Schedule news / Union

A closer look at the Union’s 2021 schedule

Photo: Earl Gardner

Major League Soccer released the 2021 schedule on Wednesday — a non-traditional schedule for another non-traditional year.

From the Union perspective (you can find the full schedule linked here), the first point to make is that 32 of the 34 games are against Eastern Conference opponents. Portland comes to Subaru Park on May 30, and Philadelphia flies to Minneapolis-St. Paul for an October 20 match against the Loons.

The Union do not travel to the West Coast this season. And, if we ignore the fact that the Minneapolis airport is west of the Mississippi, since the stadium is east of it in St. Paul, the Union will play all its 2021 regular season games east of the Father of Waters, a first in Union history. 

Extra matches?

As of today, there are only three true strikers on the roster. Given the current injury situations of two – Sergio Santos and Cory Burke — the club will not begin its season at full offensive strength. 

Advancing in the Concacaf Champions League and qualifying for 2021’s version of the U. S. Open Cup (points per game accumulated in the first three weeks of MLS regular season matches) both seem unlikely. And the CCL berth disqualifies them for the Leagues Cup later this summer.

Probably, therefore, the Union’s 2021 season will consist only of its MLS regular season schedule.

The Union’s specifics

MLS’s Eastern Conference has 14 teams this year, while the Western Conference has 13. 

The Union will play each of six “regional” (see chart below) Eastern Conference opponents three times for 18 games, and the seven remaining Eastern opponents twice (adding 14 games). And while it is not close to an absolute principle, the regional opponent games tend to occur earlier in the season while the non-regional ones involving longer travel, particularly to Canada, tend to occur later. The away games to Miami and Orlando might combine into one road trip. The schedule is heavily back-loaded.

Regional Opponents Other Eastern Opponents
Two home, one away Home-and-away
Columbus Miami
NYC FC Orlando
New England Atlanta
One home, two away Cincinnati
Chicago Nashville
New York Red Bulls Montreal
D.C. United Toronto

The MLS schedule begins April 17 and ends November 7. That gives 28 weeks plus a weekend to play 34 games. But there are three major breaks in the schedule.

  • Early June has a 3-week hiatus from May 30 to June 20.
  • There are 17 days without games from August 28 to September 15.
  • The two weeks in October from the 2nd to the 16th have no matches either. 

The three large gaps mean overloaded weeks will be more frequent.

Here are the number of games by month.

April has 4 matches, counting the CCL ones August has 7
May has 6 September has 4, after the break
June has only 3, after the break October has 6, 5 after the break 
July has 5 Decision Day is November 7th at 3:30 pm

These are the most intense frequency-of-match sequences. 

  • The three matches in June occur in six days.
  •  The last three matches in July occur in eight days. 
  • The first three matches of August occur within eight days… As do the next three that month.
  • September does not have intense sequence of three, only two of two with semi-adequate rest between them.
  • The last five matches of October occur in within 15 days, repeat, 15 days.
Matches to watch

Peter Andrews highlights a few matches that should have plenty of excitement.

  • National TV games: Things have changed from just a few years ago, where the Union rarely made nationally televised appearance. Seven of the 34 this year are set for a national audience, including the season-opener against Columbus, an intraconference clash with Portland, and both games against Atlanta United.  The rare visit from Portland on Memorial Day weekend — Sunday, May 30 — should be a marquee game.
  • Expansion fun: Philadelphia doesn’t get a chance to take on newcomer Austin FC because of the unbalanced schedule. But the Union will take on Nashville SC for the first time, both home and road, after the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped several planned meetings between the two sides last year.
  • Stretch run: Only two of the final six matches will be at Subaru Park — visits from Nashville and FC Cincinnati on October’s last two Saturdays. It’ll be cold down by the Delaware.  If all goes well with a summer of vaccinations, we can hope that the stadium will be full.

One Comment

  1. So, rough start to the season, super dense middle, and a rough dismount to the regular season (all those away games…)
    At least our guys will get some down time on those 3wk breaks!! (well, most of them anyway)
    Also nice to see the final game is road trippable to Yankee Stadium (blech) – we should be able to get a good traveling crowd up there for that game!!

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