A few weeks ago, as part of our breakdown of this season's schedule, we took a look at the "third games" Eastern Conference teams will play in 2013. As a reminder, "third games" are the extra games Eastern Conference teams play against seven of the other Eastern teams over and above their home and away series. We won't rehash the details here of the unbalanced schedule and "third games" (see the previous post), but we found that D.C. United had the toughest slate of "third games" for the upcoming season. Here is our ranking (most difficult to least) of the "third games" for the returning Eastern playoff teams:
1. D.C. United
4. Chicago Fire
Like 2012, teams in 2013 will play only one game against each team from the opposite conference. For Eastern Conference teams, this means each team will play all nine Western Conference teams one time, with half the Eastern teams playing five of those games at home and half playing only four at home. And the location of each of these games will be the opposite of what it was in 2012. For example, D.C. United played at the Home Depot Center when they faced the LA Galaxy in 2012, so this season's game against the Galaxy will be at RFK Stadium.
As a reminder, here is the final 2012 regular season table for the Western Conference. This will help us gauge the difficulty of the inter-conference games as we enter the 2013 regular season.
|San Jose Earthquakes||66|
|Real Salt Lake||57|
So, here are the Eastern Conference teams' inter-conference games in 2013 versus the 2012 Western Conference playoff teams. Eastern Conference teams are listed in their 2012 order of finish down the left hand side of the table, while Western Conference teams are listed across the top also in their 2012 order of finish. As an example, D.C. United will play home against the San Jose Earthquakes on Jun. 22, while United will play on the road against the Seattle Sounders on Jul. 3.
|San Jose Earthquakes||Real Salt Lake||Seattle Sounders||LA Galaxy||Vancouver Whitecaps|
|Sporting Kansas City||Away, 18 Aug||Away, 20 Jul||Home, 8 May||Away, 20 Apr||Home, 3 Jul|
|D.C. United||Home, 22 Jun||Home, 9 Mar||Away, 3 Jul||Home, 15 Sep||Home, 29 Jun|
|New York Red Bulls||Away, 10 Mar||Home, 27 Jul||Away, 29 Sep||Home, 19 May||Home, 1 Jun|
|Chicago Fire||Home, 3 Jul||Away, 25 May||Away, 7 Sep||Away, 3 Mar||Away, 14 Jul|
|Houston Dynamo||Home, 30 Mar||Away, 10 Aug||Home, 17 Aug||Away, 5 May||Home, 23 Mar|
|Columbus Crew||Home, 16 Mar||Away, 24 Aug||Home, 31 Aug||Away, 4 Jul||Away, 9 Mar|
|Montreal Impact||Away, 4 May||Home, 11 May||Away, 2 Mar||Away, 6 Apr||Home, 21 Sep|
|Philadelphia Union||Away, 8 Sep||Away, 3 Jul||Home, 4 May||Home, 15 Mar||Away, 27 Jul|
|New England Revolution||Home, 6 Jul||Home, 8 May||Away, 13 Apr||Home, 2 Jun||Away, 15 Jun|
|Toronto FC||Away, 8 May||Home, 29 Jun||Home, 10 Aug||Home, 30 Mar||Away, 2 Mar|
The next table shows Eastern Conference inter-conference games in 2013 versus the Western Conference's non-playoff teams in 2012.
|FC Dallas||Colorado Rapids||Portland Timbers||Chivas USA|
|Sporting Kansas City||Away, 22 Jun||Home, 31 Aug||Home, 27 Apr||Home, 5 May|
|D.C. United||Away, 11 May||Away, 7 Jul||Home, 25 May||Away, 8 Sep|
|New York Red Bulls||Home, 22 Sep||Away, 4 Jul||Away, 3 Mar||Away, 25 Aug|
|Chicago Fire||Away, 12 Oct||Home, 19 Jun||Home, 8 Jun||Home, 24 Mar|
|Houston Dynamo||Away, 17 Mar||Home, 28 Apr||Away, 6 Apr||Home, 21 Sep|
|Columbus Crew||Away, 29 Sep||Home, 11 May||Home, 7 Jul||Away, 2 Mar|
|Montreal Impact||Home, 20 Jul||Home, 29 Jun||Away, 9 Mar||Home, 7 Jul|
|Philadelphia Union||Home, 29 Jun||Away, 9 Mar||Home, 20 Jul||Home, 12 Jul|
|New England Revolution||Home, 30 Mar||Away, 21 Aug||Away, 2 May||Away, 29 Jun|
|Toronto FC||Home, 6 Apr||Away, 4 May||Away, 7 Sep||Away, 17 Jul|
Using last year's order of finish to rate the strength of the Western Conference teams entering the 2013 season, here is our rating of the difficulty (most difficult to least) of the returning Eastern playoff teams' inter-conference schedule:
1. Chicago Fire. About the only good news for the Fire in their games against the West is that they get to play the defending Supporters' Shield holders, the San Jose Earthquakes, at home. Otherwise, they play on the road at the other four returning Western Conference playoff teams (@Real Salt Lake, @Seattle, @LA, and @Vancouver), similar to what D.C. United had to do last year. Chicago also only gets four home games total against the West.
2. Sporting Kansas City. You may recall that last year Sporting Kansas City absolutely cleaned up against the West, going 6-1-2 and earning 20 out of 27 points. This year, their schedule looks significantly tougher with road games at three of the five (including the top two!) returning Western playoff teams (@San Jose, @Real Salt Lake, and @LA). They do get five home games total against the West this year, but their road games are tough.
3. New York Red Bulls. New York only play four of their inter-conference games at home this year, but three of those are among last year's returning West playoff teams (RSL, LA, and Vancouver).
4. Houston Dynamo. Like New York, Houston gets to play three of the five returning Western playoff teams at home in 2013 (San Jose, Seattle, and Vancouver). Plus, they get to play five inter-conference games at home this season.
5. D.C. United. After last season's very difficult schedule against the West, D.C. United gets the reverse this year with what is setting up as a very favorable inter-conference schedule. United plays five home games against Western teams this year, including four of the returning playoff teams (San Jose, RSL, LA, and Vancouver). D.C. United is also one of only two teams (along with New England) that get to play both the top two returning Western teams at home. While away games against Seattle (crowd) and Colorado (altitude) promise to be tough environments, United's inter-conference schedule in 2013 is ripe for the taking. Relative to their fellow Eastern Conference teams, D.C. United has the potential to clean up against the West similar to how Sporting Kansas City performed last year.
As an astute commenter predicted on the "third games" post, the favorability of D.C. United's inter-conference schedule appears to balance out the difficulty of their "third game" slate in 2013. And in fact, this appears to mostly hold true for all the returning Eastern Conference playoff teams. An interesting question is whether this is just good luck, or did MLS headquarters pull off a feat of good scheduling? It's hard to tell, but we do know that the inter-conference games are just the mirror image of last year's game, so there wasn't anything MLS could do to affect the difficulty of these games. The "third games", however, are more a mystery. How does the league decide on that schedule? Unless the league has announced how it determines the "third games", and how it decides whether each one is played at home or away for a given team, it may be that "third games" are selected for competitive purposes (within reason) to balance out the imbalances introduced by the inter-conference teams. Or, it's just dumb luck. Either way, it appears to have worked out for the Eastern Conference returning playoff teams heading into the 2013 season.
How do you think D.C. United will perform against the Western Conference in 2013? Which are the games you are most looking forward to?