With Major League Soccer’s self proclaimed “Summer of Soccer” continuing it’s worth noting that MLS has promised before the season to schedule smarter during internationals. I have previously stated that, while I would like the league to consistently break during FIFA blackout dates, I realize it is not necessarily practical and does not jive completely with a league that has many fans (and commentators) that live in a football vacuum.
MLS probably feels it does not need to break for internationals at all, because some fans of league don’t seem to be able to distinguish between a watered down product and the real thing. Thus with no mounting public pressure and a core of fans unwilling to criticize some of the league’s decisions, it is no small wonder Don Garber feels he can pay lip service to outside critics while not actually taking the promised action.
While other leagues play through FIFA breaks nobody else does it with the gusto MLS does. What other league would allow league matches to kickoff at the same time as its national team is playing? Leagues such as Brazil and Mexico that play through the breaks they move the time of any match that conflict with the national team to create an exclusive time window for flagship team.
Last weekend for instance Brazil moved all its kickoff times to two hours after the anticipated conclusion of the Confederations Cup final. At the same time MLS began both a league and Superliga game while the USMNT was playing its first ever FIFA final. Despite the outstanding final TV rating the game produced, the audience was still cannibalized meaning the rating should have been higher had MLS cooperated.
But if MLS is ever to break for an international event, it should not be the World Cup, Confederations Cup or a qualifying week. It should be the Gold Cup.
For starters a league in North America should respect when its continental championship is being played. But more importantly the number of MLS based players in the Gold Cup is staggering: in fact MLS supplies on average more players to the Gold Cup than any other league.
Additionally, the Gold Cup when held in the USA is marketed by SUM, as Peter C has mentioned on this site in his excellent series on SUM and its finances. With so much invested in the Gold Cup both player wise and financially why MLS plays a full schedule right through the tournament needs to be addressed.
USL also has to look at what they are doing during the Gold Cup. Being a second division the league doesn’t lose as many players as MLS does. But USL does have a high profile team affected dramatically by the event: the Puerto Rico Islanders who have lost three regulars to the event.
This affected my personal decision to prioritize the Gold Cup last night over the local USL game between Miami and Puerto Rico. I will however be back to covering and supporting Miami FC next weekend, when they face Vancouver. The Whitecaps ironically have also been affected by the Gold Cup with Canada’s selection of Charles Gbeke.
USL should allow a team with three or more call ups to delay a match. But this sensible reform has not been proposed as of yet.
But back to Major League Soccer. Chicago benefited from Guatemala not qualifying for the Gold Cup with a great game from Marco Pappa in a critical road win over Colorado. But the Rapids without Colin Clark and Omar Cummings were short handed.
But had let us say Guatemala qualified for the Gold Cup and Jamaica not qualified (as was the case in 2007), it is very possible Colorado would have won the game last night. So you could have had a six point swing in the final MLS table based entirely on a reversal of qualification from the last Gold Cup.
MLS is holding an All Star game versus Everton in the middle of this tournament meaning any number of potential all stars will be passed over for second choice players thanks to the schedule. So what we’ll see is a makeshift MLS all star team take on an English Premier League team in what is considered one the league’s two annual showcase events.
MLS has long claimed its scheduling is due to the availability of stadiums. But the reality is two factors come into play: one is clearing the schedule for SUM promoted events including Superliga which forces no other breaks for the four participating MLS teams. The second is arrogance, fueled by the lack of accountability the leagues fans hold the league to.
As a football nation we need MLS to thrive. But its scheduling policies call into question its credibility as a league and its commitment to grow the game outside the MLS brand in this region.