If you select the MLS clubs that pretty consistently get things right, Seattle and Real Salt Lake would surely be near the top of the list.
That said, they got this one wrong. And more to the point, Major League Soccer got this one wrong.
Wednesday the Seattle Sounders will face Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field. Playoff positioning in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference is at stake.
Playing on this date is wrong. Period. These teams shouldn’t be doing it, and MLS should never have blessed the plan.
It was actually a change requested by Seattle to accommodate a friendly. Yes, the Sounders benefitted with a swell surge of cash from a splashy summer match against Chelsea. And that’s just swell. But it’s not an excuse for playing on (or within hours of, technically) a FIFA World Cup qualifier window.
Here’s what Seattle Sounders GM Andrian Hanauer told The News Tribune of Seattle on Monday:
We did discuss the fact that both teams would likely be missing players. And that it’s just one of those compromises, I guess, that had to be made to accommodate the (friendly). Certainly big thanks to RSL, because they didn’t have to move the game and find themselves in this situation. And it’s certainly one of the factors that we discuss and continue to discuss as we move forward on our friendly strategy.”
The “missing players” will actually hurt his team more; Eddie Johnson started and played most of Tuesday’s match. No way Seattle manager Sigi Schmid starts Johnson in Wednesday’s contest, although an appearance off the bench doesn’t seem out of the question. Meanwhile, RSL’s Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman should be fresh as Utah daisies, not having played a minute over the two U.S. World Cup qualifiers over the last six days.
(FYI, they will all arrive together via private jet, an interesting little sidebar to this tale.)
But all of that is beside the point, which is this:
Scheduling was once a real problem child for Major League Soccer, a chronic sore spot with no hope of comprehensive healing. Simply put, too many clubs had too little control over stadium dates, and clubs were slave to certain dates that promised to reap a big gate, so scheduling snarls and snafus were unavoidable.
Now that’s just not the case. There is no excuse for matches held during FIFA windows. And the league needs big improvement in other scheduling areas, too, like not playing midday games in Texas or other areas where the summer heat beats down match quality and discourages fans who might otherwise come out.
There are more scheduling bugaboos to talk about – we will talk about a big one in about two weeks – but the bottom line is this: it’s time for MLS to better at the scheduling game, to kick it up a notch, to be a big boy league about it.
Yes, scheduling is difficult, with so many moving pieces to consider.
But it’s time to grow up, to refuse status quo acceptance of the old excuses, why “this” cannot happen, or why clubs cannot play on “that” certain date.
At very least, the league and the clubs certainly should not create problems through cash grabs for profitable but otherwise meaningless friendlies.