By J Hutcherson (Jun 27, 2016) US Soccer Players – The next time we see the USMNT it will be in a game with no excuses. An away World Cup qualifier against a CONCACAF minnow is three more points. It draws a line between anything that did or didn’t happen at the Copa Centenario with the resumption of the schedule that leads to Russia 2018.
It’s been a long time since the USMNT has had a summer to consider where the program is and where it should be in theory rather than practice. Instead, it’s a run of tournaments every summer, a rush of games on the schedule that includes the World Cup rather than highlighting it.
Nobody is going to argue that the confederation championships and FIFA’s own Confederations Cup downplay the biggest show in world soccer. What they don’t create is the break in the schedule that allows for players to rest and coaches to consider. With the club and country obligations, the games pile up for the players year after year.
It’s a different sport in a different part of the world, but England rugby union coach Eddie Jones questioned what his team was doing playing right now. England was in Australia where they had great success, but for the coach there’s the problem of too many games on the schedule. Jones pointed to the same problem soccer faces, games every summer. “This team should have been on a beach in Barbados by now,” Jones said. What he wants for rugby union is one summer off in every four year cycle. It’s not a ludicrous ask for soccer.
For USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the right games on the schedule have always been the point. The team needs to be playing the best available opponents whenever those opportunities are there. It’s tough to argue with the thinking. The appeal of the Copa Centenario was the chance to play CONMEBOL teams in games that counted rather than sticking to the Gold Cup cycle and CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Even when that raises questions, it’s still that basic opportunity.
Mexico, who crashed out of the Centenario so dramatically, are regulars at the Copa America. They’re also CONCACAF’s entry into the next Confederations Cup. Schedule congestion ends up as much a byproduct as anything else, even if it means years without a proper summer break.
At one point, the main question was how much the clubs would tolerate. The off season is short in Europe’s major leagues. The season is done by mid-May with the new one starting in August. In between, the clubs are in marketing mode trying to extend or keep up their brands by playing in other parts of the world. The travel, the training, and the fatigue can pile up before the start of the season. The domestic and European obligations for the game’s elite clubs combine with the international calendar to fill the schedule.
UEFA has already acted in response to questions over the future of international friendlies. Their response is to severely limit them. The new League of Nations setup makes the old friendly schedule counts while limiting those games to European clubs vs European clubs. They’ll still take full advantage of the international match windows, but it will be in a structured multi-tiered league format.
With that offering a competitive advantage for Europe’s teams, the rest of the world needs a response. Blending confederations is certainly an option. Though CONCACAF teams playing in the Copa America is nothing new, it’s the number that took part in the Copa Centenario and that the tournament took place in the United States. The regular Copa America is switching to an every fourth year schedule, leaving a gap in the CONMEBOL schedule. It’s no surprise that Copa Centenario organizers might be considering using the new version of the Copa America to fill it.
Though the same organizers were quick to say that there have been no proper discussions, they didn’t dismiss some version of a tournament. There’s certainly space on the South American schedule. Well, at least in the way world soccer currently treats that schedule.
Right now, it seems like there’s always space. Whether it’s country or club, there’s always a way to get the games on the schedule. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough thought given to what this is doing to the careers of professional soccer players.
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.
More from J Hutcherson: