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Yet another reminder why an MLS-to-winter switch would be difficult (or impossible)

Feb 25, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT

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In today’s New York Times, Jack Bell writes about the extensive, careful efforts to remove snow from Red Bull Arena prior to the team’s March 15 home opener.

It’s tricky, see, because the snow obviously must come off the ground – but there’s risk of damaging the field in the process if not done slowly, and just so.

In this case, the arena’s grounds crew has a couple of weeks to get the thing done. But what if Major League Soccer adopts that FIFA calendar, an idea MLS owners and commissioner Don Garber continue kicking around, and an idea that too many Euro-centric proponents believe essential.

Ask yourself this: how many times might this process have needed to take place over the last three-plus months if MLS was already thick into this potential switch? Even with the break Garber has discussed as the centerpiece, there’s just too much “winter weather” in the winters of the Northeast and the Midwest.

How many times would Chicago Fire supporters have been asked to go sit in sub-freezing temperatures over the last three-plus months? Other places, too.

Just more food for thought on this thing.

  1. dfstell - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    I always ask this and I never get a decent answer: Why can’t MLS just have a regional schedule based on the local weather and let all the teams even out their schedules at 38 games (or whatever they play) sometime in the fall when the weather is acceptable for everyone?

    The country is just too large to have a single season for all and I don’t understand what is lost if the warm weather teams and cold weather teams aren’t all playing at the same time.

    • dfstell - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:11 PM

      This is kinda what I mean. I can buy that people don’t like the idea – which is obvious from the number of thumbs-down I get with my original post – but why? What’s wrong with it? Let the northern teams take a break in the crappy winter, but why keep them from playing in Miami in December? Miami is GLORIOUS in December. But we have to play in August in Houston and Atlanta? Why not let the Houston/Atlanta/Miami/Orlando folks have July/August off?

      I just don’t understand why this is such a wretched idea that everyone just thumbs-down it without even commenting.

      • overtherepermanently - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:26 PM

        Competitive imbalance. Simple.

      • soccerphanatic - Feb 26, 2014 at 11:59 AM

        You end up with half of the league playing an August-May schedule and the other half playing a March-November schedule. The logistics would be a mess since teams would potentially be on the road for months at a time or having a mini offseason while their stadiums are covered in snow or boiling in the Southern heat. Simply put, everyone has to be on the same schedule for the league to work. Otherwise, we basically split the league in two.

      • lostintransocean - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:17 PM

        You wouldn’t necessarily have to have half the teams take breaks, it would just be home games up north in summer and away games in south in winter.

    • talgrath - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:55 PM

      All right, I’ll bite. If you have a northern half of play and a southern half of play then MLS isn’t a singular league, you have two leagues. Unless of course you mean that all games in the winter should be played in the southern areas of the country and/or areas without freezing temperatures, in which case the problem is that teams will be playing away games for months at a time, which means that half of your league (at least) is nomadic, going from city to city until the weather gets warmer. The other factor is that this is a scheduling nightmare for MLS, the only teams that could play with a reasonable expectation of few to no snow days currently in the league would be Seattle, Portland, LA, Houston and Dallas, that’s five cities for 19 MLS teams to play in; every other city with an MLS team just got smacked by this polar vortex during some part of the year at least. Even with the southern expansion, that gives us Miami and Orlando, but also another New York team, so that would be 22 teams playing in seven cities and even Atlanta (the likely 23rd) got hit. Too many teams play in cold areas of the country to have a geographically split season like that.

  2. pmacd82 - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    I think that if you believe in climate change and the idea that Europe is about to come under a big chill, UEFA at least, is gonna be joining us in no time.

  3. kb57 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    This post is rather disingenuous. Everyone knows by now that any switch to August-to-May would include a lengthy winter break, and proponents’ motivations have nothing to do with “Eurocentrism” but rather wanting the playoffs to not be in the disastrously timed months of November and December.

    The obstacles to a switch are financial, in that the league still benefits too much from bountiful summer gates to merit it, not meteorological, as the would-be break and weather during the beginning and end of our current calendar already show.

    • udosean - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:28 PM

      Thank you for acknowledging this. Every time I see an article referencing a winter schedule and pointing to the weather conditions in January and February as obstacles I feel like screaming. Everyone with common sense advocating a Fall/Spring calendar is doing so with an extended winter break in mind.

      And that is not to say that that idea doesn’t pose its own obstacles

      • overtherepermanently - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:28 PM

        Unless that “extended” break extends all the way to March, it is completely unworkable.

    • charliej11 - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:04 PM

      They should take a break from Dec to March. That would work. That would be the perfect winter break length, no ?

      • lostintransocean - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:18 PM

        That’s exactly what they do now.

    • talgrath - Feb 26, 2014 at 6:36 PM

      What’s so bad about playing in November? I can understand December, snow starts to fall and what-not, but play to the end of the November (like MLS did in 2012) and you’re fine, rarely any snow in November and while the weather is chilly it isn’t bad (and in may places it is quite pleasant). Or if you’re going to play into December, ditch the higher seed plays at home bit and just play in the warmer locations for the MLS cup.

  4. nappy25 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:36 PM

    I think the die hard soccer fans will endure the cold just like NFL fans do in the winter. Chicago Bears fans do it every year. The fans shouldn’t be part of this argument. The argument should only involve the pitch conditions and not the fans.

    • midtec2005 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:59 PM

      “The MONEY shouldn’t be part of this argument. The argument should only involve the pitch conditions and not the MONEY.”

      There, fixed it.

    • chadmoon1 - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:57 PM

      Here’s the problem with playing to the “die-hards”. Yes, I would go if it were cold here in Dallas, which it does get. (High temp today: 40’s with a strong north wind. It’s pretty cold out!) But would the non die hards come out tonite to watch a match? No. So there would be a crowd of around 5-6k tops. Not good.

    • talgrath - Feb 26, 2014 at 6:41 PM

      An organization that looks only to please its die-hard members or fans is a dying one, if there isn’t a bunny slope of sorts then only a handful of masochists will want to join you. As far as the pitch conditions in winter in the US, they’re crap, unless you have retractable roofs on many of the stadiums with artificial heat and light, grass doesn’t grow well in the winter in the US. There’s no valid reason to change the MLS schedule to play a European schedule, other than wanting to be like Europe.

  5. overtherepermanently - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    I can’t even imagine playing a soccer game in Foxborough or Chicago in February, let alone Canada. I can’t even conceive of an argument to justify this. None. Simply ludicrous.

  6. thewalkoffktxt - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    If everyone’s not worried about this: MLS Cup will be held somewhere very cold for the foreseeable future. The only way I could be down with the status quo is if, at the very least, keep MLS Cup in warm-weather locales. (Yes, I’m talking about holding it in neutral locations.) Make it soccer’s Super Bowl or something. Keep it away from SEC Championship weekend, most importantly.

  7. cobibones13 - Feb 26, 2014 at 2:22 AM

    This is a terrible argument. What, does it not snow in Europe? lol. For some reason this magical problem never comes up for American football the last 2 months of the season(and playoffs), and people are more than willing to sit in the cold. I guess US soccer fans are too fair weather for soccer in winter.

    • midtec2005 - Feb 26, 2014 at 8:36 AM

      There’s a big difference between sitting through a cold playoff game and a cold regular season game. The cold nfl games are in the playoffs.

      No one is going to watch Chivas USA play the Revolution for last place in Boston in February… No one. That is if they even can play, there may just be 2 feet of snow on the field.

    • midtec2005 - Feb 26, 2014 at 8:38 AM

      Oh, and in most of Europe it doesn’t snow as much. In the places it does, they have a winter break, or they play on a spring-to-fall schedule like MLS.

    • wandmdave - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      Weather patterns make the west coast of USA and Europe have a warmer climate during winter at higher latitudes than on the east coast. That allows England and Cascadia to play later into winter without playing in bitter cold. The northern mid-west and northeast do not have that luxury just as Scandinavian countries in Europe dont and they don’t play a winter schedule either. Russia plays a winter schedule but they take an equally long winter break as MLS. However they can achieve this because they don’t have a playoffs and only have 16 teams in the top flight (30 game schedule). MLS could do the same but only by making drastic changes like splitting the league into regions that only play against each other in the playoffs.

      • wandmdave - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:22 PM

        Don’t get me wrong there are compelling reasons to make a change like being able to honor FIFA dates so teams don’t have to play extended periods without their stars and aligning with global transfer windows better but in the end if fans don’t come all that is for naught. Plus you can argue the current schedule conditions domestic USMNT players to play in hot weather and allows them to be rounding into form but fresh as major tourneys start instead of in coming in tired after a full season.

  8. tanker18 - Feb 26, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    You do realize that the solution to the problem is to install heating under the pitches just like they have in England if you really want to play in winter. And the occasional game is going to have to be postponed and played at a later date, so it is workable just take a look at Russia.

    • mikeevergreen - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      Many Russians want to move back to summer.

    • nomail3 - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:31 PM

      Sporting Park has a sub air heating system under the pitch. Field still had issues for MLS Cup on December 7th when the high was in the teens. I think they can somewhat easily design a raise tarp system with heaters to keep the pitch in better playing condition when cold…and they can make more use of stadium field grow lights. We put a man on the moon 45 years ago, we can figure this out.

      • chadmoon1 - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:00 PM

        Sure, with spending a ton of dough. This league can’t blow $ on systems like this, they must save the money for players, marketing, ect.

      • mlsconvert88888 - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:07 PM

        Yeah, just like Chad said, it’s the cost issue.
        I’m an engineer so thinking about cool design concepts like that give me a little bit of a chubby, but as many clients put it when considering design/installation cost, “We don’t need the gold plated Cadillac, just give us the Chevrolet.”

  9. mikeevergreen - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    The Germans are considering a move to the US/Ireland/China/Japan schedule.

  10. charliej11 - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    If only we could figure out a schedule that took a break in Dec, Jan, Feb, then started back up in March….maybe March 8th.

    • talgrath - Feb 26, 2014 at 6:58 PM

      You could call it a season when MLS is off, an offseason if you will. Players could train in the warmer parts of the country like South Carolina or Arizona, perhaps even participate in offseason tournaments put on by colleges in these places.

      • charliej11 - Mar 7, 2014 at 10:42 AM


  11. nomail3 - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    Fall to Spring schedule is not difficult.

    Start in August and go until the first week in December. Resume season early-mid February (I’d love to see the first game after the break be a West Coast game on Network TV after the SuperBowl). Warm/mild weather cities (and the dome in Vancouver) can host games for two weeks before the break and two weeks after the break. “Cold” weather cities can EASILY make up that small difference with a few extra home games in August/September and April/May. I don’t think fans in Miami/Orlando/Dallas/Houston will mind having a couple less games in August. Likewise teams in NE/NY/TOR/MONT/SLC/DEN won’t mind a couple less home games in late November/early December or February.

    And do you really mean to tell me there was no way to cover the field before the snow fell? Cover the field with a tarp, get some heaters (or a heated tarp). Snow melts off or can easily be swept off later. They can easily build a raised tarp system to cover the field to keep the snow off while it’s falling. Covering it for a day won’t harm the grass (they cover it for concerts for more than a day at a time at several MLS stadiums). Use more “stadium field grow lights” to help the grass grow.

  12. jbart65 - Feb 26, 2014 at 6:48 PM

    In a perfect world every MLS stadium would have a retractable roof – to keep the cold out in the North in the winter and to keep the cool air (AC) inside in the South in the summer. Until such a day comes it’s hard for me to see the league adopting the international calendar.

    The split-season idea is flawed on many levels as it pertains to the U.S. The MLS eventually needs lots of people to become fans who aren’t ingrained in the European or global soccer culture. The idea of a split season is alien to them. Heck, it’s alien to me.

    In my case, I would either not follow the first half of the season closely or I would lose interest over an extended break.

    Nor is soccer meant to be played in cold weather the same way American football is. Football has always been played in some of the worst months of the year because the game is actually somewhat conducive to it — the running game and close-in tackling. It can actually be fun to watch and reduces the game to the brutal basics.

    Soccer is a much more wide open game that relies on a ball not deadened by cold air and constant movement on the ground. Frozen turf and snow disrupt the flow of the beatiful game and render it ugly. That’s okay from time to time with football, but not soccer.

    MLS is between rock and a hard place. Ultimately you have to go with what is most acceptable to the fans and not the international schedule. If the MLS ever becomes one of the top leagues and pays like the NFL, players will come here from all over regardless of the league calendar.

    • dgrblue - Feb 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

      They are in the predicament because they put themselves there. I do not doubt they are doing what they feel is right, but right for whom? Right now, unless a club seriously over pays for top euro talent, they are. Other coming. Most teams do not have the wherewithal to pay for a messi, or a Gareth bale, however, it currently is loomed at by most euros as a playground for aged former stars and a great and above average players, mostly. It is trending upward, however, the us culture is slowdown to change. See, euro kids want to play football, they grow up with a soccerball, where as u.s. kids stop playing soccer after 8 yrs old, in most cases, they then move to football or whatnot, we have to change that culture and get kids interested in soccer and then keep them interested. If they cannot get on more readily available tv coverage, it will not work.

  13. dgrblue - Feb 27, 2014 at 4:48 AM

    Why does MLS need a playoffs anyways. Just because it’s American, playoffs are required. Seems to me that if the MLS wants to be taken seriously, it needs to get it’sb act together. I personally do not care for this playoffs in soccer, but MLS clearly is all for it. My idea is to do away with playoffs, top team at end is winner of cup, and the plays winner of Mexican league. Just my thoughts. Also, it seems that not many people are in favor of a split schedule, how is it competitively unfair? If every team has equal number of home and away games. So what if the are played in June or November. Travel is travel. Every team has to travel. This option is not ideal, only because if is not neat and tidy, and as fans you all want everything just so. As far as mls goes, how long has it taken just to get to this point. MLS seems to not be able to get out of its own way. I mean come on, you cannot get your “playoff game on tv. Hell, even nhl can do that. That’s the the thing, WWE is more mainstream than MLS, and probably more people watch pirate streams of euro football, than MLS on tv, cut I’ll be darned if I can find it. Get ota broadcasts, and not on sat night or Sunday morning, but around prime time, and you will get more fans, period.

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