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January 18, 2012 at 10:44 PM

Schedule formats have changed in MLS, the Open Cup and CCL, but are they better?

As has been covered the past few weeks, the Sounders will see schedule and format changes this season in MLS, the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Here’s a brief breakdown on each competition, but mostly I’m hoping for your votes in the polls I’ve included:

* * *

2012 MLS season

Here’s a recap of the changes: Full breakdown here. Instead of going to a 36-game balanced schedule with the inclusion of expansion Montreal, there will be a 34-game unbalanced schedule. The fixtures will be conference heavy. Seattle will play each other West team three times and each East team just once. There’s no more crossover between conferences in the playoffs and the MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist with the best regular-season record.

Here’s GM Adrian Hanauer, who had previously mentioned that an unbalanced schedule eliminates the “purity” of determining the best teams, on the benefit of less travel East, particularly late in the year: “It’s all incremental. Fans may or may not notice it, but 10,000 fewer miles on our players’ bodies (will help). Those Portland and Vancouver road trips are obviously bus trips, so we don’t have to get on an airplane again, which is a little easier physically and mentally. The fact that we’re traveling less in the second half of the year during CONCACAF group-stage play is helpful, and it’s all fractions of percentages that hopefully add up to an improved product for our fans, improved fitness and health for our players and improved results in Champions League.”

Hanauer on the imbalance in Cascadia games (Seattle has four road games and just two at home in 2012; the scheduled will be reversed in 2013): “I think we would’ve preferred that it had been a balanced rivalry between Portland, Vancouver and Seattle. But it is what it is. … This league so competitive and everybody’s going to play 34 games. We don’t know who’s going to be massively improved from last year. We don’t know who’s going to be weaker than last year. So aside from the rivalry and the Cascadia Cup, and making it a little fairer for the fans and certainly our ability to win it, aside from that, it’s 34 games, 17 at home and 17 on the road.”

Coach Sigi Schmid on the schedule implications: “It’s a different year because of the unbalanced schedule. A West team winning the Supporters’ Shield is going to be more difficult than it has been in the past. The West has proven itself to be stronger, so we play against stronger teams more often. The NFL always looks at strength of schedule, and the strength of schedule (of Eastern Conference teams) is probably not going to be as strong, so it’ll be easier for them to gather points. … Winning the Supporters’ Shield is going to be tougher. With the Cascadia Cup, because of the way the schedule was done, we have to play four games away and two games at home, making that an unbalanced competition. One year it favors Portland and one year it favors us, so I’m sure Vancouver isn’t pleased about that either. So there are certain things regarding short-term goals that become a little bit more difficult because of that.”

Is the new regular season/playoff format in MLS better or worse?* * *

2012 U.S. Open Cup

Here’s a recap of the changes: Full breakdown here. In short, there’s no qualifying round for MLS teams. All 16 teams will enter the knockout-style tournament in the third round. All six NASL teams and 10 USL Pro teams from the U.S. are in the 64-team field, as well. Also, the blind bidding process is gone until the semifinals. Hosting rights through the quarterfinals will be granted randomly, providing both teams are eligible and want to host.

Here is some reaction from Hanauer: “I’m not convinced it affects (a four-peat run) dramatically. I think it’s good that all the MLS teams will play — get rid of the play-in games. We have no problem with an open bidding process in those earlier rounds. In the semis and finals, if we’re good enough to reach that far in the tournament, we’ll do what we need to do and try to bid as aggressively as ever to continue to host those games.”

And a quick thought from Schmid: “I hope U.S. Soccer takes the opportunity … in the early rounds, to make the (Open Cup) draw an event, much like the FA Cup in England. There they don’t do it behind closed doors on a Tuesday afternoon, but they actually make it an event … and make it very transparent to see, ‘OK, this is our pairing. Now we’re drawing to see which team is at home.’ I think that would create a little bit of fan interest, as well.”

Is the new U.S. Open Cup format for 2012 better or worse?* * *

2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League

Here’s a recap of the changes: Full breakdown here. In short, there’s no preliminary round anymore and the group stage has changed to become eight groups of three. The used to be a preliminary round of 16 teams that set up a group stage of four groups of four. There will be a Mexican or MLS team in each group.

Here some reaction from Schmid: “It reduces the workload for everybody. It takes everybody from six group games to four group games. … It relieves a little bit of the schedule congestion and so forth. How it’s going to be exactly? They seem to indicate that there will be a U.S. team or a Mexican team in each group, and then that would be supplemented by other teams. Again, it all depends on how you do and the group you draw. Certainly, one thing the change will do is it raises the importance of each game. You can’t start slowly in the tournament or have a throwaway game because you’ve only got three left, so you have to make better use of the games. From that standpoint, I think it’s a positive change because I think it brings a greater level of competitiveness into each game. I think it’s also a positive change because it relieves that schedule congestion that was happening to a lot of the teams.”

Is the new CCL format for 2012-13 better or worse?

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