With almost as much anticipation among American soccer fans as is generated by the next Apple product release for technophiles, Major League Soccer announced its complete schedule for the 2012 season yesterday morning. Stretching from First Kick weekend on March 10 to the MLS Cup Final on December 1, MLS will play the longest season in its history — a span of games that lasts for 267 days. Also, all 323 regular season games and the entirety of the postseason will be broadcast on live television.
These are heady times indeed for the 17 year old league, as MLS enters a new phase in its growth in terms of interest among domestic soccer fans. In San Jose, 2012 should prove to be a pivotal year for the franchise, as the prospects for a new stadium take hold and the team looks to rebound from a disappointing year on the field. The sleepy little league that could has become the Next Big Thing and the excitement in the local soccer community has never been greater.
For fans of the Earthquakes, the release of the regular season schedule means it’s time to dust off their calendars or launch their smartphone daily planners and circle the 17 home dates they plan to spend watching the team play live in the Bay Area. For the diehards, it is also a time to plan road trips to any of the 17 away matches that most capture their interest. For the writers at Center Line Soccer, the schedule was poured over meticulously to find those matches that could prove to be special moments in the Earthquakes 2012 season, but also those that could be potential pitfalls on the path toward a berth in the playoffs.
Without further adieu, a closer look at the San Jose Earthquakes 2012 regular season schedule:
Nerdy Gales: Looking for redemption and avoiding jet lag
The 2012 MLS schedule was published earlier in the year than usual, Thursday January 5th. Now we can mark our calendars: the home opener is 7:30 PM on Saturday March 10th at Buck Shaw stadium. The extra notice enable us to make cheaper travel plans and this year with the unbalanced schedule, we have an array of west coast road trips to choose from. Already the Quakes faithful are coordinating their trips over Twitter, arranging ticket purchases for the premium games, and looking for cheap hotels close to away stadiums. I’m running out of maple syrup, so I’m lacing up my metric cleats and renewing my passport for a trip to Vancouver.
Best Games: Redemption against the LA Galaxy
The Quakes have burgeoning MLS rivalries with the newly adding teams in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland, but somehow the energy level among the Quakes fans is just that bit higher, stronger and louder when the LA Galaxy are in town. Last year’s home fixture against LA was, for want of a better word, a debacle, against a ten man side with a third string goalie. The Ultras showed strong, and brought out their big rockets before the game, but even they appeared disheartened at the Quakes ineffectiveness against Bruce Arena’s 5-4-0 ‘stone wall’ formation to protect the inexperienced ‘goalie’. The fans still feel the need for redemption after that game.
This year there will be two opportunities to make up for last year’s home defeat, the first of which will come at Stanford on June 30th. Last season, more than 41,000 turned up for the game against NYRB, and most were wearing the blue and black of the Earthquakes. The prospect of playing the stars of LA will undoubtedly be a draw, but attending a game in a full sized stadium, with full-sized bathrooms, and fans on all sides of the pitch should bring out even the most casual of Quakes fans for this game. It remains to be seen if Beckham will play given his desire to play in the London Olympic soccer team - the games begin July 27th, so hopefully he will still be in the US. The second game at Buck Shaw might be the only opportunity to get up close and personal with Becks. Buck Shaw would be such a contrast for Beckham who can look back on a career that has taken him to the vast European stadiums he played in while he was with Manchester United and Real Madrid. We will probably be able to smell the cologne.
Nerdy’s pick for best game: The last game of the season at Buck Shaw against the LA Galaxy on October 21st. This game will be a chance for redemption for last season’s home defeat, perhaps to get up close and personal with Becks, and who knows - it might even be the last ever game at the Buck. Our chance to kiss the bleachers good bye.
Worst Game: Time waits for no man.
Travelling from the west coast to the east coast can take its toll, so I figured that the games on the east coast would be hardest on the players and the most difficult to win. On these cross-country road trips, tweets from the players indicate who scored a window seat, and who got the chubby middle-seater – so it’s obvious that these guys are not travelling in style; it’s economy all the way.
The research showed that teams with a three hour time-zone disadvantage to their home rival are likely to lose 60% of the time, compared to 50% of the time when they are equal. The Quakes normally leave the Bay Area on Thursdays, so after two days adjustment, before their game on Saturday they should only be disadvantaged by one hour, minimizing the advantage to their opponent to 51.7%. It’s still a disadvantage.
These east coast jaunts are fewer this year, but the Quakes will still face trips to four cities in the Eastern time zone: Toronto FC (3/24), New York Red Bulls (4/14), Philadelphia Union (Philly 4/28) and Montreal (8/18).
Other candidates for the worst games will be any where on AstroTurf, and the last home game on October 21st against the LA Galaxy, know by then that it won’t be our last game there before we move to the new stadium.
Nerdy’s pick for the worst game: Taking worst to mean toughest to win, Nerdy picks Philadelphia on April 28th. Coming on the heels of the road trip to play on the AstroTurf of New York just two weeks earlier and the always difficult-to-play Real Salt Lake at home on the intervening weekend, keeping everyone healthy will be key to earning points in this game.
Lisa Erickson: Dickensian in nature
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” — It is as if Charles Dickens was talking about the 2012 MLS schedule for the San Jose Earthquakes. Now it is my time to delve into the schedule to see which games I consider a fortuitous strike of luck and about which ones I might not be quite so happy for the Quakes to be facing at that time.
New England Revolution: 3/10 (Saturday)
We can all now breathe a great sigh of relief that we aren’t facing Real Salt Lake for the third year in a row as our home opener. We are, however, facing the New England Revolution one of the teams in the league which is infamous for struggling to win, especially when they come to the West Coast. The fact that they have a first year MLS coach can’t hurt either. This match should start the season in the right direction for the San Jose Earthquakes.
@Vancouver Whitecaps: 7/22
When seeing this game on the schedule, at first I didn’t really think much of it. Sure Vancouver was the worst in the West last year, but it wasn’t until I realized that MLS must really hate Vancouver that I began to get excited for this match up. The Whitecaps have a death march starting in mid June going throughout the month of July. Vancouver will play three games in eight days (6/16, 6/20, 6/23); then they have a bye week. However, this is not the normal full 2 weeks between matches like all the Quakes’ bye weeks, but rather they only have a week & half before they do three weeks straight of two games per week (every Wed & Sat until we meet up for our Sunday game on July 22nd). Whereas for the San Jose Earthquakes, it would be our 3rd game in 9 days so we should be pretty much free of injury and energized for this game compared to the worn out Whitecaps.
Notable Mentions — @Colorado Rapids 6/20 & @ Real Salt Lake 6/23
If the Quakes schedule their away matches like the 49ers did earlier this year, and go directly from Denver to Salt Lake City, these games might be an easier win. Colorado will have played at BC Place in Vancouver the previous Saturday, while the Earthquakes will still be on the FIFA break and thus will come to Colorado fresh. Then after adjusting to the altitude for Colorado, they go directly to Rio Tinto to play in the same high altitude. RSL will also have played 2 other opponents (@Chivas USA & LA) in the previous 8 days; whereas the Quakes will only have faced Colorado. Winning is always hard at Rio Tinto but I feel that the Quakes have a better chance this way to come back with 3 (or even 6) points than if played Colorado and RSL at another time.
@Seattle Sounders 9/23 (Sunday)
For me, when I look at the schedule nothing says daunting more than playing Seattle at Century Link field on artificial turf. To add to this recipe of worry is the fact that Quakes will have played Chivas USA (9/15) in Carson and Portland (9/19) in San Jose during the previous 9 days. Whereas Seattle will have not played since the previous Saturday, when they traveled a mere 3 hours down I-5 to Portland.
Honorable Mentions for Worst — The Sun:
When playing at Buck Shaw many a goal keeper knows that the toughest opponent he’ll face that day isn’t wearing a specific colored kit, but rather loves to show off it’s glorious yellow rays for all to admire. It wants to be the only thing for which the keeper has eyes and makes sure he is blind to all others. That evil nemesis would be the warm sun in the sky. The southeast end goal allows the goal keeper to stare directly into the setting sun, this fact had lead the league to allow most San Jose Earthquakes matches to start at 7:30p so that the longest a keeper would be blinded would be maybe 20 minutes. However, this upcoming season has the sun a factor in at least three different matches.
- Chivas USA will come to the Buck on Sunday Sept. 2nd at 6p when sun is expected to set at 7:34p. (Hope to win the coin toss and play facing sun last)
- LA Galaxy will be playing at the Buck on Sunday Oct. 21st at 4p where the sun will set at 6:22p making sure that both sides will have to deal with it (but a wise goal keeper will hope to play in the sun first because the lower it gets the harder it will be to protect the net.)
- Chivas USA match at 4p on May 13th (sunset is 8:08p)). This time it won’t matter really who wins the coin toss both goal keepers will do their time looking at the sun.
Last year the worst rain storms hit the Bay Area in March culminating with the Great Deluge of 2011 striking at the Home Opener on March 19th. High winds and torrential downpours made playing at Buck Shaw an interesting event for both fans and players alike. When looking at the schedule, it is important to also look at some of the factors that might play into making a game one of the ‘worst’ on the schedule. Here are my 5 games that weather might play the villian.
- March 10th & 18th home matches at Buck Shaw. Here’s hoping that the Great Deluge doesn’t become an annual event either for “the home opener” or for the actual weekend of March 19th.
- March 24th in Toronto the weather is normally around 38°F, so this might lead to some very icy Quakesicles on the pitch. (Luckily the match is at 1p so they might thaw out if the sun is shining)
- March 31st in Seattle. Nothing like a cold, constant rain to keep players wanting to run and run and run and shoot and score.
- Just as rain and cold can play a part in affecting the game, the heat of Frisco, TX in July might not be as welcoming. Frisco is normally around 96 degrees (on average) at 7p kick off time on July 7th. So, it will be interesting to see how the Quakes will do in the hot summer Texas sun.
Robert Jonas: Returning to the Farm, racking up the frequent flier miles to Cascadia
Returning to a format that was the norm for the first 14 of the league’s 16 years in existence, MLS brings back the unbalanced schedule in a big way for the 2012 regular season. While in those early years of MLS the debate raged as to whether every team had an equal strength schedule, at least every team faced every other team no less than twice per season. The big change for 2012 comes in terms of the focus on intra-conference play, where teams now face off just once with each team from the opposite conference.
What does that mean to the San Jose Earthquakes? Well, the home slate of games at Buck Shaw Stadium will miss out on the likes of Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, and the New York Red Bulls. Bobby Burling, the fan-favorite central defender selected by Montreal in the Expansion Draft, and the Impact will not be making a visit to the Bay Area. Those two teams, and three other Eastern Conference foes, will only see the Earthquakes in their own stadiums this season.
Instead, the Buck Shaw faithful will get a heavy dose of Western Conference teams in the 2012 season. Not once, but twice will the likes of FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA, and the Los Angeles Galaxy make the trek to the South Bay. The other conference foes make one appearance each at the Buck, but in return get to host the Earthquakes twice themselves. Welcome to the brave new world of the MLS unbalanced schedule.
The biggest news on the Earthquakes schedule is that the team has booked Stanford Stadium for the second straight year to host their Independence Day fireworks show. Making the news even more exciting for Quakes fans is that the opponent for that June 30th game on the Stanford campus is none other than chief rival Los Angeles Galaxy. The 2011 MLS Champions make a second visit to the Bay Area in 2012, as the Earthquakes will play host to the Galaxy at Buck Shaw Stadium on October 21st.
On the heels of hosting the Galaxy at Stanford Stadium, the Earthquakes head up the coast to face the Portland Timbers on July 3rd in what must be considered the first-choice road trip of the 2012 season. The Rose City is already a fantastic destination, but throw in a match at Jeld-Wen Field to complete the visit and that week will be special.
Speaking of the Cascadia teams, the Earthquakes travel to each of the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Vancouver Whitecaps twice this season. With the reversion of the MLS schedule to an unbalanced format, Western Conference opponents are faced three times each in 2012 — either once at home and twice on the road or twice at home and once on the road. The other double road opponent in 2012 is the Colorado Rapids.
In addition to the two trips to Vancouver, the San Jose Earthquakes will also go on the road to face Canadian and Eastern Conference foes Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. Players and fans better make sure to have their passports in order before heading north of the border.
Looking through the remainder of the schedule, the Earthquakes face a lengthy four match stretch away from the Bay Area starting with a trip to face the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on May 23rd and culminating with a visit to Real Salt Lake exactly a month later. However, with seven of their first twelve games at home, the Earthquakes will have a chance to stockpile some points ahead of the difficult road stretch. Four of their first seven home matches are against teams that did not qualify for the 2011 MLS postseason.
Okay readers, now is your turn to weigh in on the San Jose Earthquakes 2012 regular season schedule. Do you agree with the writers at Center Line Soccer? Was there a “Best” or “Worst” game we forgot to mention? Please share your thoughts with your fellow Earthquakes fans in the comments section below.
(Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com)