A common complaint about Major League Soccer is its failure or unwillingness to observe FIFA International breaks. As recently as this month we have seen MLS matches played at the same time as crucial World Cup Qualifiers involving the United States National Team, this despite earlier indications from MLS that the League was going to pay closer attention to these FIFA breaks during the 2009 season. While frustrating, this attitude by MLS towards the FIFA breaks is not surprising since, historically, MLS does not suspend its season during the World Cup finals.
Today there was finally some good news for those of us who have criticized MLS and its stubbornness when it comes to the FIFA breaks, MLS has announced that it would suspend its 2010 season during the two week group stage portion of the 2010 World Cup finals. Additionally, MLS will not schedule any matches on the same days that the South Africa 2010 semifinals and finals will be played. While this is not a total victory for those of us that would prefer to see MLS suspend all league action during the World Cup finals, it is a positive, and realistic, step forward for the League, which was criticized earlier this year by FIFA President Sepp Blatter for not following the traditional European club schedule of a fall-winter-spring season.
Admittedly, suspending the league season through the entire World Cup finals would affect the match fitness of MLS players not playing on the US National Team, and would create scheduling headaches for MLS clubs that share their stadiums with high school, college, and/or professional thowball teams.
If marketed right by MLS and ESPN, the league hiatus could work to the League’s advantage in attracting newly minted football fans. The first two weeks of the World Cup finals are an utter football orgy, but the number of daily matches starts to drop after the knockout stage. New fans looking to learn more about the game might be more willing to seek out their local MLS side or MLS matches on ESPN2 or Fox Soccer Channel once the group and knockout stages have taken place. Additionally, after the group stage the possibility of MLS matches conflicting with U.S. National Team matches drops exponentially. Should the U.S. National Team go on a shocking run, there won’t be any conflicts during the semifinals and finals.
Finally, this acknowledgement of the World Cup finals is a smart move by MLS in the sense of supporting the United States’ bid to bring the World Cup finals back to the States in 2018 or 2022. The last thing the bid committee needs to deal with is having its competition argue that the U.S. does not deserve to host the finals since its Top Flight League’s schedule plays on as if the World Cup finals are not occurring.
The other important news coming out of MLS headquarters today is that, for the first time in MLS’s short history, the 2010 season will be a balanced season. Each team will play 30 matches in 2010, meaning one home and one away match against every other team in the League. This move is another step that should satisfy football purists and followers of the European leagues who have previously ridiculed the MLS season as not really counting since it wasn’t balanced.
I for one applaud MLS for making these scheduling moves. These are small steps, but it is by making such small steps that MLS manages to improve its product and survive financially.
– As a follow up to a recent article I posted here regarding Vincenzo Bernardo, MLS’s transfer window has closed without seeing the young Italian-American sign on with an MLS club; however, there has been some chatter lately about the possibility of Bernardo joining the expansion side Philadelphia Union for the 2010 season. This would be a good move for both the new side and the New Jersey native. Signing Bernardo would give the Union good press in regards to obtaining the services of a young American who has trained in Europe and would create an immediate connection to the strong football fan base in New Jersey.