Philadelphia Union star goalkeeper Andre Blake has blasted Major League Soccer (MLS), for scheduling too many games. But how does the number of games for Blake and his fellow MLS players compare to other players around the world?
Other than the FIFA Club World Cup it didn’t qualify for, Philadelphia has played in every competition available to an MLS team. Two of those produced runs to the final four. Now, Philadelphia is shaping up for another run in the playoffs.
“We’re the ones that are suffering, and the quality of the league is going to go down,” Blake told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Or, if you ask players to play however many games, obviously there’s going to be injuries, and when injuries come, then teams don’t have their best players on the field.”
However, Blake’s comments seem targeted at MLS. In reality, top leagues from across the world are constantly in motion playing in various competitions. The argument may still hold up that other teams also play too many games. Raphael Varane of Manchester United famously slammed the governing bodies for overloading the soccer schedule. Andre Blake is echoing those thoughts to help the players in Major League Soccer.
Comparing too many games in MLS to other top leagues
Granted, the Philadelphia Union is suffering from success. Playing well means playing more games to win more trophies.
The Philadelphia Union is fresh off a campaign where it reached the 2022 MLS Cup Final in a loss against LAFC. This season, Philadelphia will play 34 MLS games. It already played in six CONCACAF Champions League games. A third-place finish in the inaugural Leagues Cup meant seven games. Then, the playoffs are coming up, which could mean an additional six games. Tacking on a round-of-32 loss against Minnesota in the US Open Cup, Philadelphia could play 54 games this season.
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Several top teams in Europe are in a similar position, if not worse. Manchester City won the treble last season as just the second Premier League side to do so. City played 61 games last season. Even if Philadelphia maximizes its games, City is playing more games.
However, what is not comparable to the Union is the play in South America. Just like the Philadelphia Union, Brazilian side Flamengo plays in a domestic league, a nationwide tournament and a continental competition. However, the Campeonato Carioca, a tournament for all teams in the state of Rio de Janeiro, tacks on 15 games. By comparison, the Leagues Cup forced Philadelphia to only play seven games.
In total, Flamengo played a staggering 77 games in 2022. Granted, winning Copa Libertadores and the Copa do Brasil soften the damage of playing so many games.
The Union vs. The World
Here is how other top teams from across the globe compare in their most recent completed seasons to the Philadelphia Union’s current campaign.
|Club||League||Games Played||No. of Competitions||Trophies|
|Philadelphia Union||Major League Soccer (USA)||54*||4||0*|
|Manchester City||Premier League (ENG)||61||5||3|
|Al-Ahly||Egyptian Premier League (EGY)||57||6||5|
|Urawa Red Diamonds||J-League (JPN)||52||5||2|
|Boca Juniors||Primera División (ARG)||58||5||2|
If that depth is not there, teams run the risk of injuries. Notable players around the world have injuries related to fatigue. Barcelona midfielder Pedri played 52 games as a 17-year-old in the 2020/21 season. He has dealt with recurring hamstring injuries since then that ruled him out of 62 games over three seasons. In Major League Soccer, Lionel Messi has not had much of a break. He missed recent games with injury including the US Open Cup Final against Houston.
Andre Blake said the league suffers as a result. That is certainly the case with Lionel Messi, who is such a driving force for the league’s popularity.
Does MLS stand out for a different reason?
One place where MLS may stand out is the distance teams have to travel on a regular basis. For example, in June and early July, Philadelphia traveled across the country. After a home game, Philadelphia traveled to San Jose, CA, before playing in Orlando, FL. It returned home for one game before traveling to Atlanta, GA. It finished a brutal travel stretch in Los Angeles then Nashville.
Travel is not a major concern in Europe as most major cities are somewhat close together. However, take Flamengo as an example. The Rio de Janeiro club had to play group stage games in the Copa Libertadores in locations that are a six-hour flight away. Urawa Red Diamonds may have a small domestic nation. However, continental action required the Japanese side to play a home game just three days after an away game in Malaysia. That is farther than any distance in the United States.
Andre Blake is well within his right to complain about the number of games in the world of soccer. It is a major problem, but it is not one that is exclusive to Major League Soccer.
PHOTO: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire.
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