MLS Commissioner Don Garber confirmed on Thursday that the league would, in fact, go to an unbalanced, 34-game schedule in 2012. SB Nation Soccer had first reported this likelihood back in September when teams first started to release season-ticket packages and multiple league officials anonymously confirmed that an unbalanced schedule was the plan.
For the last two years, MLS teams have played two games against every other league opponent. Next year will mark the first time in the league's history that each team will not both host and visit every other team at least once. With the Montreal Impact giving MLS 19 teams, Garber said further expanding the schedule would have been extremely difficult.
"It’s simple math: 389 games would almost be impossible for us to execute with the other competitions we’re required to play, the weather issues we have … the challenges in a handful of markets, the FIFA dates," he said. "All the thing we have to do differently in the United States from a competitive standpoint, just the travel impact that exists in our country."
Part of the problem may be that Garber's math is not exactly up to snuff. With 19 teams playing a balanced schedule and following the same playoff format, the league would actually have to play 355 games. In fact, the only way the league would have to play exactly 389 games is if they played a balanced schedule with 20 teams and then cut four games out of the playoffs. (For an interesting read on how a balanced schedule could work, give Vancouver Southsider Brett Graham's proposal a read.)
Garber did not reveal much about the format of this 19-team, 34-game schedule, but he did allude to the possibility of it featuring more in-conference games. One scenario could involve every team playing three games against in-conference opponents. That would have the added benefit of limiting cross-country plane trips, as Garber noted the Vancouver Whitecaps had to travel more than 60,000 miles this year.
"The more games we add, the more travel for our players and reduces the quality of our play," Garber said.