Wednesday’s soccer news starts with MLS and Liga MX officially canceling the 2020 MLS All-Star Game, Leagues Cup, and Campeones Cup. For the first time, Liga MX was going to field its own all-star team to play the MLS all-stars at Banc of California Stadium. MLS will use the same venue in 2021 and wants to keep MLS vs Liga MX in place. This was the second edition of the Nations League, with the expanded tournament looking for importance. Seattle would’ve hosted the Campeones Cup, the one-off game between league champions.
Though the decision by MLS and Liga MX isn’t surprising, it underlines the schedule problem all leagues currently face. With plenty of conversations and speculation about extending the 2019-20 and 2020 seasons to the end of the calendar year and potentially beyond, the reality may be different. No league can afford in economic and practical terms a seemingly never-ending season. That was part of the motivation for UEFA setting an end of the month deadline for leagues to submit their plans. European soccer’s governing body has also stuck with its own plan to stage the Champions League final at the end of August. That means completing the games to get to the final over the summer.
It’s hard to talk about pragmatism during a pandemic when so much is unknowable, but that’s the situation for the leagues. They have a limited set of reasonable choices with obvious risks involved. Simply ending their seasons should be top of that list, with every other option needing to show its better. It’s an open argument if any North American pro sports league is at that point. It’s also a reasonable assumption that the leagues are waiting to see one of them go first. That might not necessarily work as a proof of concept, but it would show at least one way forward.
For Major League Soccer, losing two events and an ancillary competition raises a bigger schedule question. It takes 34 games under the current setup to complete a regular season. As of last season, MLS compacted the playoffs to single-elimination and staged them between international windows. To some extent, it’s a streamlined version of a soccer league. Except MLS added the Leagues Cup, a tournament looking for a purpose. Add to that the Concacaf Champions League and the US Open Cup, and MLS compacting its schedule only added to the fixture congestion problem.
Why MLS and Liga MX want more games between some of their teams is an open question with an easy answer. According to reports, it’s because both leagues are interested in exploring some sort of merger. At least some Liga MX personnel have discussed that in public, with the Leagues Cup potentially the forerunner to a broader cross league competition or an actual merger. That seems like an odd scenario with MLS still expanding and those fees built on the league as we know it. Still, adding Liga MX games that count means a potential rise in television ratings and broadcast rights fees. If MLS can’t solve its appeal problem on its own, why not tie itself to the most popular league in the United States?
If 2020 was the year the relationship between the two leagues grew closer, there’s no reason to think that won’t wait. Still, with the North American World Cup on the horizon and the opportunity to grow the sport, time isn’t a luxury. Whatever MLS and Liga MX have planned, it’s another safe assumption that it already has a timeline. In this new era where simply finishing a season to start the next one is a struggle, that’s another schedule the pandemic is now contracting.
Reuters has Serie A waiting for the UEFA deadline to announce whether or not the league will finish the 2019-20 season. The Independent’s Simon Peach looks at the Bundesliga after its reopening weekend. The Athletic’s Matt Slater and Nancy Frostick’s report on the potential relegation issue in the Championship due to Financial Fair Play.
All links are provided as a courtesy. US Soccer Players nor its authors are responsible for the content of third-party links or sites. For comments, questions, and concerns please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Logo courtesy of MLS