MLS schedule fails teams once again in playoff push

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With the Major League Soccer season drawing to a close, most teams would like to lean on their veterans and most experienced players to carry them into the postseason. That will be difficult next week, when World Cup qualifying kicks off again, and the MLS schedule continues despite it.

While most leagues in the world — at least the top leagues, a group that MLS considers itself to be part — take some time off, eight league games will be played between Oct. 9 and 16. The U.S. takes on Jamaica on Oct. 11 and Panama on Oct. 15.

Head coach Jürgen Klinsmann is prepared to call players in regardless of their club’s desires to keep them for important games.

“I see the MLS schedule, but it makes no difference to us,” Klinsmann told media before the U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday. “This is World Cup qualifiers. We will call up who we need to.”

As he should.

The onus falls on the league to make sure its teams have their most important and most entertaining players for some of the biggest games of the year. The Cascadia Cup game between Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers, for example, will likely be far less compelling without the plethora of national team players on each side.

Seattle’s Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans are in the running for U.S. call-ups, and Portland’s Donovan Ricketts, Ryan Johnson and Alvas Powell could play for Jamaica in the upcoming CONCACAF matches.

In recent years, the debate over the MLS calendar has raged, particularly as the league has moved from a balanced to an unbalanced schedule. Instead of keeping the traditional format of every team playing every other team twice and taking FIFA dates off, the league introduced a strange system in which every team plays three games against conference opponents and one against non-conference foes.

The U.S. is a big country, but even nations such as Russia find a way to take those dates off an have every team play home and away against each opponent. Vancouver, B.C., to Washington, New England or New York is quite the trek, but it is not dissimilar to making the trip from Krasnodar to Tomsk in Russia.

If MLS wants to be in the top 10 leagues in the world, as is its stated goal, then accommodating international games and adapting a more traditional calendar will be vital.