Portland Timbers have clinched their first-ever Major League Soccer playoff game, which — for Timbers supporters — is a euphoric and monumental achievement. What makes their November 7 playoff match even more enticing is the possibility that if Seattle Sounders beats Colorado Rapids tonight, the Timbers will host the Seattle Sounders in a super-sized reincarnation of the greatest soccer club rivalry in the United States.
The November 7 game will be the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal. At the end of the night, one team will advance. The other will go home. There may be extra time. There may be penalty kicks. There certainly will be drama, and evidentially it’s going to be an occasion that even the most casual soccer fan won’t want to miss.
The problem is, however, that people may miss it. The November 7 date has been already been circled on the calendar of every Oregon Ducks fan since the 2013 schedule was released last spring. On the 7th in Palo Alto, Stanford plays Oregon in a game that will most likely decide the Pac-12 title, and play a massive role in shaping the National Championship picture.
And with that, the Timbers just lost their entire casual viewing audience.
Merritt Paulson and the Portland organization must be livid. Why would MLS schedule its game on the biggest sporting day in Oregon this year? And why would a league struggling for national TV ratings put possibly the marquee MLS game of the year in the same time slot as the one sporting event that is sure to dwarf it, locally, regionally and nationally?
It’s a worst-case scenario for the Timbers, MLS, and soccer in the United States.
NBC Sports Network, one of MLS’ two national TV partners, doesn’t want to broadcast the game on a Wednesday night, their marquee “Rivalry Night” of hockey programming. And instead, they wanted the game late on Thursday night, when they are usually bereft of prime programming.
It’s telling that the league finally released the full playoff schedule on the morning of the first playoff game. It took MLS that long to put all the pieces in place for their premier event, a schedule that is usually planned six to eight months in advance.
Up until the last minute, the league was considering a radical change of schedule that would include playing through the November FIFA international break.
As it stands now, the playoff schedule is staggered so poorly with three games in the space of seven days, four in the space of ten days and, for some teams, a two-week break before their final game, and another two week break before MLS Cup.