FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A series of announcements over the course of Thursday afternoon captured the chaos Hurricane Irene inflicted upon MLS as it prepares to wallop the East Coast over the weekend.In the space of a handful of hours, three events occurred: (1) D.C. United issued a press release stating that Saturday's game against Portland would move from 7:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.; (2) Portland investor/operator Merritt Paulson subsequently Tweeted that “as of now no game time change as been agreed to or approved for Sat despite DC United release. stay tuned”; and (3) MLS issued a press release confirming the 2:00p.m. kickoff and promising a further update on the situation by Friday at 12:00 p.m. ET.
The Forecast spent most of the day tracking Irene and wading through the league's response to the situation. Here are five of the most salient points from one of the most chaotic scheduling-related days in MLS history:
1. A little direction and foresight goes a long way: Irene didn't sneak up on anyone. Forecasters warned about the potential impact of the storm as early as Monday. Even with that advance notice and the relatively consistent forecast of a staggering storm heading for the East Coast this weekend, it took far too long for MLS to kick into gear and sort out the plan for the three affected fixtures in Washington, D.C. (Saturday), New York (Sunday) and Philadelphia (Sunday). Tweaking the schedule at this late date presents a complex series of issues that requires a delicate touch and plenty of care to solve, but the above exchange provides just one example of how the entire process spiraled into disheveled uncertainty.
2. If there's one team that should hold a grudge, it's Portland: The Timbers – fresh off a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA on Wednesday night – boarded their previously scheduled flight in Oregon on Thursday morning with no clue if or when they would play on Saturday. John Spencer's crew usually likes to travel two days ahead (like most teams) when it treks across North America, but that preparedness likely won't help all that much in this nightmarish scenario.
If the match goes off as planned, the Timbers lost a few precious hours to prepare and recuperate during a short week with the revised (but necessary) start time. As an added complication, they would take the field at 11:00 a.m. PT instead of the more palatable time of 4:30 p.m. PT.
If the match doesn't go off as currently planned and the league attempts to play the match in the following couple of days, Portland will rest a bit more, but it will also face a competitive disadvantage against a home side with the benefit of using its own facilities.
If the match doesn't go off at all due to poor field conditions or some other reason, the Timbers traveled across the country to sit in the middle of a hurricane.
Even if the match does kick off on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and the Timbers manage to secure a positive result, it still isn't an ideal scenario because they face a mighty struggle to leave the area before the storm hits and imposes significant cancellations and delays at the local airports.
Can't imagine many Timbers boarded that plane with a skip in their step given those potential scenarios.
(Note: It still probably beats the snafu Philadelphia faced last weekend: get off a plane at 2:00 p.m. after weather stymied a scheduled Friday flight and play six hours later. From a competitive standpoint, that situation is just a disaster.)
3. New York-Los Angeles presented the biggest headache in many, many ways: Irene picked up one of the league's biggest fixtures of the season from a pretty decent time slot outside of football season (Sunday at 7:00 p.m.) and plunged it into doubt. Once the forecast dampened the hopes of playing the match as scheduled, both clubs and the league had to scramble to find a new date. Los Angeles' crowded fixture list, ESPN2's desire to broadcast the game and the lengthy distance between the two cities left very few options in terms of trying to squeeze it later in the season. The final result: the first Tuesday night in October. Not exactly a like-for-like swap, but it will have to do under the circumstances.
(Note: Los Angeles did reap one perk from the switch: David Beckham and Omar Gonzalez started in the Galaxy's 2-0 CONCACAF Champions League victory over Alajuelense (Costa Rica) on Thursday night. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after the match that he probably wouldn't have played either Beckham or Gonzalez if his team had to play New York on Sunday).
4. Don't forget about the role TV plays in the process: ESPN2 may receive all of the hype in this department, but Galavision (New England-Philadelphia) and the local broadcast partners in four markets had to scurry to accommodate the potential schedule changes. In addition to finding the right time slot, the teams needed to make sure the proper equipment – especially TV trucks – and the right support staffers were available at the alternative date and time. Those hiccups could have made trying to push Sunday matches out to Monday or Tuesday very difficult indeed.
5. Irene will exact a stiff toll as it passes through: MLS picks up the tab for team travel costs – a single-entity structure does have its benefits to the individual clubs, after all – and it will feel a bit of a pinch after this weekend. Los Angeles and New England will have to cancel their scheduled plane tickets (and, in New England's case, a couple of contingency return flights as well) for the weekend and rebook at a significant cost, while Portland may incur some additional travel expenses if its match encounters further delays. These situations are part of the cost of doing business for MLS, but several diehard fans will also miss out on scheduled trips across the country or to their local stadiums at a significant personal price as well with all of the upheaval. In this case, however, the benefits of moving the games far outweigh the costs.
Last week: 3/9 (33%)
For the season: 72/191 (38%)
Portland @ D.C. – 2:00p.m.*
(* – MLS released a statement on Thursday evening that said it would monitor weather reports and release an update on the status of the match at 12:00 p.m. ET on Friday)What can we possibly make of this affair? It's tough to tell whether it will even go off as (newly) scheduled, though Portland's Thursday flight makes it possible. If the conditions do turn this match into a sloppy slog, then the inclement conditions probably benefit the visitors. As the Timbers reinforced in a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA in midweek, they are pretty hard to beat when the game hinges on mistakes and set pieces. With that point granted, United holds the edge here in this clash with massive playoff ramifications for two reasons: (1) Portland played in midweek and will feel the impact of that cross-country flight and (2) there's no telling how the scheduling will eventually unfold and that uncertainty usually favors the home side.
Prediction: D.C. United win.
Columbus @ Seattle – 4:00p.m.
There's always a little bit extra in the Sigi Bowl and this meeting likely won't provide an exception to the rule. Columbus picked up a 2-1 home win over Philadelphia to push four points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference, but it must somehow find a way to cope without the suspended Julius James. Rich Balchan (groin) may have to step straight back into the starting XI after a lengthy absence because there aren't a whole lot of options otherwise. With the normally stout Crew forced to make a change in its settled back four, Sounders FC can use the momentum generated by that stunning win at Monterrey on Tuesday (two MLS wins and counting south of the border) to produce the required cutting thrust to secure the points.
Prediction: Seattle win.
Houston @ Vancouver – 7:00p.m. (TSN2)
Dominic Kinnear's side isn't very good on the road – in truth, a record of 0-4-8 usually inspired more pointed classifications – but it has played well of late in all venues. Colin Clark and Brad Davis can bombard the rickety Whitecaps back four (though Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat could partner in central defense to add a bit of steel) with plenty of service, while Brian Ching and Carlo Costly (plus any other forwards Kinnear sees fit to use if he has to chase the game) should pose plenty of problems on the end of that service. Vancouver perked up in the second half against Portland last weekend, but the Whitecaps have looked dead in the water since the announcement of Martin Rennie as head coach and the lively Camilo will miss the match through suspension. If Houston wants to break its road duck, it won't receive a better opportunity to do so.
Prediction: Houston win.
San Jose @ Toronto FC – 7:00p.m. (GOL TV Canada)
Speaking of teams with opportunities, the Reds will feel this match represents a bonafide chance to pick up three points at home. The one-and-a-half Champions League matches over Wednesday and Thursday didn't go to plan against FC Dallas, but Aron Winter allotted playing time wisely and could lean on many of his starters against the Earthquakes. San Jose coach Frank Yallop will have to replace the suspended Steven Beitashour at right back, but he will also have the motivated Nana Attakora and Jacob Peterson – plus the returning Sam Cronin – pressing for a berth in the starting XI. TFC will have to mind the wing play San Jose used to good effect against Los Angeles, but the Reds should find a way to extend the Earthquakes' winless run to 13 games.
Colorado @ Chicago – 8:30p.m.
Rapids coach Gary Smith rested many of his regulars in Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Real Espana in CONCACAF Champions League play. The likes of Tyrone Marshall, Pablo Mastroeni, Matt Pickens and Marvell Wynne should all return, though Smith will no doubt check on the fitness of Brian Mullan (left ankle sprain) after he did not feature in the 18-man squad in Honduras. In order to validate Smith's decision to rotate the squad in midweek, the Rapids must slow down the Fire's counterattack – Patrick Nyarko, in particular, has played well in recent weeks – and control the tempo of the game to enhance their chances at Toyota Park. Chicago will look to build upon Sunday's precious win against Toronto FC, but Colorado tends to specialize in making these types of matches too difficult for opposing teams to overcome. One question to weigh: will Frank Klopas rest a few regulars with a home date against Richmond looming in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Tuesday?
FC Dallas @ Sporting Kansas City – 8:30p.m.
FCD coach Schellas Hyndman will likely struggle to patch together his threadbare squad ahead of this difficult test at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. Andrew Jacobson (allergic reaction) may join the list of the walking wounded and Daniel Cruz (suspension) won't play either, but Hyndman will still have to manage the effects of playing one-and-a-half matches in Toronto on Wednesday and Thursday with one eye on Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinal at Seattle. Look for Sporting – as it usually does – to come out with plenty of energy and press high on FCD to unsettle the fatigued visitors. A strong start may lead to the right finish for the home side.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City win.
Real Salt Lake @ Chivas USA – 10:30p.m. (FOX Soccer)
Red-and-White coach Robin Fraser tried to give a few of his regulars a blow in Wednesday's 1-0 defeat at Chivas USA, but the circumstances forced him to turn to Simon Elliott in the first half and rely on third-string right back Mariano Trujillo for most of the match. With his former employers coming to town, Fraser certainly wanted to have all hands on deck, but he can at least recall Juan Pablo Angel after he skipped out on the JELD-WEN Field turf in midweek. Fraser likely knows that his former side is liable to come out of its recent rut (one win and four losses in the past five matches) soon even with its lengthy injury list. Jamison Olave's potential return from a knee injury (not a coincidence: he missed those five matches) could provide exactly the boost Jason Kreis' side needs to return to form.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.