FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Two years after first implementing a balanced schedule for the 2010 season, Major League Soccer returns to its roots with a conference-based schedule in 2012. Highlighting more frequent regional matchups, the new format is intended to rekindle rivalries between familiar foes.
The full 2012 schedule was released on Thursday afternoon and the New England Revolution will face seven Eastern Conference teams three times, including traditional rivals Chicago Fire, D.C. United and New York Red Bulls as well as newer antagonists Montreal Impact and Philadelphia Union.
A staunch advocate of the conference-based format, Jay Heaps is keen to see a resurgence of the more passionate rivalries which diminished with a balanced schedule.
“The games within your conference are going to be worth a lot more than they have been in the past,” said the Revolution’s head coach. “I like that style because at least you know who you’re playing and who you’re trying to fight for playoff spots. You don’t have to worry about all these different scenarios at the end.
“The rivalries are going to start kicking in a little bit more,” Heaps continued. “When you start playing D.C. three times, when you start playing Philly three times, New York, Montreal, you’re going to see that there’s going to be some developed relationships pretty quick.”
Those developed relationships will alter the way both players and coaches prepare for intra-conference matchups. When clubs meet for the third time in a matter of months, any secrets about tactical approach or playing style could be out the window.
“As players, they can really start to build in who they’re playing against and know a lot about them,” Heaps said. “As coaches, it’s definitely going to add a different element because you’re going to know a lot more about the team you’re playing and they know a lot more about you. So you’re going to have to prepare things a little differently knowing that it’s all out there on the table.”
Before the Revs delve into the conference-based portion of their schedule, however, they’ll begin the season by playing five of their first seven games on the road, including three of their four scheduled trips to face Western Conference opponents.
Heaps is well aware it’ll be a difficult stretch to open the season, but it’s a challenge he plans to have his club prepared to overcome.
“Unfortunately, the early part of the season is going to be really difficult because we’re on the road so much and across country,” Heaps admitted. “We’re going to be trying to figure out our identity in preseason and going into those first couple games, so it’s going to be really important that we deal with that adversity by being on the West Coast.”