MLS Needs to Revisit its Scheduling Practices
The United States National Team enters a month long frenzy this week in London with a friendly at Wembley against England. A week later the National Team will take on Spain in Madrid and then return for match against Argentina in New Jersey. That will be followed by a two leg CONCACAF qualifying tie with Barbados, with the first match in Los Angeles on June 15th.
The aggressive scheduling of manager Bob Bradley and Federation President Sunil Gulati is to be applauded. However, what is not to be applauded is the continued desire of Major League Soccer to not only play through international breaks, but to not even reduce the league’s schedule as MLS did during World Cup 1998, where teams essentially played one game every ten days. It seems if anything the opposite is happening because MLS has cleared two plus weeks of games for four squads during the SUM run Superliga competition, thus the league needs to schedule those four teams even more heavily than usual during the international calendar.
Major League Soccer’s calendar of playing from April to November is not an issue as some critics of the league claim. Many leagues in extreme harsh climates play on the same calendar. However these leagues all observe FIFA breaks and some like the Australian A-League have even been known to extend their seasons to accommodate FIFA blackout dates and international qualifiers.
One of the US’ troubles in attracting a foreign manager might well be this situation. The same could be said for attracting top foreign managers to MLS. What other league do you have to play a significant number of matches without your top players? What other league do you have such trouble attracting top internationals active with their national teams, not because of standard of play but simply because of highly resolvable scheduling issues? Can you imagine a noted foreign manager leading the US dealing with essentially having half his player pool off limits for friendly matches?
This is the situation Bob Bradley has been faced with and since the US unlike in the past has been aggressive in scheduling matches on FIFA blackout dates in Europe and Africa, Bradley has been in the position where he has had to call in a limited squad, even at times calling in close to ten fewer players than the US’ opposition. For juggling this situation masterfully Bradley does not get enough credit from the average US supporter.
Scheduling tough friendlies does not ensure anything in qualifying. The previous two times the United States entered a slate of qualifying matches after a tough match, the results in qualifying were not pretty. In both cases the US crushed Mexico in a friendly on home soil and then proceeded to struggle with its qualifying matches. In other words you can prepare in as tough an atmosphere as you like, but qualifying is still its own animal, and a highly unpredictable one at that. This having been said it would be helpful for Coach Bradley to not have to be concerned with club schedules and club commitments when trying to formulate a cohesive squad for qualifying.
While it may not be realistic for MLS to take a month off during CONCACAF events such as qualifying and the Gold Cup (keep in mind MLS is not only filled with American pool players, but pool players from Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Jamaica, T&T and many other nations in the confederation) the league must consider during qualifying in 2009 and during the Gold Cup reducing the schedule substantially. Not only will this help the respective national teams and clubs but this will also ensure MLS can continue to steady flow of players from Central American and Caribbean join the league.