Typically, when we’re talking about the MLS schedule makers – or the schedule makers in any sport – we do so with disdain and disgust. We often look at the wisdom of their decisions, and wonder how such a small group of people – with a few computers thrown in for good measure - could have so much influence on so many people.
“What do you mean my favorite club starts five of its first eight games on the road?”
“Why are we playing a mid-week game on the opposite coast?”
“How come they get two-week bye while we’re stuck playing four games during the same span?”
“Why are there so many midweek games?”
“Why do the Galaxy get three extra home games?”
The remarkable thing about these complaints is that they are universal. Players, coaches, supporters, and even team mascots all continually curse the faceless committee who have the ultimate say over who goes where, and when they go there. For mascots, this is extraordinary, as most do not voice their opinions on controversial subjects. True, the schedule makers may not be soccer gods, but shoot – they don’t sit too far below that pedestal.
This year, though, the scheduling gods, er, league’s schedule makers are currently looking like a committee of clairvoyants. Say what you will about the these tense final weeks in which anyone not named D.C. United or Toronto FC has a legitimate chance of a grabbing a postseason berth. You say parity, I say party. Besides, who doesn’t love a tight postseason race?
And just when you started to think that the current playoff system was the best invention since the referee spray can, the schedule makers gave the masses these upcoming conference clashes:
Impact vs. Union
Revolution vs. Crew
Fire vs. Toronto
Dynamo vs. Red Bulls
Union vs. Sporting K.C.
Toronto vs. Impact
Dynamo vs. D.C. United
Crew vs. Revolution
You want drama? Well, MLS has an abundance of it at the moment, especially in the Eastern Conference. And the schedule makers are one of the reasons why we’re left with a bevy intriguing games in these last two weeks of the season.
Before we sing the praises of the schedule makers and the infinite wisdom that guided them during the offseason, two things must be said. One, the schedule itself, by and large, is still a bit of a freak of nature. The Revolution getting a Week 1 bye is proof of that. Two, you have to give props to the league itself, who pressed forward with an unbalanced schedule for the second straight year. After all, the unbalanced schedule is almost as big a culprit behind this mid-autumn saga besides, you know, the six clubs that still have a shot at the final three berths.
For the first time in forever, the schedule makers got it right. Thanks to them, we’ve got a lengthy list of tension-filled contests on the menu, and almost everyone is happy about it.
Now, if we could only get them to do something about allowing the Revolution to kick off their schedule at home more than once every 14 years.
Speaking of home, the Revolution wrap up their Foxboro fixtures on Saturday against the Crew, whom they’ll see again next week. But before the MLS originals kick off leg 1 of that series, let’s pose the pertinent questions surrounding Saturday’s clash.
1. Who will be called upon to fill the midfield vacancies? There’s really no such thing as a convenient time for injuries and suspensions. While some say that the best time to deal with ailments and discipline is at the beginning of the season, just take a look at how true that wisdom was for Frank Yallop. Yeah, case closed. The reality is there is no good time to suffer through injuries and deal with suspensions. However, there is a particularly bad time to have to deal with them: right in the thick of a postseason push. This is something that the Revolution can certainly speak to right now, with Saer Sene done for the season and Lee Nguyen out due to caution accumulation. Without the services of Sene, Jay Heaps will probably give Chad Barrett – who manned the right flank during spells this season – the Frenchman’s spot. As for Nguyen’s spot – well, it’s a little complicated. Andy Dorman appears to be the front runner, but he’s found himself in the referee’s book a little too often this season. Clyde Simms is another candidate, yet it’s hard to imagine a partnership of Simms and Scott Caldwell doing a whole lot in terms of moving the midfield forward. Juan Toja would be a tempting choice if he wasn’t always hurt. When it’s all said and done, though, the best choice appears to be Dorman.
2. Will Jerry Bengtson get a look off the bench? It’s amazing what an impressive run during World Cup Qualifying can do to bolster a player’s case for more playing time, even if that player has been a ghost at the club level for the past two years. Yes, Bengtson’s been hot in a Honduras kit, but as soon as he dons the navy blue of the local XI, he inexplicably turns into a non-factor. This is a difficult concept to comprehend. After all, we just saw him score last week in a high-stakes match against Costa Rica. We know he’s capable. And perhaps it’s for that reason that we think he’ll break through for the Revolution. With Sene out for the season, all eyes are back on Bengtson. Although he hasn’t scored since he was a teammate of Blake Brettschneider (or maybe it just feels that way), Heaps may have to call upon his enigmatic poacher on Saturday. And with the Revolution looking to squeeze every drop offense from its bench, Bengtson could accomplish a rare feat by simply scoring a goal.
3. Can the Revolution afford to give up a goal? Earlier this week, Heaps said that the margin for error afforded to his club is nonexistent. Guess what: Heaps is right. Look at what it took for the Revolution to beat the Impact. They converted an early opportunity, and shut the door for 90 minutes. What’s kept the Revolution below the red line for the majority of the past three weeks has been their inability to do what they did in Montreal: keeping the ball out of their own net. When the defense – and by defense, we mean “team defense” – is on, the Revolution generally pick up the points it needs. With nothing less than three a must on Saturday, the storyline won’t change: the Revolution cannot hand out invitations to the Crew. They have to stay sound defensively if they’re going to have any chance at a win. Why? Because conceding even a single goal could doom them to another postseason-free autumn.
4. Is Juan Agudelo primed to give the home fans one last display of Swagudelo? Barring an unforeseen trek into the conference semi-finals, Saturday’s match will be the last time we’ll see the Stoke City-bound striker at Gillette Stadium. Agudelo may have only worn a Revolution kit for five months, but during that brief span, he’s become a fan favorite, not to mention a key part of the attack. In short, he’s been everything Mike Burns and Jay Heaps hoped for when they sent allocation money and a draft pick to Chivas USA for his services back in May. So with his final 90 minutes in Foxboro on tap, there’s no doubt Agudelo wants to give the supporters something to remember. Although he’ll likely be smothered and manhandled by Chad Marshall for much of the match, you can bet Agudelo has something up his sleeve. It may not be a goal like the one we saw him score against Chicago back in August, but then again, who’s to say it won’t be even better?
5. Which notable Revolution players could very well be playing their last home game in Foxboro? We all know that Agudelo’s swan song in front of the home fans is upon us, but he won’t be the only one who’ll be applauding The Fort for the final time. While the turnover probably won’t be as dramatic as it’s been during the last two seasons, there’s a good chance that a handful players in Saturday’s lineup won’t be back next season. Among the projected starters, it wouldn’t be surprising if Chad Barrett and Andy Dorman aren’t back next season. Depending upon the club’s plans, Saturday could also be the final time we see Matt Reis between the sticks at Gillette Stadium. Although the club has publicly expressed that it wants to bring Jose Goncalves back next year, nothing is set in stone concerning his future. Among the projected subs, a recent report suggested that Bengtson has already stated his desire to leave the team at the end of the season. Dimitry Imbongo may be back, but Charlie Davies, Darrius Barnes, Kevin Alston and Clyde Simms may very well be waving goodbye to Revolution fans for the last time.