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Why Major League Soccer should not play this weekend

Mar 19, 2013, 7:30 AM EDT

Stade Saputo 2

There was a time when I partially defended MLS for playing through FIFA dates. Scheduling was just such a bugger for the league. Capping the gushers of financial losses was a priority, and prudent event scheduling was among the safeguards against larger losses still.

But we’re past that now. Or should be.

Major League Soccer has expanded the season window, which means they can and have provided some relief here and there during FIFA weekends, like the one coming up. The United States is one of many national teams in action this weekend and early next week.

So why is there a full schedule of MLS matches this weekend? The inertia on this matter is getting harder to accept.

The next matches for prominent leagues in Europe and Mexico? March 30. But eight Major League Soccer contests kick off Saturday or Sunday, smack between the pair of World Cup qualifier dates.

These MLS contests count! Some team will miss the playoffs in 2013 by a point or two, or miss out on higher seeding by a razor-thin margin. (If one of Houston’s draws at home last year had become a three-point victory, for example, MLS Cup 2012 would have been in Houston, not Los Angeles. And how different that match might have looked, eh?)

It’s just not right for MLS to position itself on one hand as a wanna-be top league around the world – but on the other hand plow stubbornly through competitive matches as clubs do without their valuable difference makers, the men away on international duty. Besides not being fair to ticket buyers and being a drag on quality (which ultimately affects everything), it just doesn’t feel right.

The problem, of course, is that going dark on more weekends means adding more of pesky mid-week matches. (Or expanding the playing window further still. But starting in March and ending in December looks like plenty to most of us, including Houston Dynamo GM Chris Canetti, who told me this weekend he thinks the nine-month window is stretched too far already.)

Too many MLS markets still have trouble selling mid-week matches. It’s changing. It gets a little better every year, and some markets manage pretty well now.

But MLS hasn’t reached the point just yet where enough fans in enough markets will fight through enough icky obstacles to make mid-week matches, or where enough hard-cores will make MLS matches a priority, whether it’s on Saturday night or some less-ideal time frame.

The other issues that once kept MLS from avoiding FIFA windows no longer apply. For instance, stadium availability was once a bugger, as so many teams shared a facility, almost always as second-fiddle or lower. Now all but four clubs exercise ultimate control over stadium dates, and even that foursome has favorable negotiating status.

Here’s where the pressure is building on this thing:

source: AP

As more high-quality talent migrates into MLS, more players will come up missing on these FIFA dates. So we’re not just talking about a few American stars.

L.A. plays Colorado this weekend, but will do so without its two best individuals, Irish international Robbie Keane (pictured) and U.S. center back Omar Gonzalez. Either one of them could have made a case for league MVP in 2012 – and yet the Galaxy is left without them. (OK, OK, I know there aren’t too many fans beyond Southern California crying for the two-time defending champs …)

And important Western Conference match will be fought between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. Only Dallas will be missing three internationals, including its starting goalkeeper and 2012 leading scorer; RSL will be without five international call-ups, including the team’s leading scorer, its goalkeeper and its heart and soul, Kyle Beckerman.

Suddenly, a pretty good match feels a little deflated. And that’s what MLS wants?

  1. sluggo271 - Mar 19, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    Well, I am watching the international games not the MLS games. It really doesn’t matter too much anyway. Most of the MLS teams still make the playoffs.

  2. dfstell - Mar 19, 2013 at 9:52 AM

    I’d like to see MLS at least show some sense about meaningful international dates. Some of theses dates are just for friendlies, but most of the world is doing WC qualifiers now.

  3. Nick Webster - Mar 19, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    It’s madness Steve – only in America!!!

  4. berlintexas - Mar 19, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Plus, it ruins Fantasy.

  5. tylerbetts - Mar 19, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    Steve – several great points. But, I think it’s also worth mentioning the strain this puts on fans and how that could hurt MLS in the wallet.

    Take me, for instance. I consider myself a pretty big MLS fan, and of soccer in general. I’m a card carrying member of the American Outlaws. I subscribe to MLS Live. last year, I attended over a half dozen MLS games to see a club I don’t even like or support. I have a standing offer to anyone on my Facebook to join me and participate in the Free Beer Movement. I have gotten more wierd looks from sports bar managers as I show them where they can find Bein Sport, or explain to them what the hell a CONCACAF is.

    Yet … this weekend? I don’t care about MLS games. I don’t have the capital – either in terms of money, time, or energy – to care about MLS games this weekend. My entire focus is on the international window. That USA-Costa Rica game on Friday is consuming my mind, and will consume most of my sports budget. What little it doesn’t consume will be consumed next Tuesday by going out to my Outlaws bar to watch USA-Mexico. Not to mention there’s this small thing called March Madness going on, which is also cutting into my ability to watch and follow soccer.

    Is that what MLS wants? Someone who is a public, proud supporter of their product saying “I absolutely don’t care about your product right now”. Someone who is simply not going to give you an iota of attention to your games? No TV turned into a game, no website refreshes to check scores, none of that?

    I doubt it.

    And that’s something the leage has to realize. Are they actually gaining any fans in stands or watching on TV by having games this weekend as opposed to having them midweek? I have my doubts.

    • Steve Davis - Mar 19, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      Great points, all. Glad you’re a fan. … and the beIN line made me laugh, because every soccer fan has been there at some point (w/ beIN or some other cable soccer carrier)

  6. openseason51 - Mar 19, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    MLS is the minor leagues of soccer.

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