In a stunning development, the NPSL has demonstrated a bit of year-to-year consistency, releasing the schedule for its Midwest Region at about the same time it did in 2014. That consistency has not been applied across the board, however, so before taking a look at who Le Rouge will play this summer, we need to examine the current form of their ever-changing division.
Following the collapse of Eau Claire (mercifully) and Quad Cities (shockingly), the three remaining teams from the former Central Conference – Madison, Minnesota Utd. Reserves, and Minnesota TwinStars – have joined the former Great Lakes Conference teams, along with expansion side FC Indiana, in a single table.
This solves last year’s “Wildcard spot is determined by points-per-game” problem, but it creates another since each team will not play every other team. With the top 4 finishers qualifying for the playoffs, someone (probably multiple someones), is bound to feel cheated at the end of the season, and they will be absolutely justified in doing so.
As an example, let’s use our very own Detroit City FC. This season, City plays defending Midwest Champion Lansing United twice. If they finish in 5th place behind a team that doesn’t play Lansing at all, they would have a legitimate gripe that the team in 4th place benefited from a much weaker schedule.
As a solution, I’d prefer a 12-game schedule in which all teams played each other once. You would still have arguments over who had the tougher games at home versus on the road, but it would be more balanced and slightly less controversial than the current format.
- Adding teams and splitting the Midwest into two equally-sized divisions of 7 or 8. Teams would play each team in their division twice for a 12 or 14 game schedule, with the top 2 finishers in each division qualifying for the regional playoff.
- Dropping a few teams and playing a true double round-robin season. Since you’d have to get down to 8 or 9 teams at most (for a 14 or 16 game schedule), it would be hard to fit the entire Midwest into such a small division.
- A single table with two conferences, similar to MLS/NBA/NHL. Each team plays the teams from the opposite conference once, and the teams from its conference twice. The main issue here is the limit on NPSL season length. With the current 13 team table, this format would require an 18 game schedule, which is probably be out of the realm of possibility at present.
The first one looks best to me, but if the regional playoff was scrapped it would allow for the regular season to be expanded a bit, possibly making a true DRR single table an option. No matter the format, travel costs will remain a chief concern.
Now to the fun part.
- After playing a 14 game regular season in 2014, City will be back to a 12 game regular season this year, the same length as in 2012 and 2013. The reduction is mitigated by the 3 home friendlies, the first of which – against Muskegon on Saturday, May 9th – should have the atmosphere of a league game.
- As mentioned, Lansing is on the docket twice, as are Michigan Stars. Indiana Fire and FC Indiana are not on the schedule. This could be a benefit since the Fire were strong competition in 2014, but if FC Indiana turn out to be poor, City could be missing out on 3 easy points.
- The Rust Belt Derby is preserved, and it could be determined very early on. City’s first two league games are against Cleveland and Buffalo, and those two teams face each other in Cleveland on June 27th.
- Of the three games against Madison and the Minnesotas, only one (June 14th at United’s Reserves) is on the road. Scouting report based solely on last season’s records – TwinStars: mediocre, Madison: above average, United: good.
- Last three road games are at Cincinnati, Fort Pitt, and Michigan Stars. I’ll take it.
On the surface, this looks like a highly competitive division. I think there are 8 or 9 teams with a good chance of finishing in the top 4, and I doubt there will be any total pushovers* a la Zanesville ’13 or Eau Claire ‘ever. The trick will be to close out games and take care of your business and not allow your fate to be decided by the wonky schedule or goal differential.
*Or maybe at least one
On a final note, City’s first friendly of 2014 took place on April 19th against SVSU. If something similar is organized, we will be watching live football in two and a half months.
There’s still grass under that foot and a half of snow.