ISSUE OF THE WEEK: Why does MLS insist on a Misplaced Calendar?
While the rest of the world’s FIFA sanctioned first divisions more or less stay on a consistent international calendar, MLS runs its season from March through November. Not only does this restrict MLS’ ability to play in the international transfer market, it also leaves the MLS playoffs and MLS cup at the worst possible time in the year to get national media attention: in the middle of the NFL season, towards the tail end of the College Football’s regular season, right after the World Series and as the NBA and NHL seasons begin.
This summer, MLS rejected offers for Sharlie Joseph to go the SPL Champions Celtic, Clint Dempsey, and Eddie Johnson. The reason was simple and valid: While European leagues were beginning their seasons and were beefing up their rosters for the campaign, MLS was ending its regular season and the sale of top players would be disruptive. The other international transfer window takes place in January: before the MLS season begins but in the middle of the European season. This mismatch of calendars has precluded Major League Soccer from acquiring top international talent who could bolster the leagues weak domestic and international standing, in addition to preventing top MLS players from moving abroad as a showcase for the league.
Major League Soccer complains about the loss of national team players from its league due to international commitments. Just last week, Carlos Ruiz missed two matches for FC Dallas while he was on national team duty. But why exactly was Ruiz called up for matches during this the home stretch of MLS’ season? Because, it coincided with an international break in the majority of FIFA sanctioned domestic leagues. The EPL took two weeks off for international matches. So did LaLiga. So did Serie A. Yet MLS was deciding births in its postseason during this very period!
MLS has consistently prevented the US Men’s National Team from competing in Copa America. MLS has stated that taking national team caliber players out of the league for two months every other year is a disruption to the league. While this is true, it again boils down to why MLS plays its season when it does.
Major League Soccer enjoys a national TV contract with ESPN and ABC. This contract calls for a certain number of broadcasts every season. Unfortunately, because College Football season begins in September, MLS actually has the vast majority of its nationally televised games aired BEFORE the playoff races heat up. In addition, casual MLS fans begin to tune out the league which serves as a summer filler in between the end of Football season and the beginning of the next football season once September roles around. Complicating this even further is the passion of hard core soccer fans here in the USA. While MLS satisfies soccer fans as filler material in between the end of European leagues in May and the restart of the season in August, Soccer fans, websites and TV programs begin to tune out MLS as soon as the EPL, La Liga, and other top international leagues begin play.
If MLS insists on playing its schedule at a different time than the rest of the world, they should make every effort to conclude the season before College Football and the NFL begin and before the fall transfer windown for international clubs closes at the end of August. In addition, MLS must build the breaks for international matches into its schedule the same way other leagues around the world do. The easiest solution would be for MLS to move to a season that runs from October to May, which would provide for the playoffs and MLS cup to take place and arguably the most fertile time period on the American sports calendar. In addition, the season would end at the same time as international leagues and the MLS would be able to partake in the transfer market and international club competetions.
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