Intro to Major League Soccer: The Schedule
written by Vaughn Pollman
Today is the day! Charlotte FC will play their first publicly accessible game in a preseason friendly as part of the Carolina Challenge Cup down in Charleston. The preseason tournament will see Charlotte FC take the field 3 times in the coming week as a final tune-up to the regular season. If you’re unable to make it down to Charleston for the games, the team will be live streaming them via the CLTFC App and on the team website.
The countdown to opening kick draws closer and closer to zero as the official start to our inaugural season is a mere two weeks away when the boys in black and blue travel to Audi Field to take on DC United in our nation’s capital before returning home for the March 5 home opener against the LA Galaxy. It’s surreal, it’s exciting, and it’s nerve-wracking that real, meaningful games are finally here for this long-awaited team.
Yes, it’s going to be a season of firsts for all of us in the Charlotte community, but we are jumping on a moving train that is Major League Soccer. MLS is entering its 27th season with a record 28 teams vying for the Supporter’s Shield (awarded to the team with the best regular-season record) and MLS Cup (awarded to the winner of Major League Soccer’s postseason tournament).
So, looking at the calendar, what are we about to get ourselves into, and how is the MLS regular season schedule structured? For the regular season, each team will play34 games apiece between February 26 and October 9, or “Decision Day.” The February 26 start date is the earliest start ever for an MLS season as the league looks to wrap up the season and playoffs ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar this next winter. MLS Cup will be held on November 5, two weeks ahead of the start of the World Cup group stage.
The league’s 28 teams are divided into two conferences, the East and the West. Charlotte FC will naturally take part in the Eastern Conference. Teams will play each of their 13 conference opponents two times, once at home and once away, accounting for 26 of the 34 games. The remaining 8 games will be played against opponents from the other conference. For this reason, Major League Soccer is currently operating under an unbalanced schedule, meaning some teams may have an easier path to the playoffs than others based on favorable opponents from the other conference. Our Western conference opponents this season are the LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, Austin FC, Houston Dynamo, Nashville SC, and LAFC.
The league’s schedule makers planned the year with the clear intent to lessen the impact of schedule congestion, which has been a major factor in roster rotations over the past two COVID-impacted seasons. This means there will be fewer midweek games than in the past, which is a good thing for team travel and player recovery. This year we have 3 midweek games on the calendar, with the first being a Thursday night tilt vs. Austin FC on June 30.
In analyzing the schedule, that midweek tilt leads off what looks to be the toughest travel stretch for the club between June 25 and July 30, which will see the team travel up to Montreal, back to Charlotte, off to Houston, return to Charlotte, jet down to Miami, back up to Toronto, then back to Charlotte. That’s a lot of air miles racked up with a chunk of games and two trips out of the country, all in about a month’s time.
The back end of the season will see more games clustered together when July crosses into August with 3 home games in 8 days versus the Columbus Crew, DC United, and Chicago Fire. Shortly after that, the team has another tough set of 3 games in 9 days with cross country travel when we head to LAFC (Battle of the Banks at Banc of California Stadium), before flying all the way to play NYCFC at Red Bull Arena, before a return trip back home to face Orlando City. July and August will be particularly brutal, with nearly a third of the season to be played (11 of the 34 regular-season games) in those two months alone. How the club manages roster rotation and results in those two months could dictate how we finish in the league standings.
Win or lose, the wait is finally over. The team and the Charlotte community will be taking their first steps into MLS, and I can’t wait for the journey we’re all about to embark upon in this inaugural campaign and beyond.