One of the most often scrutinized aspects of the USL schedule is the frequency of games slated to take place over a relatively short period of time. Historically, the league has presented schedules that featured teams playing on back to back days or twice in three days. It is a practice that has begun to subside, but the 2016 schedule does have six instances of teams playing twice in three days.
The concern is the increased risk for injury and decreased quality of play. To address the injury risk, StP reached out to John Lytton, owner of Performance Unlimited in Charlotte, NC. Lytton is also the Charlotte Independence Strength and Conditioning Coach.
When asked about the effects of playing 2 games in 3 days and 3 games in 8 days, Lytton responded, “We never want to see multiple games within a seven day period, however, realistically this happens several times throughout a given USL, or any other pro league, season.”
This is an important point to reiterate. Every league has windows of 3 games in 8 days. This isn’t a knock against USL, but an attempt to understand the effects this amount of games in a short period can have on professional players.
“When this happens, as with any week, we have to be smart about prioritizing the energy management within specific individuals in order to periodize freshness for those that are in a fatigued state,” Lytton continued. “We put players in silos that give us a good idea of where their current freshness or readiness to play lies. i.e. play less than 45′, more than 45′, or not at all. Usually coaches cut off at 60′, but we find 45 is more relevant. Within our periodization, we have to make sure that some players recover, others are getting a small stimulus, and the rest are getting a large stimulus to continue their fitness.”
Training specific to each player, not just based on the amount of minutes they played but also on their ability to recover.
“There are several strategies to take when multiple games come up within a small time frame. Strategies always take place based on the questions: ‘How important are the games to big picture/rest of the season?’, ‘What is the current physical state of each player’. These questions come into a foreshadow of the next 1-3 games as well as opportunities to get other players relevant minutes and control minutes of the fatigued,” Lytton said.
Nothing new or surprising there. We’ve all tuned in to see one of our favorite European teams and they’re playing backups and kids.
When the Charlotte Independence play at Rochester on May 14, it follows a May 7 home game and away to Wilmington on May 10. Rochester plays May 6 and will be off until that May 14 contest against Charlotte. Is there a way to quantify how an Independence player going 90 minutes on May 7 and May 10 will be at a disadvantage on 5/14?
Lytton said, “The real question comes with how we are deciding what fatigue level each player is currently experiencing. This is the million dollar question, and I have my own processes that seemed to work well last year, yet will be improved this year. To put is simply, when a player is utilized for 90 minutes in the first game, we can assume that he starts at a 10 (fresh and ready) but finishes the game at a 6, depending on game/position/etc. The next day, he does not come back up, but may fall to a 5 or 4, depending on the individual ability to recover. This typically lasts 48-72 hours, and this particular player will not achieve a 10 by the midweek game. We can hope to accurately assess his score and potentially he is >8. If this is the case, we may limit his minutes, depending on age/injury history/position, or organically watch him play and pull him if he gets dangerous. Let’s say he achieves an 8 at the start of the game on 5/10 and plays 90′. Now he is at a 3 for freshness and may not recover above 8 by 5/14. You see, the more loading a player has, the further down the ‘freshness spectrum’ he goes. So, many of our players will be low and unable to play with high quality, may have limited minutes, or may not be able to play at all by 5/14. A team that has 1 game then does not play for 8 days after, will not only be fresh (theoretically) but will be allowed to create a stimulus that will make them or at least maintain strength/fitness (if done appropriately).”
While we don’t get an answer that tells us “Rochester’s odds of winning increased by __%”, it’s clear that they will have a significant advantage in that particular match. The hope is that over a 30 game season these situations even out and everyone can feel they’ve been given a level playing field.
The reality of an odd number of teams is that all clubs can not play on any given day, which means there will always been 1 team that has more rest than their opponent on the next match day. Add in shared venues, long road trips and you can see the complexity that is scheduling the USL season.