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How might Major League Soccer shorten its season?

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Major League Soccer’s season is going to look different, but how much so?

The league announced Tuesday that it’s “extremely unlikely” to return in mid-May, and that the season may not be played in full.

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After suspending play, Major League Soccer announced on March 19 that the plan was to shut down for eight weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic and the plan was to resume the 2020 MLS season on May 10.

So, what are some of the scenarios the league could pursue with a calendar that may not start until June or July, and likely begin behind closed doors.

Our Joe Prince-Wright speculated that the league could cut the MLS Cup Playoffs altogether in a bid to squeeze what would normally be a 7-month schedule into a much shorter time frame.

That’s certainly a simple fix, but it would cut out what’s been a very exciting chase for teams in a league where more than half of the league makes the postseason.

So what are some other ideas that don’t involve mixing the MLS Cup Playoffs?

1) MLS Cup Playoffs in a European Cup setting: The league could move the MLS Cup Playoffs in-season at midweek. Yes, every club would have to make it, but what if the playoffs started a few weeks into the season with midweek matches?

The travel could make this idea a non-starter, so the draw would have to be conducted beforehand, but the bigger issue would be the fact that MLS teams already treat the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Cup like a burden. Why even have the competition if teams roll out all of their kids and cross their fingers until the semifinals? We’d hate this because it would give MLS another chance to ignore/skip/exploit a great tournament like the USOC, but such is life.

2) 25-game season plus minimally shortened playoffs: Here’s one I really like due to the fact that the league’s massive expansion had already removed fairness from the Supporters’ Shield race by unbalancing the schedule: Have every team play each other once, that’s it. Single-table but chop the playoff teams from 14 to 13 with the Supporters’ Shield-winner getting a two-round bye, then continue as such. A season beginning on July 1 would give you 18 weeks to early-November, then a furious finish.

3) Regular season in-conference only, shortened playoffs: It’s only one fewer game. While the Western Conference markets wouldn’t get to see their sides meet the big names of the Eastern Conference, and vice versa, this would beef up the regular season with rivalries. We’d build in even more drama by cutting the playoff spots back to six.

4) Divisional redraw to drastically shorten regular season: If the league wanted to keep the MLS Cup Playoffs as is, mostly, it could divide its 26 teams into four or more divisions. There would be an uneven distribution, which would cause some Players Union grievances, but the league could be down to under 20 regular season dates in a heartbeat with 2x/division and a sprinkling of crossover games.

Now I’ve tried several times to divide the teams and the stupid geography of this country always leaves one or two teams in an impossible bind, but just for the sake of the visual.

Div 1 (6): Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose, LAFC, LA Galaxy

Div 2 (7): Real Salt Lake, Colorado, Sporting KC, Minnesota United, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati

Div 3 (6): Inter Miami, Atlanta, Orlando City, Nashville SC, FC Dallas, Houston

Div 4 (7): Montreal, New England, NY Red Bulls, NYCFC, Philadelphia Union, DC United

5) The shortest season: The shortest this could go would be keeping the conferences the same, chopping it down to one game versus each conference opponent, then regrouping with an expanded playoff. Twelve games plus a maximum of five more.

Weird times. Weird ideas. What would you choose? Also, it’s the end of my shift so forgive me if I’ve missed something that disqualifies one of the above ideas.

Thierry Henry’s Montreal, Seattle’s Ibarra get clever with TP (video)

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Like the majority of us, MLS players are limited in his opportunities to find live soccer.

The (social) distance between them didn’t stop isolated Montreal Impact players and Seattle Sounders midfielder Miguel Ibarra from getting in some touches in a challenge inspired by Atlanta United boss Frank de Boer (and, really, a quality PR team).

Whether you call it juggling or keep-ups, you won’t deny that the “ball” is pretty clever given the coronavirus-challenged times.

Let’s begin in Quebec, where Thierry Henry led his men through juggling and “passing” (presumably) taped-up toilet paper rolls to each other via video on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

And let’s be real… Titi is the star with that classy pass.

As for Ibarra, the Seattle Sounders man is, however, proving to have quite sense of humor during his time at home.

The three-times capped USMNT midfielder filmed himself juggling a roll as well.

He was doing pretty well until his dog went all N’Golo Kante on him.

Ibarra turned 30 on Sunday, and had started both of his MLS matches since signing with Seattle.

He’s spent most of his career with Minnesota United, NASL and MLS stints of their existence broken up by time with Club Leon.

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

Seattle Sounders employee tests positive for coronavirus

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The Seattle Sounders say a member of the team’s support staff is in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

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The team says the staff member worked the club’s match against Columbus on March 7, but did not become ill until four days later. The team said the individual did not have access to the general public and “only had access to the team in controlled areas during the game.”

The team said no players or coaches have reported having any symptoms related to the coronavirus.

“We remain in constant communication with a number of regional and national health authorities, and based on the information we collectively have at this time, there is not felt to be a risk to any fans that attended our March 7 match at CenturyLink Field,” Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey said in a statement. “The individual that tested positive for COVID-19 did not have access to the public on matchday, and fortunately we have no other confirmed cases within the club at this time. Alongside public health authorities, we are actively monitoring this situation, and should new details emerge, we will continue proactively communicating with our community.”

MLS: Five things we learned

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The second day of the 2020 Major League Soccer season was just as enticing as opening day, featuring thrilling goals, a handful of debuts and a late winner.

[ MORE: Vela, LAFC spoil Inter Miami’s MLS debut]

This is what we learned from Sunday’s action:

1) Carlos Vela is the league’s best player, and it’s not even close

Many players, coaches and followers of the league are already onboard with this idea: Carlos Vela is the best player in MLS. He is, and it’s not even close. And if one still had their doubts about the rationale, the Mexican attacker, who turned 31 on Sunday, scored one of his best goals in the league thus far:

These next-level sequences are routine for Vela. Sure, Alejandro Pozuelo quickly assembled a highlight reel of his own in his first season in the league in 2019, but the consistency from the Spaniard pales in comparison. The Cancun native is cut from a different cloth. And, if you ask Bob Bradley, he’d probably tell you that it’s an exclusive cloth.

“I have been a coach for many years and I have been fortunate to train a select group of special players,” Bradley said following Sunday’s game. “Carlos Vela is on that list with Hristo Stoitchkov and Mohamed Salah.”

2) Lucas Zelarayan fits like a glove in Columbus

Lucas Zelarayan’s arrival to the Crew didn’t get the airtime it deserved, but after his debut on Sunday, oblivious onlookers got their first taste of the Argentine’s nifty skills.

In Mexico, Zelarayan got the short end of the stick at Tigres, who boast one of Western Hemisphere’s most lucrative rosters, accumulating more time on the bench, or in club suites than on the field towards the tail-end of his stay. That may never happen under Caleb Porter’s watch, giving Zelarayan the chance to engrave his name into MVP conversation list this season. 

3) Inter Miami didn’t look all that great, offensively 

It’s totally fair game to summon the “it was the first game ever for Inter Miami” one-liner when taking a defensive posture in an anti-Inter Miami debate.

The fact that they made their MLS debut, however, doesn’t save them from being analyzed – for better or for worse. They have both feet in the arena and are fair game.

That said, they didn’t have a productive game on the attacking end.

Rodolfo Pizarro, the player that was purchased for a reported $12 million from Liga MX’s Monterrey, fell really short of the hype surrounding his league debut. The 26-year-old Mexican ended the night with two shots on target, two more than his teammate Robbie Robinson, who offered little goal-scoring threat up top. Matias Pellegrini, too, proposed little from the left flank and was subbed off in the 79th minute.

There’s no doubt that Diego Alonso will eventually figure it out in Miami. After all, David Beckham and company set him up with a decent roster, but don’t be surprised if Inter goes through a long session of growing pains.

4) Atlanta United need a proven striker to fill in for Josef Martinez

On Sunday, Atlanta United revealed that their goal king Josef Martinez tore his ACL against Nashville SC. 

The injury is, undeniably, a major blow to the Five Stripes. To make matters worse, at the moment, Frank De Boer has only one healthy striker to chose from in Adam Jahn. Jahn put together a praiseworthy season with USL Championship side Phoenix Rising in 2019, but has shown the opposite in over 100 MLS appearances.

Luckily, de Boer mentioned the possibility of signing an emergency striker. Atlanta needs to exercise that option, but they can’t afford to execute it mindlessly. In other words, if one wants to fill in the void left by a goal-scoring machine, one needs to do so with a goal-scoring machine.

With the primary transfer window not closing until May 7, the Five Stripes won’t be in a time crunch, but they will have more time to get the ideal signing down (or not). Carlos Bocanegra has done well on player recruitment, but perhaps this is his biggest challenge yet.

5) Jordan Morris needs to start for Sounders moving forward

Like any other coach in a similar situation, Brian Schmetzer had his tactical reasons to start Miguel Ibarra over Jordan Morris. It’s completely understandable.

Moving forward, though, Schmetzer won’t have any reasons to do the same. Morris, who scored two goals off the bench for the Seattle Sounders, handed the defending champions a prized victory over a new-look Chicago Fire, solidifying his place in Seattle’s starting lineup for the pair of weeks to come.

As pointed out by MLS analyst Matt Doyle, Morris, since June 23, has recorded 17 goals and 14 assists for club and country. Morris should be far removed from bench treatment. It’s pretty simple.

2020 MLS Power Rankings, Vol. 1

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With the 2020 Major League Soccer season kicking off this weekend, here’s a (surely brilliant) predictive edition of the Power Rankings, which will be updated at the start of every month here on PST…

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

MLS Cup favorites
Los Angeles FC and New York City FC

We all remember what LAFC did last year, and the fact they didn’t win MLS Cup despite settling most every relevant league record will only serve as further fuel for Bob Bradley to demand even more from (inarguably) the most talented team in the league. One potential pitfall: after trading Walker Zimmerman (for a record amount of allocation money), it’s unclear who’ll start at center back, and if you think it’s clear it’s a less than ideal situation. As for NYCFC, they managed to fly under the radar last year despite finishing top of the Eastern Conference by six points. While they don’t have the household names of an LAFC or Atlanta United, Domenec Torrent’s side (now that of Ronny Deila) played every bit the attractive, fluid attacking soccer of the league’s darlings. In a week East, NYCFC could wind up Supporters’ Shield winners.


MLS Cup contenders
Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC

These teams will be in the playoffs, 100 percent guarantee. (fingers are now crossed) With satisfactory answers to certain questions, they could make the leap from contenders to favorites with ease. Those questions are… Seattle: does the completely rebuilt backline come together, and how long does it take? Atlanta: will head coach Frank De Boer find the right balance between his preferred defensive slant and the roster’s natural tendency to attack at all costs? Galaxy: is the defense, which has been horrific for five or six years now, any better? Toronto: wait, why aren’t they on the “favorites” line? Ah, yes, because only one team per conference is allowed.


See you in the playoffs
Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union and D.C. United

Here’s the thing about this group: the two teams from the East should finish fourth or fifth in the junior circuit (some ways back of the clear-cut top-three), but they probably wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West. By default, Philadelphia and D.C. get a bump in the tiers for the fact they’ll walk into the playoffs in the East. That is not — repeat not — to say they are as good as RSL or Dallas, who would actually push Atlanta and Toronto for second and third.


In the hunt
Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution and Montreal Impact

That’s a long list of teams. As stated above, the teams from the East will be in playoff contention due to not having seven standout sides. Basically, any combination of these teams could wind up in the playoffs. Looking to the West, Portland, Sporting KC and Minnesota have the potential to climb a tier (or two) if all goes right for them, but each of those sides has a glaring, and potentially fatal, flaw. The temptation to say Colorado will actually be quite good and also a playoff team is very strong, but it goes against all human instincts when you think back to how they opened the 2019 season, before firing Anthony Hudson and hiring Robin Fraser and almost making the playoffs anyway.


Fulfilling obligations
FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC and Vancouver Whitecaps

Barely a month into their first season (last season), Cincinnati was very clearly the worst team in the league. Somehow, the offseason has gone even worse for them. They (probably) managed to improve enough so as to not claim back-to-back Wooden Spoons, but enough to contend for a playoff place? Highly unlikely. Orlando City has never — not once in their five-year MLS history — given me, or anyone, reason to believe they are a competent organization. Until they do so for a period of six (6) months or more, they just exist for existence’s sake. Speaking of merely existing, the Vancouver Whitecaps.


Expansion teams, TBD
Inter Miami and Nashville SC

Here’s the thing about expansion teams: they aren’t to be trusted, either way. What looks good on paper can sometimes look terrible on the field, and what looks terrible on paper can sometimes look great on the field. We’ll give Miami and Nashville their first assessments after a month of games.