MLR Announces 2021 Schedule
Source: Major League Rugby
The countdown is officially on! Shortly after the reveal of all the kits, Major League Rugby announced the schedule for the 2021 season! The season gets underway on Saturday, March 20th, 2021 with NOLA Gold hosting Old Glory DC at 4pm! You can view the entire schedule here.
One of the more intriguing revelations of the schedule announcement was the format the league would choose to go with having thirteen teams and uneven conferences. I had my own ideas way back in May, and ultimately, I’m pleased by what the league has elected to do although there are some quirks.
The seven-team Western conference will play every one in their conference twice and have four matches against Eastern Conference opponents. The East is where it becomes a bit more intriguing. NOLA Gold, Old Glory DC, Rugby ATL, and the Toronto Arrows will play one Eastern opponent three times and the rest of the conference twice. This leaves five matches against Western Conference opponents.
The New England Free Jacks and Rugby United New York will play two Eastern opponents three times and have four matches against teams in the West. Ultimately, this leaves a scenario where for the first time in MLR history, you will not play against every team in the league.
Additionally, the imbalanced schedule will introduce a new element to Major League Rugby; the strength of schedule. Gone are the days of 2019 where a nine-team league allowed the structure to be simply playing everyone at home and away. Houston avoids Toronto and NOLA in cross-conference play. Seattle will battle Toronto, NOLA, Old Glory, and RUNY, the top four teams in the Eastern Conference in the brief 2020 season.
The Free Jacks extra two Eastern games are against Toronto and RUNY, two playoff teams from the last full year of MLR rugby (and they also get to play San Diego). Ultimately, no club’s schedule really jumps out as insanely hard as the league still has a sense of parity where you feel that anyone can beat anyone on a given night. It’s simply that the schedules are no longer similar, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
Toronto Arrows Schedule
Following a week 1 bye, the Arrows will open 2021 with one of the most anticipated matches on the schedule. The Arrows will take on San Diego in their season opener. Prior to the 2020 season being cancelled, it looked like we were on pace to see an Arrows vs Legion MLR Final. Sadly we will never know what could have been last year, but it is nice to start off 2021 with the way many thought 2020 would have ended.
With the season starting later in the year, the Arrows are not subjected to a lengthy road trip to start the season. They will play to their home fans (hopefully) at York Lions Stadium for the first time on Sunday, April 10th where they will have their first of three matchups with the New England Free Jacks (clearly the MLR schedule makers wanted to ensure some collar-on-collar matchups). Ultimately, the Arrows have a balanced schedule. The longest road trip is two games and the longest homestand is two games.
Seven of the Arrows’ eight home games are at 12:00pm on Sundays. The lone exception is their matchup on Sunday, July 4th against RUNY, which kicks off at 6:00 pm. This a great move by the club as Sunday home games will avoid conflict with most of the Rugby Ontario club matches that happen on Saturdays.
The Arrows will play five Western Conference clubs in 2021. Following the season opener with San Diego, the Arrows will also take on the Austin Gilgronis, Seattle Seawolves, Utah Warriors, and the expansion Dallas Jackals. Ultimately, this means that the Arrows will not play the LA Giltinis or Houston SaberCats in 2021. From the perspective of a Canadian rugby fan, that means Arrows fans will miss out on seeing DTH van der Merwe in LA and the branch of the Pacific Pride program that is now in Houston.
The Arrows have spent the extended off-season developing quite an impressive squad. The expectations for the club will be to win the Shield and now they have their path to do it.