By J Hutcherson (Jul 14, 2015) US Soccer Players – If the 2015 MLS season has a theme, it’s teams making do. MLS still hasn’t figured out how to set a schedule, with the weekly exercise in making sure it stays unbalanced an unnecessary reminder. Add to that the international tournaments removing some of the league’s best players and fixture congestion caused by non-league games friendly and competitive. Consistency is at a premium in MLS simply because it’s so difficult to find a rhythm.
Even the teams not trying to figure out what to do with their key roles in a Gold Cup summer aren’t necessarily benefitting. A run of games or weird scheduling that either loads them up at home or on the road can rework plans. In MLS, it can be about playing against the schedule and the league office as much as the other clubs.
The league’s lack of an All-Star break certainly doesn’t help. Monday night’s reminder that the league will choose not to get out of its own way wasn’t necessary. Of course, the commissioner would use his two picks on two marquee players that have exactly zero minutes played in MLS. It might be 2015, but MLS can’t resist a reminder of last decade or the decade prior. The latest attempt to give MLS fans what the league office thinks they might want is silly, but it’s not surprising. That the All-Star game happens on a Wednesday with league games the weekend before and the weekend after is just another disruption.
In fairness to MLS, having the All-Star game on a weekend date and giving the teams a needed break in the schedule would probably result in those same MLS teams happily scheduling a few more friendlies. It’s not just the league office, it’s the teams deciding what their schedule really needs is more congestion. Like putting Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard on the MLS All-Star teams, the call of celebrity soccer is too strong for the clubs to ignore.
Meanwhile, there’s that annoying league table to consider. As unbalanced as it is, the standings can border on useless. DC United is in 1st-place in the Eastern Conference, but it’s with three more games played than second place New York. The only direct comparison is 6th-place New England, also on 21 games played. DC United is better than New England, 11 points better in fact, but there’s the rest of that unbalanced table to consider.
Seattle’s slide with Clint Dempsey suspended and then missing due to Gold Cup duty still has them in 1st-place in the West. They’re on the same number of game splayed as 2nd-place Vancouver, 4th-place Portland, and 9th-place Real Salt Lake. Those Western Conference standings, however, carry a huge caveat. Two points separates 1st through 6th-place. Sporting Kansas City, that 6th-place club, is arguably the best team since they’ve only played 17 games.
This is normal for MLS because the league allows it. There are scheduling issues with Yankee Stadium and whatever else happens at venues soccer-specific and otherwise across the league. Everybody knows that, but it doesn’t explain the need to put teams on the road for weeks or burn a chunk of home games when the home crowd is less likely to show any interest.
DC United had plenty of games at home early in the season. That means they play one game at home in July, a break from RFK that started after their win against New England on June 21 and ends against Philadelphia on July 26. They’re at home again on Aug 1, returning to RFK on the 22 and then playing a single game at home in September. That game comes after United plays one game between September 1 and the 19.
What MLS chooses is a convoluted approach to getting the games in, stacking the schedule in some months and shifting to borderline part-time work in others. It all but ignores the most important question for any competition in any sport anywhere in the world. The best way to put together a competitive league that gets the most out of its teams. Right now, the league’s choices actively work against that. It’s not even about that pseudo parity MLS prides itself in anymore. It’s about giving the teams the best platform to perform based on something as simple as regularly scheduling the games they play.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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