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The Difficulty of the Road Game in Major League Soccer

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With a heavy road stretch arriving for Orlando City, we look at the difficulty of playing on the road in MLS.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With a home-heavy schedule, Orlando City has gotten off to a strong start in 2018. But, as the team begins a stretch of six out of eight on the road, we look at how hard it is to win in Major League Soccer.

Winning away from home in MLS has always been a difficult task. Over the past three seasons, only one team in the league has had a winning record on the road — Toronto FC last season. Two other teams have finished with a .500 record away from home. Overall, visiting teams have a record of 226-561-267 during the first three seasons that Orlando City has been in the league. In that period, every team has a winning record at home and a losing record on the road.

These statistics haven’t been much different for Orlando City. The Lions have been slightly above .500 in each of their past three seasons at home, posting records of 7-5-5, 6-4-7, and 7-5-5. On the road, however, the team has struggled mightily to gain points, with results being 5-9-3, 3-7-7, and 3-10-4.

No matter what sport you play, it’s always easier at home. Players get to stay in their own homes, they can go through a regular routine, and they have the support of their home fans. However, playing away from home in MLS has two distinct disadvantages that are not seen in most of the world: environment and distance.

More than almost any other league on the planet, playing away games in MLS can seem like you’re on a different continent. While spring and fall in cities like Los Angeles, Houston, and Orlando features pleasant weather in the 70s, games played in cities like Toronto can see freezing temperature in the early and late season. During summer, the weather is much more manageable in the north, but afternoon games in the southern cities can feature heat in the 90s. For players training every day in warmer temperatures and then playing when it’s freezing, or training in cooler temperatures before playing when it’s scorching, it will undoubtedly have an effect on their stamina and performance.

Then there’s the issue of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado and Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah. Situated in the Rocky Mountains, just outside Denver, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park features the highest elevation of any stadium in the league, at 5,200 feet above sea level. While 700 feet lower than Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Rio Tinto Stadium, located just outside of Salt Lake City, UT, is still 4,500 feet above sea level. For teams traveling from the east coast, where many play at sea level, the elevation is a huge disadvantage.

A bigger problem for MLS visiting teams is the travel involved in playing in such a large country. In many European countries, you’re no further than a couple hundred miles away from your opponent, no matter what part of the country you’re in. In MLS, the two furthest teams, Orlando City and the Vancouver Whitecaps, are over 2,600 miles apart.

Making matters worse is the way MLS teams travel. While teams in the top leagues in Europe use chartered flights, even for small distances, MLS teams are only allowed four-legged chartered flights per season. The rest of the away trips, 30 one-way flights, require the teams to fly commercial. For most players this means flying coach for possibly a three-hour flight.

In a league where winning on the road is as difficult as anywhere in the world, MLS teams attempt to win the majority of home games, and get as close to .500 as they can on the road. Given that, over the past three years, only three teams have ended the season .500 or better away from home, Orlando City is entering the most challenging stretch of the season with six of eight games away from Orlando City Stadium. It could be a stretch that defines the 2018 campaign.