We like to think that schedules are impartial. That like those statues to Justice we see in courtroom dramas, they are blind to any manner of influence or coercion and represent a sort of purity of spirit. So let’s assume that they are. But let’s assume also that even purity may have repercussions far beyond original intent. The road to hell, I have been told, is paved with good intentions.
So it is in this spirit that we dove into NYCFC’s 2017 schedule – to identify anomalies and oddities that may rear their ugly little heads in some peculiar way when the team is locked in a battle for points and positioning as the playoffs near.
Ready, Steady, Go
NYCFC’s 2017 Schedule begins with five home games, five away, and five against playoff teams. Which means it’s going to be hard for them to get off to a fast start. And while that matters less now that the team’s midfield is not, as Jon Sauerschell liked to say, 108 years old, if we’ve learned anything about NYCFC it’s that they’re streaky as hell. It would be nice if they kicked off this season with a great run of form but we all know they’re entirely capable of going eleven matches without a win. Which is why I’d rather they didn’t have a schedule that starts off with three divisional rivals who all made the post season.
Every season it seems like MLS drops some crazy idiosyncrasy into the schedule. This season, at least in NYCFC’s 2017 Schedule, it’s for home-and-away matches that occur within 30 days. NYCFC have five of them: DC United 3/12 & 4/8, Orlando City SC 4/23 & 5/21, Atlanta United FC 5/7 & 5/28, Toronto FC 7/19 & 7/30, and the New York Red Bulls 8/6 & 8/25. One assumes, because of the inclusion of the Red Bulls and Orlando, and ostensibly Toronto and DC, that this has something to do with building on, or fomenting, rivalries. But the Atlanta fixtures? I think someone just wants a discount at Home Depot.
NYCFC’s 2017 Schedule also has the team face every side in the I-95 corridor three times this year. Another effort to build rivalries? Perhaps. Or probably, MLS hopes to get those fans on the turnpike to the away games. Foxborough, DC and Harrison are all extremely driveable and I encourage all supporters to do so. But then why does MLS skip over the Philadelphia Union, against whom NYCFC have only two games? Especially when the other side NYCFC play three times is Orlando? Don’t get me wrong, I like Jason Kreis and Josh Saunders as much as the next fellow, but come on MLS, give the purple rivalry a rest.
Location, Location, Location
NYCFC play three home games in a row from the end of May to the middle of June – and that’s the longest amount of time in NYCFC’s 2017 Schedule that they play in the Bronx. You could say that this is what happens when you share a stadium with the Yankees. Or you could call it the just reward for a team that was league best on the road. Or you might just be cynical and observe that NYCFC is a pretty damn good draw when they’re the visitor and MLS wants to keep those cash registers ringing league wide. How will this affect the team? If this were the NYCFC of 2015, I would be concerned about the affect of travel on the older players. That said, the team has signed a lot of new players from distant climes and predicting how they’ll respond to the mileage is anybody’s guess.
The Weakest Link
There are two weeks I’m paying particular attention to during NYCFC’s 2017 schedule, weeks that will test the endurance of the players, the quality of the side as a whole, and could have an impact on the rest of the season.
The first is in mid-May, when NYCFC play three games in seven days, all of them on the road. From the high altitude of Rio Tinto to the cavernous confines of RFK to the Simbas’ brand new liar, they’ll face back-to-back 2016 playoff teams before playing their erstwhile rivals. That’s three time zones and over 4500 miles even before they kick off at Orlando City Stadium. A bad run of form over this week could have ripples all season long.
The other is in late September, when the playoff hunt is in earnest. After hosting the Houston Dynamo, NYCFC head north to the Stade Saputo for a Wednesday night match before flying to Chicago to play the Fire on Saturday night. Of course, this trek is far shorter than the other, and two of the teams they face didn’t make the playoffs last year. But coming as late as it does – NYCFC’s 2017 schedule gives them only two more games after this trip – the fatigue of a long season could show up just when NYCFC really need points. Remember how listless the team looked in Orlando and New England in the final months of 2016?
Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps
Or not. Schedules are funny things. They’re not impartial and they’re not static. Factor in Open Cup matches, call-ups for World Cup qualifiers, and injuries, and honestly, all bets are off. Which is why we watch, I suppose. Pass me a pint…