One of the setbacks of minor league soccer is the cost of travel and lodging for road games. I understand that sometimes teams and leagues have to make the financial decision to play games on consecutive nights or two games in three nights on the road in order to reduce the overall cost. Each team in USL-Pro in 2012 played 12 games on the road, so each team experienced both of the scenarios above. I set out to see if there was any connection between a congested schedule and the final standings in the league, and more specifically if the results of matches could be attributed to no rest or training before playing.
Rochester had two instances of matches on back-to-back nights [May 11&12, May 25&26], and two instances of two games in three nights [June 15&17, July 12&14]
Richmond had three instances of games on back-to-back nights [Jun 1&2, June 15&16, July 27&28] and one instance of two games in three nights [Aug 17&19 (at Antigua)].
Dayton had three instances of back-to-back games [May 18&19, July 20&21, Aug 17&18] and two instances of two games in three nights [Jun 15&17 (at LA), July 18&20], which means Dayton had a game on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the same week all in different cities.
Charlotte had five instances of back-to-back matches [May 4&5, July 6&7, July 27&28, Aug 10&11, Aug 18&19], though one was due to a rescheduled match against Wilmington, and one instance of two games in three nights [Apr 26&28 (at Antigua]
Pittsburgh had three instances of games on back-to-back nights [Apr 27&28, July 13&14
July 20&21], and three instances of two games in three nights [Apr 6&8 (at Antigua), May 16&18, July 4&6]
Orlando had one instance of games on back-to-back nights [June 29&30], and four instances of two games in three nights [May 11&13 (at Antigua), July 6&8 (at LA), July 25&27, Aug 1&3]
Charleston two instances of back-to-back matches [July 6&7, Aug 3&4] and two instances of two games in three nights [May 31&June 2, June 29&July 1].
Harrisburg had three instances of back-to-back games [Apr 20&21, Jun 22&23, July 6&7] and two instances of two games in three days [July 18&20, Aug 17&19 (at LA)]. In addition Harrisburg played 6 straight games at home 7 out of 8.
Wilmington had four instances of back-to-back matches [June 8&9, June 22&23, Aug 3&4, Aug 18&19], thought one was due to a rescheduled match with Charlotte, and three instances of two games in three nights, one of which was three games in five nights [May 2&4&6, July 12&14]
Los Angeles had two instances of back-to-back games [May 11&12, July 27&28], and eight instances of two games in three nights [May 4&6 (at home), May 24&26, June 15&17 (at home), June 28&30, July 6&8 (at home), July 12&14 (in FL vs Antigua), Aug 9&11 (at home), Aug 17&19 (at home)]
Antigua has one instance of back-to-back games [Aug 3&4], and ten instances of two games in three days [Apr 6&8 (at home), Apr 26&28 (at home), May 2&4, May 11&13 (at home), June 15&17, June 29&July 1 (at home), July 12&14 (as home team in FL), July 27&29, Aug 9&11 (at LA), Aug 17&19 (at home)]. Only two games all season were not a part of this grueling pattern.
Back-to-back games are worse for fitness, fatigue, proneness to injury and so on. Therefore if we devise a point-based ranking system to judge which teams had harder schedules, back-to-back games count more heavily than two-in-three.
If back-to-back games counts for 2 and two-in-three counts for 1:
Los Angeles 12
If back-to-back counts for 3 and two-in-three counts for 2:
If back-to-back counts for 5 and two-in-three counts for 3:
These three tallying systems give us the same ranking. Antigua had the hardest schedule in terms of travel and congestion, and the Caribbean team also finished the season with the worst record.
Here is the final standings in USL-Pro from the 2012 season with point totals for each team:
Harrisburg 37 Made the playoffs
The four teams with the easiest schedules are also the top four teams from the end of the season standings. The top five teams in terms of scheduling are five of the six teams that made the USL-Pro playoffs in 2012.
In addition to the team with the worst schedule being the team with the worst record, five of the six teams with the worst schedules were the five teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
I’m not arguing causation, but there is definitely a correlation for teams between poorly devised schedules and poor results at the end of the season. There isn’t a clear trend across the board with regard to dropping points from the second of two congested matches, but several teams had lower points per game for those matches than their season averages. Who knows how to quantify the long term damage over the course of a season from niggling injuries and fitness problems caused by scheduling games on consecutive nights or playing two games in a weekend?
Schedule congestion is something fans and players alike have griped about for years but that they will have to live with into the foreseeable future. The financial realities of minor league soccer mean that USL-Pro teams will once again have to battle the schedule as well as their opponents during the regular season.