VANCOUVER, B.C. – A bit less travel? Sign the Vancouver Whitecaps up.
That was the reaction this week in training after MLS Commissioner Don Garber suggested on Sunday that the league could convert to an unbalanced schedule with the introduction of the Montreal Impact for the 2012 season.
If that change is implemented, teams would no longer play each other once home and away, but instead play more games against regional rivals and perhaps only once against teams out of conference.
“Our travel days are tough, there’s no doubt about that,” captain Jay DeMerit told MLSsoccer.com after training on Tuesday. “You think about eight-, nine-hour travel days less than 48 hours before a game, plus the time difference – as much as that shouldn’t have a major effect on you, it definitely has a small effect on you, especially throughout a 10-month season.
“I wouldn’t shy away from saying those things would help us, but ultimately everyone has to do their own travel schedules, especially East and West Coast teams, they have to deal with that West Coast to East Coast travel and it’s just part of the game,” the 31-year-old continued. “More travel can be a difference – if we can cut that out, then it will help us for sure.”
Given the team’s location as the farthest flung team in the Pacific Northwest, travel is a major challenge. No team spends as much time airborne throughout the regular season as the Whitecaps, so any adjustment would be seen as a positive.
“For me, personally, my first year [in this league], the travel was really hard and different than in Europe,” Davide Chiumiento said. “From Vancouver, a lot of games are really far and I’m not used to it, so it was a bit difficult in this first year. So if we can fly a bit less and not as long, personally I would prefer it.”
There are other benefits, too, in the form of traveling away support. Fans in the Cascadia region would be able to turn out in numbers for away games, meaning more live games per year for hardcore supporters.
While the rivalries in the Pacific Northwest don’t need any encouraging, a few more derby matches surely can’t hurt.
“[With an unbalanced schedule], you play teams that are in your conference and teams that are closer to you so you can enhance those rivalries,” Pete Vagenas said. “So, if a Vancouver is playing a Portland late in the year with playoffs on the line, or a Seattle and Vancouver, and then it sort of limits the travel as it gets on in the year.
“As the season drags on, towards the end of the season, a lot of people complain about the travel because it’s different and it’s so long and arduous,” the 33-year-old continued. “There are some good ideas; I’m all for that, personally, because I think that makes sense.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.