements. To illustrate, the earliest teams’ individual trainings resumed around May 6th, but San Jose’s and NYCFC’s started 29 days later.

More recently, on June 15th NYCFC began full-team training across the Hudson at the Red Bulls facilities in north Jersey since New York State still prohibits it. The Union is working out in Delaware rather than Pennsylvania to comply with local health regulations while Harrisburg moves at Harrisburg pace. And as of yesterday morning neither San Jose nor LAFC had yet begun full-team workouts.


Three MLS players have tested positive for the virus in the initial wave of the mandatory tests required by the full-team training protocols. Of further concern are last Friday’s NBC10 reports of positive virus tests among the Philadelphia Phillies baseball players and staff who had been working out in Clearwater.  Florida has had meaningful virus spikes recently.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *