2012 Fire Schedule & MLS’s Strengthened Case for Major League Status

Major League Soccer has released its 2012 schedule for what is to be its biggest season ever coming off of a record-breaking 2011 per-game attendance figure.  Major changes to the MLS’s structure and new television markets have brought positive changes heading into the 2012 season.  With just ten days left until the start of Chicago Fire Pre-season soccer, the schedule is out and the Fire will have many interesting match-ups along the way.

Schedule with National Broadcasts in English (there are another seven en espanol on Galavision and ESPN Deportes which have been italicized) marked.

Saturday, March 17, 2012 @ Montreal Impact: 1:00 PM CT: Season opener and first MLS game in Montreal Impact history.

Saturday, March 24, 2012 vs. Philadelphia Union: 7:30 PM CT: Home Opener

Sunday, April 1, 2012 @ Colorado Rapids: 6:00 PM CT

Sunday, April 15, 2012 vs. Houston Dynamo: 6:00 PM CT

Saturday, April 21, 2012 @ Toronto FC: 2:30 PM CT

Saturday, April 28, 2012 vs. Seattle Sounders FC: 7:30 PM CT: NBC Sports Network: 2011 U.S. Open Cup rematch

Friday, May 4, 2012 @ C.D. Chivas USA: 10:00 PM CT

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 vs. Real Salt Lake: 7:30 PM CT

Saturday, May 12, 2012 vs. Sporting Kansas City: 7:30 PM CT: 3rd Game in 9 Days

Sunday, May 20, 2012 @ Portland Timbers: 6:00 PM CT

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 vs. FC Dallas: 7:30 PM CT

Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ Columbus Crew: 6:00 PM CT: 3rd Game in 7 Days

Saturday, June 2, 2012 @ New England Revolution: 6:30 PM CT

Sunday, June 17, 2012 vs. New York Red Bulls: 4:00 PM CT: NBC Sports Network

Saturday, June 23, 2012 vs. Columbus Crew: 7:30 PM CT

Friday, June 29, 2012 @ Sporting Kansas City: 7:00 PM CT: NBC Sports Network

Tuesday, July 3, 2012 @ Houston Dynamo: 7:30 PM CT

Sunday, July 8, 2012 vs. Los Angeles Galaxy: 2:00 PM CT: ESPN

Saturday, July 14, 2012 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC: 7:30 PM CT

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 @ New York Red Bulls: 12:00 PM CT

Saturday, July 21, 2012 @ Toronto FC: 3:00 PM CT: 3rd Game in 8 Days

Saturday, July 28, 2012 @ San Jose Earthquakes: 9:30 PM CT: 3rd Straight Road Game

Saturday, August 4, 2012 vs. Toronto FC: 7:30 PM CT

Sunday, August 12, 2012 @ Philadelphia Union: 6:00 PM CT

Saturday, August 18, 2012 vs. New England Revolution: 7:30 PM CT

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 @ D.C. United: 6:30 PM CT

Sunday, September 2, 2012 vs. Houston Dynamo: 6:00 PM CT

Saturday, September 15, 2012 vs. Montreal Impact: 7:30 PM CT

Saturday, September 22, 2012 vs. Columbus Crew: 7:30 PM CT: 3rd Straight Home Game

Friday, September 28, 2012 @ Sporting Kansas City: 7:30 PM CT: NBC Sports Network

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 vs. Philadelphia Union: 7:30 PM CT

Saturday, October 6, 2012 @ New York Red Bulls: 2:30 PM CT: NBC

Saturday, October 20, 2012 @ New England Revolution: 6:30 PM CT

Saturday, October 27, 2012 vs. D.C. United: 6:30 PM CT: NBC Sports Network

In what will be the longest season in Major League Soccer, as aforementioned, the MLS has changed many rules, most involving the post-season, and has gotten new television deal for the 2012 season.  This season, absolutely every game will be televised, whereas last year a small number of games were not.  Between ESPN, NBC and NBC Sports Network, and Univision (Galavision, Telefetura, and Univision Deportes) in Spanish, 89 games will be broadcast nationally, and an additional 30 games will be broadcast nationally in Canada on TSN and TSN2 in English and RDS and RDS2 in French.  That is an amazing total percentage of 37% of the league’s games being broadcast nationally, whereas Major League Baseball, the other summer major league, is set to only have 3% of its regular season games nationally televised (albeit MLB plays many more games with 11 more teams).

The major story of the upcoming 2012 season is that the Montreal Impact have been added as an expansion team, and have already acquired their share of star players, including former Los Angeles goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and former Houston star Brian Ching.

The biggest rule change for the 2012 season was a more structured playoff system and the elimination of the cross-over rule.  The cross-over rule seeded the four clubs with the best record in the league, regardless of conference, hat were not already seeded in the top three seeds in their conference, would enter the playoffs as wild cards, and then the champions would enter either conferences’ playoffs, often resulting in two teams from one conference facing one another in the MLS Cup.  That rule was no longer acceptable when the addition of Montreal forced the MLS to use an unbalanced schedule, and thus the playoffs received a format change.  Now the top five seeds in each conference will enter the playoffs.  The 4th and 5th seeds will face off in a single elimination game.  The winner of that game will proceed to play the 1st seed in their conference in a two-game aggregate-scoring series.  The 2nd and 3rd seeds will also play in a Conference Semifinals series of the same format.  The champion of the two Conference Semifinals will play in the Conference Finals, once a single elimination game, now a two-game aggregate.

The MLS Cup has changed as well.  Formerly held at an independent site, the Cup will still be a single game, but will now be held at the venue of the Conference champion with the best regular season record instead.

One final major rule change Major League Soccer made for the 2012 season is one that will help clubs bring in more young international designated players.  Formerly, all designated players would count for $335,000 against the salary cap regardless of their actual salary.  Now, only designated players 24 years of age or older will count for this much, with designated players ages 21-23 counting for only $200,000 against the salary cap, and designated players of 20 years of age or less counting for just $150,000 against the salary cap.

Major League Soccer, whose per-game attendance in 2011 surpassed those of both the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, has taken more major leaps in hope of securing that spot permanently through the aforementioned changes, as well as the opening of the new BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston and the expansion of Jeld-wen Field in Portland.  Though still not always recognized as a major professional sports league, Major League Soccer is most certainly taking huge strides in the right direction, and it is inevitable that someday sooner than later, the MLS will get that recognition it most certainly deserves.

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