With the 2017 USL regular season rapidly approaching, we have finally received the entire regular season schedule for each team. As seasoned fans of the USL know, the league’s schedules are not well known for being fair and balanced for all teams. With a 32 game slate for each squad, and only 14 pairs of home and away play against their own conference, the remaining four games can either put a team in a great spot, or in the hole out the gate.
We have brought forward our Elo Rankings from the 2016 season, and calculated how favorable or frightening a team’s schedule looks this season. In the Western Conference, the newcomers in Reno 1868 are given a ranking of 1100, which is considered average. The recently rebranded Phoenix Rising and Orange County SC inherit their predecessors rankings.
A team with a positive final score means that they play an opponent which is easier than expected, a team with a negative final score means they play an opponent who is harder than expected.
We have broken down the 32 match season into four quarters of eight matches each and included each team’s easiest and hardest quarters. The clubs are ranked based on the easiest to hardest schedule this season.
1) Colorado Springs Switchbacks (+4.21)
Easiest Quarter 1 (+22.30)
Hardest Quarter 2 (-7.57)
The Switchbacks will be looking to jump out to a fast start, with only three of their first twelve matches against teams who qualified for the playoffs last year.
2) Phoenix Rising (+3.16)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 4 (+9.25)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 3 (-8.13)
Phoenix will play a very balanced schedule this season, but a visit from Toronto and three matches against the Monarchs, both teams that were weak last year, leave them high on the list. Facing only three 2016 playoff teams in the final quarter might provide a soft end to the season.
3) Portland Timbers 2 (+1.25)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 4 (+11.25)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 3 (-16.00)
After what could be a brutal 14 game run from May 10 to August 13 where Portland plays 10 playoff teams, T2 have a final quarter that sees them play against only three of last year’s stronger teams.
4) Oklahoma City Energy (+0.96)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 2 (+16.18)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 1 (-19.07)
Energy fans may have a rough time in the early weeks of the season, as their team will play seven of their first nine games against teams that made the playoffs in 2016. A breath of fresh air will follow though, as only one of their next eight come against the playoff pool.
5) Tulsa Roughnecks (+0.85)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 3 (+20.29)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 1 (-20.59)
After a brutal 2016 campaign, the Roughnecks are awarded with the hardest opening quarter in the west. The first time they will play a team that did not make the playoffs will be in their ninth match against newcomers Reno 1868 FC. The difficult start may pay off in the second half of the season, though, since Tulsa sees only six playoff teams in their final sixteen games.
6) Real Monarchs (+0.40)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 2 (+12.30)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 1 (-5.57)
The best part about the Monarchs’ season is the lack of any huge difficulty spike. The down side is that there does not appear to be an identifiable easy stretch of games. It looks like it might all be about consistency for this team.
7) Reno 1868 (+0.07)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 1 (+17.20)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 2 (-10.68)
The new guys in the West have what could be a soft start to their inaugural season, only seeing three playoff teams in their first eight games. Reno does have five playoff teams appearing in each of the remaining quarters though, so this freshman team will need to make sure to get a good start.
8) Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (-0.03)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 4 (+16.54)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 3 (-16.96)
If the Whitecaps can be relevant after a third quarter which sees them match up against six playoff teams, a dangerous new team in Reno, and a San Antonio squad who finished a game out of the 2016 playoffs, they should make it back to the playoffs.
9) Orange County SC (-0.32)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 3 (+8.96)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 4 (-13.04)
The newly branded Orange County SC should look to obtain a solid spot by the end of the third quarter, as the fourth quarter sees them match up against five playoff teams from 2016. A run of five straight games against teams who failed to make the playoffs last season from June 3 to July 16 is a great chance for Orange County to make some noise early.
10) Sacramento Republic (-1.33)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 1 (+6.39)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 4 (-6.98)
The Republic will have a season without many tough runs or difficult spans. They will never play more than five playoff teams in a quarter, or have a quarter where they see less than three. Much like the Monarchs, consistency will be key for Sacramento.
11) Swope Park Rangers (-1.38)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 2 (+10.93)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 4 (-10.45)
The team who caught fire at the end of the 2016 season may need to stay hot early in 2017. A favorable second quarter should help, but six of the final eight games for the Rangers this season will be against playoffs teams from last year.
12) Seattle Sounders 2 (-2.05)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 4 (+22.45)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 2 (-12.68)
After disappointing ends to the 2015 and 2016 seasons for S2 enters their third year with the easiest quarter for any team in the West this season.
13) San Antonio FC (-2.74)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 3 (+3.48)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 1 (-13.14)
San Antonio saw their first season in the USL end on a sour note, just narrowly missing out on the playoffs. The 2017 campaign may start out a bit tough as well, with four of their first five games against playoffs teams from 2016.
14) Rio Grande Valley Toros (-3.38)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 1 (+8.75)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 2 (-17.75)
The Toros are in for a difficult second quarter, which sees them draw six 2016 playoff teams. If the Toros can start the season strong, they may be able to capitalize on only playing six of the 2016 playoff teams in the second half of the season.
15) Los Angeles Galaxy II (-4.52)
Easiest Quarter: Quarter 4 (+3.86)
Hardest Quarter: Quarter 2 (-18.02)
If any team in the West has the right to complain about their draw before the season starts, it is Los Dos. On top of managing to draw the reigning USL champion and all-around juggernaut, New York Red Bulls II, there are no real easy spots in the schedule for Los Dos to make a run.
Top three easiest quarters in West:
1) Seattle Sounders 2 – Fourth Quarter (+22.45)
2) Colorado Springs Switchbacks – First Quarter (+22.30)
3) Tulsa Roughnecks – Third Quarter (+20.29)
Top three hardest quarters in West:
1) Tulsa Roughnecks – First Quarter (-20.95)
2) Oklahoma City Energy – First Quarter (-19.07)
3) Los Angeles Galaxy II – Second Quarter (-18.02)
With all of this data, it is good to remember that all teams in the West do still play each other at least twice. While the four variable games may seem like a large number, remember that 14th place in the West in last year finished only six points out of the playoffs. An easy or difficult draw in those four games may be critical.
What teams do you think will be able to overcome a tough draw? What teams do you think will squander their chances to make a good run this season? Let us know in the comment section below!