After the dust settled on an eventful off-season in the USL, the third-division league is suiting up for the 2016 campaign with 29 teams. While the 15-team Western Conference posed mathematical and geographical challenges, the even-numbered Eastern Conference will have a much more balanced schedule for the upcoming season.
On January 20, the USL released its conference alignment ahead of the awaited schedule drop. Acclaimed USL blogger Chad Hollingsworth pointed out on Scratching the Pitch that Saint Louis FC hopped over to the Western Conference to designate the Mississippi River as the division between the two conferences. Hollingsworth also noted that the problems of unequal conferences and unbalanced schedules is a problem that MLS fans know all too well.
At 1:00PM on the East Coast on Tuesday, the USL and all its member teams released the 2016 regular season schedule. Rochester's schedule is a lot easier to parse and understand than almost every team out west.
Davis, California based writer Evan Ream noted the particular concentration of regional matches that 2014 Champion Sacramento Republic FC will play in 2016.
Charlotte Independence fan and USL pundit Jason Bailey emphasized the discrepancy between the tidy East and the messy West.
Eastern conference schedule is finely balanced, home/away vs everyone in conf + 4 regional rivals. No one plays opponent 4x..— JB (@jas_bai) January 26, 2016
Western Conference is madness. Lots of teams have only 1 matchup vs an opponent and all but @SwitchbacksFC have an opponent they have 4x— JB (@jas_bai) January 26, 2016
As far as the Rhinos' schedule for the upcoming season, the team will again open on the road as Western New York thaws out and rediscovers the spring sunshine. Rochester faces Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, and New York Red Bulls II on consecutive Saturdays starting on April 2.
After that the team opens up Sahlen's Stadium (perhaps with a new playing surface and renovated videoboard in place) on Sunday, April 24 against FC Montreal. Rochester then hosts Harrisburg City Islanders, Charleston Battery, and Charlotte Independence for an early four-game homestand.
In 2015, the team faced its Canadian neighbors four times each. Instead, with a 14-team conference playing home and away for 26 games, the league chose to split the remaining four games among four separate opponents to round out a 30-game season.
The Rhinos will still face Toronto and Montreal more often, but Rochester will also play Pittsburgh and New York Red Bulls an additional time, as well. This geographic clustering, creating something like de facto divisions within the conference, is the general rule in the Eastern Conference with a few exceptions for teams playing nearby Western Conference opponents.
Rochester will close out the 2016 regular season, hopefully en route to a successful playoff run, on Saturday, September 24 at home against TFC II.
The entire league schedule can be found here, and the list can be sorted by team on the dropdown menu.
Rhinos' fans planning on making some roadtrips can probably expect to see Red Bull Arena (though the venue was listed as TBD) and with a valid passport in hand, the fun metropolitan centers of Toronto and Montreal. If Harrison, New Jersey, is too far a drive and international travel is not an option, settle for Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh as Rochester opens its USL title defense the first weekend of April.