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Time for MLS to grow up in scheduling matters

Oct 28, 2012, 10:45 AM EDT

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You tell me how this is fair?

The Houston Dynamo rolled out a lineup of almost all reservists last night. And why wouldn’t the Dynamo do it this way?

Given results from earlier in the day, they were unable to move out of fifth position; the regular season finale in Colorado became irrelevant in playoff positioning about two hours before kickoff outside Denver. Regardless of the result, Dominic Kinnear’s men would meet Chicago in a mid-week elimination match, so going with the reserves Saturday was clearly the right call.

Only, what about Chicago? Wouldn’t Fire coach Frank Klopas have loved to have gotten some extra rest for his players four days ahead of this critical 90 minutes, since they didn’t get the result they needed Saturday, anyway.

Of course, if we talk about rest and fairness as it relates to the MLS playoffs, can’t we also point to the Eastern Conference champions? How is it fair that Sporting Kansas City gets an extra half-week of rest over the remainder of the post-season field? Sporting KC finished its regular season schedule on Wednesday; the rest of the league finishes this weekend.

Here’s the point, and it’s one I’ve made before:

It’s time for MLS to grow up on scheduling issues, to get out of the minor leagues – and to reject the minor league thinking that creates these situations.

Bottom line here: kickoffs on the last weekend should be simultaneous. Period.

To help accommodate TV windows, they could be divided out by conference, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Not only is it more fair, but we get the potential for final-day, multi-screen drama like we get in tournament play (or in last spring’s brilliant EPL final day drama), where the final group matches go off simultaneously.

Regarding Kansas City’s extra rest: The league currently sits at 19 teams, so someone had to get the extra rest. But the schedule makers fumbled this one badly; at the very least, they should have played the percentages and given the early finish to expansion Montreal, which was infinitely less likely to qualify for the playoffs than everyone’s favorite to capture the East.

Where is the wisdom in giving Sporting KC the additional rest?

Even better would have been to look at the standings and the schedule a month ago and move a match or two, getting all the contests with playoff implications into the weekend slot.

These issues come up every year. Club and league officials have long cited stadium availability as the primary impediment – but that’s just a status quo excuse at this point, and the reasoning falls away with every new stadium added. At this point, only three teams do not enjoy complete scheduling control of their facilities, and two of those (New England and Seattle) have cooperative agreements with NFL partners that provide a reasonable level of flexibility.

So, really it’s down to TV agreements and to clubs that are frequently reluctant to move games due to push-back from ticket holders. But this is precisely what I mean when I say it’s time to “grow up.” The league has to say, “This is the way it is.”

Here is what league spokesman Will Kuhns told me via email:

“The availability of national TV windows is one of the hurdles we face when trying to schedule concurrent games. Still, we are discussing the feasibility, merits and challenges of having a more condensed final week of the season in the future. Late-season games are often more difficult to move around because of the large quantity of pre-sold tickets and again, the availability of TV windows.”


I know some of the owners and league officials are more committed than others on looking at competitive issues when it comes to scheduling; I’ve talked to various club officials about it.

It is a tricky balance, and I get that. But the balance needs to move; this isn’t a 12-team league that’s barely hanging on anymore.

On the one hand, fewer games are being played over FIFA dates, a very positive development in MLS scheduling. On the other hand, we just had a game moved into a FIFA window to accommodate a financially beneficial Seattle Sounders friendly.

It’s time for competitive matters to take precedent. Period.

  1. sluggo271 - Oct 28, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    This is exactly why Prosoccertalk shold focus strictly on EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc. until MLS starts acting like a professional league it’s not worth the ink.

    • randomhandle1 - Oct 28, 2012 at 7:47 PM

      Wait. So because of a relatively minor scheduling issue, MLS merits no coverage from the network that pays $10 million a year to broadcast its games? Seriously — THAT is “exactly why” the league should be snubbed by NBC’s soccer blog?

      Good grief. I can’t believe this baloney sat uncontested for eight hours.

      • randomhandle1 - Oct 28, 2012 at 7:51 PM

        (Since we’re talking about the blog, I might as well say this here: You’d probably get a lot more commenting action, Steve, if these guys would ditch the WordPress requirement. I suspect it’s really limiting the number of people who chime in.)

  2. east96st - Oct 28, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    I agree that they should be more aware of the schedule in the beginning of the season. But moving games around on a whim at the last minute? A month’s notice would not have corrected all those games in the East. A month ago, Columbus was still in the mix! You would have had to change Columbus’ game around to serve what end? Sorry, Steve, not all of us have jobs writing about soccer. I’m a season ticket holder. Season ticket holders are the backbone of support for the clubs. We have lives that we deliberately plan around our team’s schedule. That’s not easy do even with advanced notice. Now, whenever you feel it’s not “fair”, we need to jump through hoops or miss games? Sporting may regret the rest if they come out sluggish. Houston may regret sending in reservists if their starters find their timing is off. You can’t predict how this will play out. What about the teams that played CONCAF vs those that didn’t? Are you saying all the CONCAF teams are destined to fail because they played more games? Should CONCAF go away because it’s not “fair” that one team has played more games than the other? Prove to us that the team that played on Wednesday won the Championship more often than not and there would something to discuss. Otherwise, this is just bluster. Professional sports has long history of teams who took a meaningless game, or two, off falling flat on their faces in the playoffs. A number of them won it all. It’s about the team, not the final game of the season. An extra game’s rest does NOT equal a championship. If it did, every team in the League would be demanding the Wednesday game and every team would refuse to play starters in CONCAF. Where are that facts supporting this “advantage” about which you are rallying against? Just because you THINK it’s a benefit, doesn’t make it so. Give us hard numbers that show a long term, consistent advantage or leave it alone.

    • Steve Davis - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:08 PM

      You are not moving games willy-nilly at the last minute. Perhaps as few as two, six weeks out. There is ample precedent … it has been done plenty of times before for other reasons. So, 17 of 19 clubs’ season ticket holders would not have to be impacted. Or. … how about my first suggestion? Don’t put SKC into that slot?

      • east96st - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:28 PM

        I did agree with your first suggestion in my first sentence. I sincerely apologize that I was not more clear about that. I freely admit that I am no wordsmith. Two weeks out? I coach two soccer teams and have three kids. I can’t do anything with my schedule with two weeks notice. And, again, I have to ask where is the proof that there is a competitive advantage? If you want to change something, I think it’s only fair that you document why the current system does not work. Its clear you BELIEVE this is an advantage. I don’t dispute your feelings. I’m asking that you put in the leg work and SHOW that’s there is an advantage. Feelings aren’t facts. Fans and the player should not have their lives turned upside down on the basis of feelings. If there are hard numbers to support your position, I am open to seeing them and changing my mind.

    • Steve Davis - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      Uh-oh! Look who is no wordsmith now … me! I meant, it may mean moving as few as two matches, six weeks out, may be all that is required. Sorry to be unclear. (That sounds reasonable to me.) As to your question about creating advantages, I can offer up all the tourneys and competitions now that recognize, the best odds of NOT creative a competitive advantage or disadvantage are in scheduling final-day simultaneous kickoffs.

      • east96st - Oct 28, 2012 at 1:17 PM

        Well, if it’s scheduled at the beginning of the season, I have no issue with it whatsoever. That’s fine. I think every season ticket holder understands that when the schedule comes out, there will be a couple of games that will be difficult to get to. That’s a burden that all season ticket holders in every sport face for the perk of having a guaranteed seat. But, if you’re still gung ho about moving games a month out, then saying, “Well, everyone else does it!”, isn’t enough. I’m not saying it’s easy, or even pleasant, to crunch the numbers, but if there’s a TRUE competitive advantage in the scheduling for MLS teams, there are enough years of statistical data to back that up. Given the fact that there are more than a few coaches and GMs in the MLS that are pretty smart guys, and look for any advantage they can get, I have to think if the advantage was there, teams would be vocally demanding it. I’m willing to bet the best run MLS teams have already crunched the numbers and found that it’s not the issue some think it is.

  3. @C_Tobin - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    Moving games is going to be hard. I’m a Sounders season ticket holder and they moved a game from Sunday to Saturday because Monday Night Football wanted access to the stadium early and there was a TV window Saturday night. But I received no less than 30 e-mails/tweets/notices that the game was moved and people still complained that their tickets were wrong even though the game was moved months in advance.
    As for the premise of the article, I agree 100% that this weekend’s staggered final games has been patently unfair and in the case of Houston, silly. (side note: How much value did Rapids ticket holders get from paying for a virtual reserve match?) The solution is to schedule the games concurrently from the beginning. With the current playoff format, it would make sense and provide two days of intrigue to do each conference on different days.

  4. Steve Davis - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    “The solution is to schedule the games concurrently from the beginning.” Bingo. Yes, moving games is never ideal.

    • pensfan603 - Oct 29, 2012 at 11:18 AM

      First uneven scheduled do to amount of teams second not all of the arenas are avaliable at one specific time, you also have to remember there are restrictions against teams like the houston dynamo from playing home games at certain times do to extreme heat, and other risks, not to mention the point you have so many west coast teams figuring out a certain time that would work is unlikely second, as I said before normally survival sunday in the EPL is a drowler and not that interesting since absolutely non of the games actually matter in there league 90% of the time on survivor sunday. I mean normally the most drama they get is “can this team about to be religated actually win for once and stay in the epl” its why they call it survival. having them all at the same time would of done nothing, Yes you will have meaning less games but thats because you have so many games in the schedule look at any sport that has over 30 games in a seaosn it happens baseball, basketball, hockey nothing you can do but shorten the season.

  5. dfstell - Oct 28, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    MLS is just lousy at scheduling. This is yet another example. I enjoy the league, but they have a lot of rooms for improvement. Who doesn’t love simultaneous kick-offs?

  6. footballer4ever - Oct 28, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    sluggo271 said:

    This is exactly why Prosoccertalk shold focus strictly on EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc. until MLS starts acting like a professional league it’s not worth the ink.
    Good thing you do not make any decisions around here. For a 17 y/o young league, MLS is a league in transition which has to deal with many challenges and to throw a statement like that up in the air is not only ignorant, but moronic-like. The league is not perfect in any way, but that i am aware of no established league is. As a fan the only thing to expect is to amend mistakes and improve each year. NBC/NBCSN, thanks for your coverage to MLS football which true fans appreciate and look up to our league in a positive and encouraging outliook.

  7. danielofthedale - Oct 28, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL all have the same end of season schedule as MLS, being that a team can know if its already in the playoffs and if it can improve its seeding and how to balance its roster. It does not seem to be the end of the world for them. So does it suck for Chicago that Houston got to rest it guys? Yeah, but Chicago could have done the same and gamble that their reserves could have beating DC and if not they would be rested for the wild card game (now that would not be smart but its still an option). Also, while Houston will be rested and Chicago will be coming off a game, Chicago will not have to travel which should balance out the rest advantage of the Dynamo.

    One more point, since I live in the Atlanta area and have no MLS team it was just great to get to see THREE MLS games on one day. Most of the time those of us that live outside of MLS markets are lucky to get to see on game on a Saturday, so getting three was like Christmas come early. I think MLS should do all they can to get as many games on National TV as possible, it is really the best way to grow the game to non-MLS markets is getting it on TV to watch.

  8. ndnut - Oct 28, 2012 at 4:45 PM

    NFL does better with concurrent games than anyone else as week 17 is all divisional games and your division’s 2 games both start at the same time. MLS could easily do the East on Saturday and West on Sunday if they wished and they should work that in their scheduling. I agree with @east96st that changing times could become a hassle and that should be avoided as much as possible.

  9. footballer4ever - Oct 28, 2012 at 6:45 PM


    If i may suggest, MLS offers the MLS live package which gives you access to non-nationalized football matches as well in which you can watch it on your pc or phone in HD quality in case you were not aware for next season. I have it and it’s worth every penny.

  10. tylerbetts - Oct 28, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    Well … I have to admit, I have serious problems with the MLS schedule. The fact that the final weekend isn’t done EPL style and all played simultaneously? Not at the top of my list.

    The top of my list is the “unbalanced” schedule.

    Houston will play at Chicago this week in a one-game knockout. The game is being played in Chicago instead of Houston because the Fire got four more points this year. Yet, Houston had to play Sporting KC (the best team in the East, by far, wire-to-wire) four times, while Chicago only had to play them three times. Chicago didn’t have to play at Seattle this year, Houston did. And, yes, I’m cherry-picking here and there are certainly scheduling advantages Houston had over Chicago, but those shouldn’t exist.

    I’d worry a lot more about that before I’d worry about the schedule for the final week of games.

  11. maverickstar7 - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:04 PM

    Unfortunately the main problem with perfecting the schedule is the uneven number of teams in the league. It forces to the schedules to be inconsistent. Conference and non-conference games are always rotating, as are the days that teams play. Sometimes weekdays, some times weekends. Its more like and NBA or NHL style schedule than an EPL one. You don’t have a true final weekend because there would always be at least one team off with an uneven number. Before the season starts it would be a complete guess to try and pick a team that would be irrelevant in the final week. If and when a 20th team joins the league it would be much easier to perfect a final weekend. Regardless of what days you schedule games during the whole season, with an even number of teams you could schedule all teams to play their final game on the final weekend. Schedule all games to be conference games. Once you do that, the east does not affect the west so you could split games over two days or at two separate times, just as long as you keep all the games of one conference at the same time.

  12. pensfan603 - Oct 29, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    This is why i hate the idea of the EPL on NBC now all we will get is comparisons between mls and the epl WHICH WE DONT NEED. We arent the EPL we arent La Liga we are something diffrent, we are the mls stop trying to tell us to be like the EPL these things are what defines us yes the dynamos game was pointless but at the same time it ment that the average fan could of watched i think 4 games yesterday the nonstop action all day is what I love yes the last game ebcause irrelevant but so what it was still great soccer the rest of the day. The MLB, NHL, and NBA all have meaning less games but you dont complain about that, and even with the epl structure of all at once you will still have games meaning nothing and in an epl setting you will probably have less, normally you dont have drama across the board they call it survival sunday for a reason BECAUSE ITS THE TEAMS PLAYING SO THEY DONT GET RELIGATED, not because they are fighting for play off spots, you barely ever get any drama on the day because the rest of there scheduled format sucks. Bush League reporting here..

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