Impact travel saga highlights how far MLS still has to go

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Major League Soccer has made many impressive strides in its 24 seasons of existence. But if the Montreal Impact’s travel situation proved anything, it’s that the league still has a long way to go to be compared alongside the big four American leagues – The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

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The Montreal Impact spent around 13 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday in transit ahead of its match on Wednesday evening against the New England Revolution. Remarkably, the Impact beat the Revolution, 3-0 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., but it should never have taken that long to get the Impact down – or any professional team – from Montreal to the Boston suburbs.

According to an article in the Athletic, which details the Impact’s administrative travel mishaps, the team ended up spending seven hours in the Montreal International Airport waiting for a delayed flight to Logan International Airport in Boston, only for the flight to be cancelled at 10 p.m.

The players were then scheduled to arrive back at the airport the next morning to take a charter flight, but then that flight was delayed a further five hours, due to a flight schedule change – Logan Airport wouldn’t accept the charter – and having to go through customs and immigration in Montreal before re-boarding the flight and waiting their turn.

Shockingly, the Impact arrived at their hotel with just three and a half hours before kickoff. Evan Bush, the Impact’s starting goalkeeper and representative for the MLS Players Association, believed that the game should have been called off. Per the Athletic, the Impact asked the league to postpone the game, but the league apparently didn’t want to inconvenience fans and TV broadcasters, who are ultimately the ones that pay to watch the players. So it was a financial decision. The Impact had all their limbs, hence, they were ready to go.

MLS teams are only allowed four charter flights per season (Montreal’s charter planes to and from Boston reportedly won’t count against their four for this season). The league views charter flights – a view that now seems archaic considering how many incredibly rich owners there are in the league – as a type of competitive advantage, which could sway one international or domestic signing from joining one team over another.

Thus, in 2019, everyone from Evan Bush to Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are taking commercial flights and sitting in economy class, sometimes having to split up into multiple groups on different flights to get everyone to the final destination. Most teams save their charter flights for long-haul journeys, like Montreal to Los Angeles or Vancouver to Atlanta, leaving medium and short-haul flights to the mercy of the weather or flight delays at some of North America’s busiest airports.

In 2019, it’s a shame that MLS is still operating this way, as though team owners can’t afford to fly their players around in the type of accommodations that would – over the course of a long, difficult season filled with a lot of travel – help keep players fresher by the end of the year.

Per the MLSPA, there is no binding language between the league and players in the current collective bargaining agreement that mandates a specific amount of charter flights, and the MLSPA wouldn’t stand in MLS’ way if they decided to allow teams free reign on using this type of transportation to and from games.

While events like this can happen in the other sports, having players take charter flights significantly helps both the team administration and helps avoid many of the pitfalls of flying basic economy with the rest of the country.