The 2017 New York Red Bulls will have a harder path to the silverware than the team's 2016 edition - and that's not just because Dax McCarty is gone. A quick overview of the Red Bulls' schedule indicates that the team will have an even more daunting schedule than last year.
More daunting, that is, if you give much weight to the MLSSoccer.com 2017 Strength of Schedule chart, which ranks teams' regular-seasons in order of difficulty based on the 2016 points-per-game average of their 2017 opponents.
For the season ahead, the league's official website reports that RBNY's 2017 opponents averaged 1.33 points per game in 2016 - and that is the 13th-hardest schedule in MLS this year. Sort of.
In 2016, the league identified RBNY as having the easiest regular season ahead of it, with opponents averaging a mere 1.32 points per game. Yes, that's not much different from the average ppg of this year's opposition - make of it what you will.
Even before we know if last year's good teams are still this year's good teams, there are a few potential trouble spots visible on RBNY's 2017 calendar. The team's home form will be tested early by its first three opponents at Red Bull Arena: Colorado, Real Salt Lake, and DC United - all of whom beat the Red Bulls on the road in 2016. And September will be a brutal stretch of 6 games in 29 days - not even counting the possible addition of Champions League or US Open Cup matches.
The league's schedule-strength calculations pick out Vancouver Whitecaps as having the toughest season ahead, with opponents averaging 1.43 points per game. New England Revolution has been handed the Eastern Conference's hardest schedule (opponents averaging 1.40 ppg).
The easiest schedule in the league goes to Columbus Crew, whose opposition averaged 1.30 points per game in 2016.
In the end, Strength of Schedule is really only the roughest of guides to the coming season - it cannot possibly account for the way teams change based on roster re-tooling or even what kind of teams the two new expansion clubs will be.
The Red Bulls will open the MLS season on the road against newly minted Atlanta United, while riding a club record 16-game regular-season unbeaten streak.