By Andrew Dixon - MIAMI, FL (Mar 18, 2009) USSoccerPlayers -- MLS has attracted-and continues to attract its fair share of critics and haters, perhaps even more so since a certain London-born Englishman began his protracted exit strategy out of LA.
Some of these have been legitimate criticisms (e.g. shootouts, loose allocation rules, pay inequities) but there are others have been based more on wanting the see the league operate along the lines of its European and South American counterparts (dropping single entity, single table standings).
So this leads us to the latest suggestion of FIFA President Sepp Blatter aka, The Grand Poobah.
Now give Grand Poobah credit, when he puts forth an initiative or makes a statement on something he wants to see done, he sticks by his guns no matter how unpopular or ridiculous it is. Whether it's the 6+5 campaign he's on to ensure 6 homegrown players are on the field for domestic European clubs or suggesting that women players wear "more feminine uniforms...tighter shorts for example," he usually means well. Even if his suggestions are illegal in the European Union in the case of the former or just sexist, as is the case of the latter.
The Grand Poobah's latest pronouncement is that our league is playing in the wrong season. He continued: "The best American players are playing [in Europe], and this is the basic problem with the MLS," he says. Saying that MLS should be a lot further along given the amount of youth players found here in the US he laments that "the league has not found yet its position."
Now perhaps Grand Poobah's making a larger point about the need for the rest of the League's sides to get on the ball and get their own stadiums. There isn't an MLS fan that will argue this. Especially as we continue to move toward the goal financial viability. But it's the contention that MLS needs to change schedules to be like the rest of the world that I just can't get past.
Now let's not get it twisted. It's not like MLS playing at the same time as everyone else would be bad. MLS First Kick is something I would be celebrating and planning my night around if March Madness wasn't starting on the same day. Best believe I'm watching Seattle and RBNY on tape delay.
MLS could also finally stop playing through the World Cup. That means there won't be games I just simply blow off because there's other soccer to watch. Further, the fall to summer schedule would certainly help MLS teams in international competition.
I've stated my belief in this space that MLS teams are hampered in the crucial stages of these tournaments by being out of season. Think Houston fails to score at home in the home leg of the Champions League Quarterfinals if they are in the middle of the season instead of weeks away from getting underway?
So playing a traditional schedule would be fine with me when it makes sense.
And that's what bothers me about Poobah's advisory opinion. He's failed to take into account what MLS would be up against in a winter schedule.
As stated in the article I quoted and by basically anyone with any common sense, there's quite a few MLS teams that are sharing stadiums. Sorry, but I'm one of those fans who gets irritated and distracted by crazy amounts of football lines on MLS fields.
Teams as good as Houston or New England have been over the past few seasons shouldn't have to consistently play home matches like guests on football team's field. As it stands now, they only have to play with football markings a few matches out of the year, but under the "traditional schedule" arguably the first half of their schedule would be marked by torn up fields and extra lines. Not exactly major league.
Second, I grew up in New England. There is NOTHING I wanted to do outside in New England in late January that didn't involve a big coat, long johns, a scarf, mittens, and skis. I think that sentiment would be largely echoed in places like Chicago, Columbus and Denver. There's cold, and there's stupid cold.
MLS attendance isn't bad, but people aren't coming out in droves to see MLS games in the summer. Does Poobah think that's really going to change playing in December? Ask anyone at the inauguration for President Obama how cold it gets in DC.
At best The Grand Poobah's suggestion is one of those well meaning ideas that isn't necessarily grounded in reality. At worst it's simply uninformed. But what I find interesting is who he doesn't call out on this. Not so much Russia or the Scandanavian countries for playing the same schedule we do. I am questioning why he's so silent on Brazil's Campeonato.
The Brazilian domestic league teams have their own stadiums. All of their best players are in Europe. Their 2008 average attendance was only about 500 more than MLS' in 2008 and they don't have to compete with other sports on the same level as MLS does here. Weather affecting matches isn't really a concern. I gotta imagine there's a lot more kids playing soccer there than in the US. Guess when they play their championship? May to December, kids.
Yes, I know. Brazil has all of these confusing state championships in the beginning of the year. So? If Grand Poobah is really interesting in getting leagues to play in the right season and having a uniform football season around the world where it's feasible why is he looking at the US, a country where soccer is carving out its niche and not at a country that just happens to have won the World Cup five times and treats the sport as a religion?
Seems to me with the underlying complaint of corruption in that league, it should garner more of Poobah's attention than MLS playing games in July.
I'm not so overly sensitive about MLS criticism that I believe every slight of the League is an insult. But the Grand Poobah's position, well meaning as it may be, just isn't in MLS' best interest right now.
Despite the League's growing pains, it's still here mainly it largely hasn't gotten too far ahead of itself. Todo A Su Tiempo, as Marc Anthony once said.
So thanks, Poobah but somebody should have told you: We aren't exactly there yet.
Andrew Dixon is a soccer writer based in Miami and a weekly columnist for USSoccerPlayers. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org