We've taken some quick hit look at the 2012 FCD schedule, but I think now would be a good time to look at things a little more in-depth. First off, the biggest difference between this year and last year is the implementation of an un-balanced schedule. While things can change from year to year, FCD's chances of making MLS Cup every year can be hurt by playing in the West with established, owner-supported franchises like Seattle, LA, RSL and Portland that you figure will field strong teams just about every year.
Strength of schedule
It's loser talk to want to play easier teams to have a shot at the title, but every year that the league plays an unbalanced schedule will give Dallas a tougher road to the Cup that doesn't go through places like New England, Columbus, and Toronto. With that in mind, I want to first point to an excellent article by Sidereal over at Sounder At Heart taking a look at strength of schedule.
The author takes into account how tough it is to play in some stadiums and how, for instance, some teams are easier to travel to than others, I.E. there's big difference in playing Los Angeles, a team that isn't so great on the road, twice in LA as opposed to playing Chivas USA twice in LA and once in Frisco. Through his calculations, he has FC Dallas with the fourth toughest schedule in MLS behind Portland, San Jose and Vancouver(three of the five Western Conference teams that finished below them).
There's lots more to look at after the jump
Again, thanks to Sidereal for crunching the numbers, Dallas will travel the 6th most of an MLS team behind the west coast teams that don't have the luxury of playing your rival in your home stadium 3 times(LA, Chivas). As the farthest east team in the Western Conference, Dallas, like Houston in the east, doesn't have the luxury of having multiple teams within a few hundred miles like the Easter Conference teams.
However, Dallas has gotten pretty lucky with the scheduling gods in travel to the east. FCD takes just one trip to the east coast this year, an early-season tilt against DC United at March 30. That could even be a shorter trip as they could potentially go from Kansas City as they face Sporting on March 25. Amazingly, Dallas will not play in the Eastern Time Zone for the rest of the season after their May 12 trip to Columbus.
It's not all great news, however, as the schedule has thrown up a few trips that will give the team problems. Dallas really got screwed towards the end of April as they will travel up to Vancouver, by far the longest distance they'll travel at well over 2,000 miles, for a Saturday night tilt with the Whitecaps before jetting back to Frisco for a Wednesday night matchup against Real Salt Lake. They will then turn around and fly all the way to Los Angeles for a game against the champions on Saturday night who will have been off for two weeks unless they make it to the CCL final.
FCD will have another west coast killer trip heading to Vancouver on August 15 then jetting down to RSL for a matchup three days later on the 18th, fortunately they will then have 8 days off before a massive August 26 showdown with LA at the Home Depot Center.
Quick out of the gate
Dallas could really get some nice mojo working as their early schedule doesn't throw up too many curveballs. In their first seven games Dallas will play just two playoff teams from 2011(vs New York, at SKC) while a home double dip against New England and Montreal in early April could be a nice 6 points. Four of the first six games of the season will be at FC Dallas Stadium.
Home vs Away
For some reason, it always seems to happen every year that the FCD schedule is front-loaded with home games. Maybe it's because the weather is better earlier in the year, I'm not really sure. As I said, four of the first six for FCD are at home while six of the last nine are on the road.
Comparing this year's schedule to last year's is really amazing. Dallas will play just six competitive games in the months of September and October, a far cry from the 12 games in the final two months of 2011 that pretty much exhausted the team, giving them no chance of competing in the playoffs.
Last year, Dallas had 10+ days between competitive games twice the whole season. Two times. Dallas will have four stretches of 10+ days between games(not counting US Open Cup), including an amazing run of three weeks between MLS games from May 26 to June 16. It doesn't make for exciting times around here, but those breaks will be essential for guys like Daniel Hernandez and David Ferreira to recharge.
If Dallas can make one or two more shrewd moves, and a homegrown or two can emerge, I think they will have an 18 man gameday squad that can seriously compete for Supporter's Shield. A relatively easy early season schedule should have Dallas in the running early, but it's a stretch in July and August that will decide whether Dallas contends for the whole season.
July 28 - vs Los Angeles, August 5 at Portland, August 11 vs Colorado, August 15 at Vancouver, August 18 at RSL, August 26 at Los Angeles, September 2 vs Seattle.
That seven game stretch, mostly against teams that should be right around FCD, will be some amazing soccer and should show us what Dallas is made of.
What parts of the schedule stick out to you? Are you planning on making any road games this season?
As an aside, it's looking like I'm going to be heading to Portland for the game on August 5. If you're planning on making that one, shoot me an e-mail at DanielRobertson27 at gmail dot com and perhaps we can get tickets together.