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Is Orlando City at a Competitive Disadvantage Because of Scheduling?

The Lions lead the league in weeks with multiple league matches.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis was frank about his feelings on MLS scheduling following the team’s blowout loss to the Chicago Fire. In his post-game comments, the gaffer made it very clear:

“It’s about time that the league starts to pay attention to how they schedule teams because they put us at a competitive disadvantage, a massive competitive disadvantage. And now this is the second time against the same team that we’ve had to play them coming off three days rest when they get to come into the game entirely fresh.”

Orlando has had its fair share of struggles with travel through the first half of the season. The Lions have already played in four double game weeks — with matches midweek and then again on the weekend — which is the most in the league thus far. The Lions have been out-scored 11-0 on the back end of those jammed weeks, compounding on their recent poor form that has had them drifting further away from the top of the Eastern Conference. To make it even more difficult, City has also had to play rested teams in the second match for three of those four in both Chicago fixtures as well as the shellacking at Houston.

But while Orlando has had it rough to begin the year, this is part and parcel of the rigorous MLS season. With teams now able to skip scheduling during international windows, they trade that for a more cluttered schedule elsewhere. This is especially true this season with the league taking a two-week break for the group stages of the Gold Cup, further complicating the issue. After all, other sides have managed to win at least one, if not both of their matches while the Lions have struggled mightily with a combined five points over those eight matches, with their only win coming midweek at home to D.C. United. Can Orlando still be at a competitive disadvantage if most of the league is dealing with similar circumstances?

The short answer is yes, and the Lions aren’t the only team to have drawn the short straw so far this year. As a disclaimer, these double game weeks are those specifically scheduled by MLS without considering the U.S. Open Cup, Canadian Championship, or CONCACAF Champions League, to test if Kreis’ assertion that it’s MLS’s scheduling that is creating any competitive disadvantage.

Seven teams have had double game weeks with both matches on the road: Orlando, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, Colorado Rapids, and Houston Dynamo. Of those 16 fixtures, the teams are a combined 1-13-2. The only road victory so far is NYCFC’s 3-0 thrashing of Orlando City. The Lions managed one of the only two draws in Seattle Wednesday night. The notion that it’s difficult to win on the road in this league is well established. It’s even more difficult when both matches in a week are played on short rest.

Kreis has experienced first-hand what that amount of stress and travel can do a team and why teams, just like Orlando, have struggled in these situations.

“The main reason I think this league is extremely difficult, the travelling is extremely difficult, is because it takes so long to get places. It took us forever and a day to get from Orlando to Seattle the other night. I think our guys put a courageous effort out against Seattle to get the point we got there. And it took us a while to get from Seattle to Chicago and you’re changing time zones twice. Three time zones there, you’re going two time zones back and all these things have effects on bodies.”

And to Kreis’ point, the Lions have had the deck stacked against them more often than any MLS team to this point in the season. Seattle is closest behind the Lions with three double game weeks. Of their four congested weeks, Orlando is the only team with multiple all-road weeks so far. The Lions have also had three of their four opponents on the back end come into the match with at least a week’s rest, the highest percentage of any team that has played at least two double game weeks.

The good news for Orlando is that it begins to even out after the Gold Cup break ends. Columbus and Sporting Kansas City join the club with back-to-back away games. San Jose and Colorado catch up to Orlando in that category as they each pick up their second.

The Lions even get to be on the positive end of a tired team with Vancouver making the trek across the continent to Orlando City Stadium after a Cascadia clash with Seattle and Atlanta welcoming New England before the Lions travel to Bobby Dodd Stadium for the first time. Orlando’s total of five double game weeks is still among the highest in the league, but that’s something that the club agreed to when it decided to take international windows off.

So in a way, Kreis is correct. MLS has to acknowledge that putting both matches on the road when clogging the fixture list is indeed putting teams at a definite disadvantage, especially when crossing the continent. No matter the conference, the amount of depth a team has, or the distance traveled, clubs are likely to drop both matches. But the rest of the league will catch up to the Lions in the other categories as the season rolls to a close. Perhaps that could even be in Orlando’s favor.

City only has one more double game week left to go (barring any unforeseen schedule adjustments) with New England and Dallas to end September, both at home. Hopefully by then the Lions will have fixed their double game week woes.