MLS Cup 2013 was a great spectacle for the top flight league in the United States. But the below freezing temperatures made the match difficult to play and reinforced why despite constant pressure from fans and FIFA, MLS has chosen to keep its calendar the way it is. Playing in the winter in the northern USA and Canada is nearly impossible. I was at the 2010 MLS Cup in Toronto and found the freezing temperatures to be both difficult for the players on the pitch and also for fans from around the continent who flew into town for this the biggest spectacle in North American club soccer. Complaints about Toronto hosting were plentiful to the point where I believed MLS would probably use a rotation going forward of Houston, Dallas and LA (eventually Orlando and Miami) to host its showcase event. However, after the 2011 season MLS decided to reward the team with the best record by giving them hoisting rights for MLS Cup, this helped ticket sales and ambiance no doubt but impacted the soccer on display.
A greater concern for MLS has to be going head to head with college (American) football conference title games, which has now happened for two successive years. This date doesn’t work as well as it should for MLS Cup and ESPN. Then again, given MLS’ recent expansion, its decision to break for some internationals and commitment to not playing Thanksgiving weekend, few other dates were available.
Lost in all the excitement about MLS Cup and the World Cup Draw was the strategically timed announcement by the NASL, North America’s second tier that the Virginia Cavalry will not begin play in 2014 as previously announced. The suburban Washington DC side sports local ownership in Loudon County Virginia has fallen victim to delays in stadium construction and a recent management shuffle. The concept of the team is one I wholeheartedly support which is to place teams in suburban areas of big cities in MLS markets but to work towards complementing not competing with the local, established MLS teams. This is a model that other aspiring minor league owners in bigger markets should seek to emulate.
Twitter exploded with lots of question marks about FIFA’s decision to move the Italy-England game from 2am UK time to 11pm UK time. This was a logical decision by soccer’s governing body. Television rights in the UK and Italy are hot properties for soccer’s premier event and losing a marquee matchup outright in both countries was not either in the short-term or long-term interests of the sport.
Many pundits have chosen to focus on the flimsy credentials of Switzerland’s seed in the World Cup. I agree that several European nations based on recent tournament performances and historical pedigree deserved that seed ahead of the Swiss. However, this analysis has often failed to break down how strong Switzerland’s current side actually is. Under the leadership of Ottmar Hitzfeld, one of the most successful club managers of recent times, the side has been transformed. Xherdan Shaqiri gives captain Gökhan İnler a dynamic midfield partner and defensively in Hitzfeld style the side is very well organized and rarely loses its shape.