At first glance, it sure feels like FCD got shafted. For the second year in a row (following a year where MLS clubs only played a couple of cross-conference foes), FCD will face the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup Winners: The Revs and The Pigeons. Besides that, it sure seems like FCD is playing a lot of Eastern Conference playoff teams.
How does that compare to other teams in the West, though?
There are only two differences between the schedules of all the Western Conference teams (who play all other West teams twice each and a selection of eight East teams once each):
- Teams don’t play themselves, so the best teams have easier schedules on average. Seattle, for example, doesn’t have to play against Seattle twice, and that makes their schedule easier since they’re better than all but maybe one or two other teams in the conference.
- Of greater effect, teams in the West each get a unique slate of Eastern conference teams to play. Insofar as some teams get opponent groups that are better or worse than others, they would play a meaningfully different schedule.
All that matters because, in a potential playoff race, where seeding could be decided by one or two points, schedule difficulty differentials could change who makes the playoffs and who watches from home.
Before we look at the numbers, I’ll note that in general, the West is going to be more difficult this year. In effect, MLS traded Nashville, a team that earned a home playoff game in 2021, to the West and compensated the East with Charlotte, an expansion team we should expect to finish near the bottom of the conference. Thus, teams from the East will have more difficult out-of-conference schedules than teams from the West.
I examined each club’s out-of-conference slate and calculated the average 2021 points-per-game and per-game goal differential for their opponents, and also counted the number of teams they face from the opposite conference that made the 2021 playoffs or earned a home playoff game. I assigned Charlotte the numbers of their five predecessor expansion teams from their inaugural seasons.
Almost certainly, the Sounders have the easiest schedule in the West. On average, their 2022 East opponents only earned 1.14 PPG and lost by almost 0.4 goals per game. Seattle will only play two 2021 East playoff teams (not including Nashville, who everyone in the West plays twice), Atlanta and Orlando, neither of which earned home playoff games, and play the bottom five regular season finishers in the East (Montreal, Miami, Chicago, Toronto, and Cincinnati) plus expansion club Charlotte. Whatever Seattle’s odds are to be the first seed in the West in 2022, they’re probably not high enough. Vancouver, Austin, San Jose, LAFC, and Nashville are next easiest in some order.
The hardest schedule is likely owned by one of Colorado, Kansas City, Portland, and your Fightin’ Toros of FC Dallas. FCD will play the maximum number of Eastern Conference home-playoff-game teams possible (they play the Revs, NYCFC, and Philadelphia) and only misses Atlanta among playoff teams. They’re also the only team that missed the 2021 Western Conference playoffs that won’t get to play Charlotte, and one of three teams that missed the playoffs that won’t get Cincinnati. Relative to their 2021 performance, FCD probably has the most difficult schedule of the 2022 Western Conference teams. All that’s to say, FC Dallas could be meaningfully better (or have better injury luck or better finishing luck or whatever) in 2022 and not get much better in the standings.
It’s not even 2022 yet, but here we are looking at the hill FCD has to climb next season and it’s getting steeper.