The 2010 MLS Season: Fair To The World Cup & Balanced

Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer

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.

15 Responses to The 2010 MLS Season: Fair To The World Cup & Balanced

  1. Joe in Indianapolis says:

    It’s a step forward. The real test for MLS scheduling, in my opinion, is how they handle scheduling and future expansion. They can only legitimately expand to 20 teams if they want to keep a balanced schedule. Is their goal to stop there? Without adding promotion/relegation, any future expansions would mean an absurd amount of games per year, especially considering the added breaks because we play during the summer. I hope they never break with the balanced schedule competition format, but I doubt they’ll be satisfied with only 20 teams. It will be interesting.

  2. Brian Zygo says:

    20 Teams is the gold standard of Top Flight Football.

  3. Pete says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the bit about the bid committee. I don’t always agree with the man, but Garber is damn smart and has foresight. I don’t want to rain on the parade (I think one is in order), but will this balanced schedule be truly balanced over time like a mirror? The order in which teams square off should be identical on both halves of the schedule. Do you agree or is that not as important to people?

  4. Daniel Feuerstein says:

    Joe in Indianapolis said: It’s a step forward. The real test for MLS scheduling, in my opinion, is how they handle scheduling and future expansion. They can only legitimately expand to 20 teams if they want to keep a balanced schedule. Is their goal to stop there? Without adding promotion/relegation, any future expansions would mean an absurd amount of games per year, especially considering the added breaks because we play during the summer.

    Joe I wrote about Pro/Rel and why it’s not coming. But if there has to be a refresher course, I don’t mind explaining it. Name me how many stadiums are in the USA that is only in the USL. Charleston, Rochester & Portland. Only those teams can survive a Pro/Rel out of all the other athletic complexes, College University stadiums, soccer complexes & High school Fields that the rest of the USL sides use from both USL-1st & 2nd.

    Promotion/Relegation will never happen here till the stadium issue is fixed not just for MLS sides, but for all pro sides in MLS & USL.

  5. Daniel Feuerstein says:

    Brian. Great job on the report.

  6. gmonsoon43 says:

    It is great to see MLS consider International fixtures in scheduling. What would be smart is to schedule MLS games between the Knock-out stage dates to give people soccer to watch every day.

    Blatter’s comment about playing fall to spring is non-sense. MLS should accommodate FIFA dates, however we don’t have the climate to play on the European schedule. The winters are too cold and have to much winter weather to play games in most of the league’s cities. The countries with comparable weather(Sweden, Norway, Russia) play in the summer and Denmark does the traditional schedule but with a really long winter break. Denmark only has a 12 team league though.

  7. Ivan says:

    This is the right move. Now, if the league could only move to a single table next season, life will be even better. I don’t know how they determine the playoff teams this year, since they change it every season. This is sad. Come on, Garber, single table is next on the schedule of changes. What will it take???

  8. Kartik says:

    While MLS should be applauded for breaking, I have several concerns.

    -The periods of the World Cup in 1998, 2002 and 2006 saw a bump in football fans coming to MLS matches DURING the tournament because they watched a game in the morning and had the urge to head to the stadium in the evening. Even low budget and poorly marketed USL benefited in 2006 from this trend. With the sport on TV all day, having games in the evening was beneficial to the professional and amateur leagues in this country.

    – MLS breaking for the World Cup where the league will lose only a few players doesn’t impact teams the way breaking for the Gold Cup would. In 1998, 22 active MLS players were in France. In 2002, 11 active MLS players were in Korea/Japan. In 2006, 14 active MLS players were in Germany. Compare that to the Gold Cup when it seems half the league’s impact players are either missing or choose to skip the tournament, you realize the World Cup impacts MLS less than some may think.

    – In 1998 MLS scheduled in such a way that teams generally played less during the World Cup, without breaking. This allowed for friendlies and accommodation in DC’s case for CONCACAF and COMNEBOL tournaments. What the league did in 1998, under a previous regime (Doug Logan and Sunil Gulati) may in fact be a better model, because by breaking, those fans captured by the group stage of the World Cup may drop off before an MLS match is played in their market.

    – As for playing a “balanced” schedule, this is a large country, not England or Holland. Promoting regional rivalries is what this sport should be about. I actually believe the Mexican system of playing teams in your group four times over the course of a season while playing other teams just once or twice is a better system. I know the potential USL breakaway is talking about several innovative scheduling ideas based on Latin American thinking if they do in fact form a new league. MLS has had it right for years: why should DC United play San Jose as many times as they play the Metrostars? From a logistical and fan building standpoint it makes no sense. All it does is satisfy Premier League lovers who may not come to an MLS stadium anyhow. Seeding teams 1-8 for the playoffs as if in a single table is fine, but look at how they do it in Mexico, and that is the what we should be thinking about here. Protect and develop regional rivalries first should be the mantra.

    MLS has likely done this to satisfy FIFA because of the US bid for the 2018/2022 World Cups. While they should be applauded for that, the case for doing this isn’t as black and white as many fans may think. I hope the points I have articulated above give some reasonable explanation as to why MLS did not do this in the past and why they hesitated this time. It isn’t the slam dunk some European inclined footy fans in this country seem to think it is.

  9. soccer goals says:

    One step forward, two steps back. LOL.

  10. Rex says:

    They need to play some round 2 and 3 Open Cup games during this time. That way they can have them on the weekend and the boys back home wont be sitting on their hands.

  11. eplnfl says:

    AMEN. Finally MLS does something that everyone thinks is right.

    • Kartik says:

      Speak for yourself and read my above criticisms. Everyone doesn’t think it’s right unless it is part of a long term trend to break for internationals, not a one off. Does this also mean more August home games in Dallas? I know you say it’s tough to play in Chicago in January but that goes for Dallas in August also.

  12. Colombiano says:

    Ok but this balanced schedule is only for 2010 season right? If in fact it did continue for the following season then we have something good going on here. I believe this schedule will do good for the future of MLS and bring more fans from around the globe, I mean wouldn’t you be excited to know that Galaxy and Chivas play only twice a year so you know those games are going to be real good, instead of the 30 times they play each other they kind of overkill a classico in MLS.. Just have a traditional one home one away classic.. Good job Garber please let this continue for the following season and add a Miami MLS team sooooooooooonnnn.. Im dieing here!!

  13. Colombiano says:

    Oh yea and GO TO SINGLE TABLE, with that format why have conferences??

  14. short passes says:

    Regarding followup on Vincenzo Bernardo: Vincenzo should look to playing for Italy because EVERYONE KNOWS that players under 5’10” will never get a decent shot at the USMNT with Bradley as coach — eg. Torres, the token short player — he’s on the team but never gets a real shot, instead we get constant replays of the inept Sasha Kljestan — don’t even think about bringing up that lame goal!!!

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