It’s been going on so long now, we should all be immune to it. But somehow it still evokes anger. For the record while I do not believe MLS should play during international breaks for a variety of reasons, if MLS must play through the breaks why must they schedule games on national TV at the very same time our national team is playing? This situation hardly occurs any place else on the globe.
While the anglicized elements of the US Football media may not realize it, other leagues worldwide do play right through the breaks. But those league re-schedule games to ensure that when the national team plays they are in an exclusive television window. They will play matches earlier in the day or the next day to ensure proper focus on their national teams.
MLS on the other hand is highly inflexible. This pattern began in the days when Doug Logan ran the league. I will not though that Logan spread out games in the 1998 season to the point where many teams did not play for two weeks at a time during the World Cup. MLS failed to do this in 2002 and 2006.
The first time I noticed head to head competition was during the 1998 World Cup when the US-Iran game on ABC went up against regional MLS games on various channels. Then a year later ABC showed a Miami Fusion-Metrostars game at the very same time the US was playing Brazil in the Confederations Cup. In 2000, Telemundo showed an MLS game at the very same time the US was playing a critical qualifier, actually a life or death qualifier against Guatemala. Had the US lost that game, we would have been eliminated at the semi-final stage of World Cup 2002 qualifying.
The trend has only intensified in recent years. ESPN 2 showed an MLS game right against the a US game in the 2007 Gold Cup on FSC. During the US-Argentina game in Copa America 2007, ESPN2 broadcast an MLS match. During the US-Brazil match in Chicago that September, Telemundo showed DC United vs New England.
Last season, Telemundo showed a DC United-San Jose game at the very same time the US qualifier in Barbados was on ESPN Classic. Tonight, the song repeats itself again with five of six MLS games scheduled alongside the US National Team game, including a nationally televised game on FSC.
It may come as a shock to many MLS proponents but the US National Team receives much higher viewership on both ESPN and FSC than the average MLS match. But when the two compete, the football community in the US is balkanized. Simply put, to post an impressive rating to grow the game, the USMNT does not need a decent chunk of its core audience watching other matches or at stadiums unable to watch our boys represent the flag, particularly in World Cup qualifying.
Supporting MLS (and USL) is mandatory to grow the game in the US. But when the national team plays, we must all come together and focus on the critical match of the day. Additionally, TV ratings are important to establishing the legitimacy of the sport in this country and when MLS conflicts with the USMNT, we all lose.
Don Garber had pledged to take a look at international breaks, but has never acted on it. Even if MLS must play through international breaks, why cannot the league schedule all seven games this weekend on Sunday or early Saturday to not conflict with the national teams match? We’d all be better for it.