MLS Amer­i­can league needs to re­work sched­ule

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

THIS Satur­day’s match be­tween the Ma­jor League Soc­cer points lead­ers and reign­ing cham­pi­ons should be the mar­quee event of the week­end and cre­ate the type of buzz the league craves for a reg­u­lar sea­son af­fair. In­stead, the FC Dal­las-Port­land Tim­bers show­down has lost much of its lus­tre be­cause MLS con­tin­ues to in­sist on al­low­ing games dur­ing the FIFA cal­en­dar.

Dal­las has lost four po­ten­tial starters to in­ter­na­tional duty. Port­land will travel with­out three. The show will go on, re­serves will fill voids and plenty of gifted play­ers will take their usual places.

But at this piv­otal point of the sea­son – when the Sup­port­ers’ Shield and play­off races are at a fevered pitch, crit­i­cal matches prom­ise to sway the course of the cam­paign and some teams aim to main­tain qual­ity form while oth­ers are des­per­ate to find it – MLS has again let down its clubs and sup­port­ers by stub­bornly de­fy­ing the sport’s an­nual agenda.

While most leagues around the world have stepped aside for count­less World Cup qual­i­fiers and other com­pe­ti­tions, MLS will con­duct eight matches over seven days.

The other games are not as tan­ta­lis­ing as Dal­las vs. Port­land but are, none­the­less, ad­di­tional ex­am­ples of how the league un­der­cuts its own ef­forts of mak­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son mat­ter (when 12 of 20 teams go to the play­offs) and cheats fans out of see­ing teams at full strength.

MLS has cited “sched­ul­ing chal­lenges” for not stop­ping play dur­ing all FIFA win­dows, when clubs are re­quired to re­lease play­ers to na­tional teams. Over the years, the league has got­ten bet­ter in re­spect­ing the cal­en­dar by ar­rang­ing fewer matches and, when there is a con­flict dur­ing the play­offs, go­ing com­pletely dark. It also has halted play dur­ing the group stage of the World Cup and, this sum­mer, took a break for part of Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario. (It should be noted, how­ever, MLS’ com­mer­cial arm, Soc­cer United Mar­ket­ing, had a busi­ness stake in Copa Amer­ica.)

In all, more than 50 play­ers from most of the 20 MLS clubs are af­fected this week and next. Not ev­ery team is in ac­tion, though. The San Jose Earth­quakes, Seat­tle Sounders, Toronto FC, Sport­ing Kansas City and Houston Dy­namo are off. In­di­vid­ual teams are given the op­tion of skip­ping cer­tain win­dows over the course of the sea­son.

Iron­i­cally, sev­eral mar­quee MLS play­ers, such as David Villa and Di­dier Drogba, have re­tired from in­ter­na­tional duty and aren’t af­fected by the sched­ul­ing con­flict. Other stars, such as Diego Va­leri and Bradley WrightPhillips, are not in the in­ter­na­tional mix.

Four­teen MLS play­ers were named to the US squad for two World Cup qual­i­fiers, but six are from clubs that are off dur­ing this FIFA win­dow.

The sched­ule will re­sume tomorrow with New York City FC and DC United clash­ing at Yan­kee Sta­dium. NYCFC de­fender Ron­ald Matar­rita will be in Haiti with the Costa Ri­can squad, while DC’s Steve Birn­baum will travel with the US del­e­ga­tion to St Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines. Both Costa Rica and the United States are seek­ing to se­cure pas­sage to CONCACAF’s fi­nal round of 2018 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing. NYC and DC have it easy. On Septem­ber 3, the Van­cou­ver White­caps, who are four points out of a play­off spot and stuck in a se­v­engame win­less rut, will be with­out six play­ers on in­ter­na­tional duty. Their guests, the New York Red Bulls, will have to com­pen­sate for the loss of two starters, in­clud­ing MLS as­sists leader Sacha Kl­jes­tan.

The Colorado Rapids will miss five play­ers against the New Eng­land Revo­lu­tion (one ab­sence). The Colum­bus Crew, the 2015 MLS Cup run­ner-up which is on the brink of slip­ping out of post­sea­son con­tention, lost four play­ers for a trip to Los An­ge­les.

Both Colorado and Philadel­phia, which vis­its Chicago, will carry on with­out their start­ing goal­keep­ers.

Tech­ni­cally, MLS sched­uled only six matches dur­ing this FIFA win­dow. But two oth­ers fall on Septem­ber 7, the day af­ter the pe­riod closes. One in­volves Or­lando City, which, in the race for the last East­ern Con­fer­ence play­off berth, will not have its top two scor­ers, Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino (22 goals and 10 as­sists com­bined).

Opt­ing out of play­ing in this FIFA win­dow was for­tu­itous for San Jose and Seat­tle, which had six and five play­ers sum­moned re­spec­tively. Toronto also got a break: Aside from three call-ups, the club an­nounced ear­lier this week that 2015 MVP Se­bas­tian Giovinco, whose 16 goals are tied for the league lead this year, will miss up to a month with quadri­ceps and ad­duc­tor strains.

In­juries and sus­pen­sions are one thing; de­lib­er­ately cre­at­ing sched­ul­ing con­flicts is quite an­other.

– The Wash­ing­ton Post

‘While most leagues around the world have stepped aside for count­less World Cup qual­i­fiers and other com­pe­ti­tions, MLS will con­duct eight matches over seven days … In all, more than 50 play­ers from most of the 20 MLS clubs are af­fected this week and next.’

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