Posted on 16 September 2009 by Nathaniel E. Baker
Major League Soccer displayed an uncharacteristic sense of levelheadedness with its announcement to break for the 2010 World Cup and move next season’s schedule to a balanced, home-and-home structure. With any other professional soccer league in the world, these moves would not have even registered. But this being MLS, they were met with widespread applause from the blog- and twittersphere.
This will give outsiders an idea of just how far MLS has come and much pent up demand there is for the league to “reinforce its place among the global family of soccer nations,” as the New York Times so eloquently put it. But really, these moves are beyond obvious.
First, the World Cup is soccer’s signature event and one that takes place only every four years. For MLS to play through it (as it has historically) is an affront to the game, its fans, traditions and culture, etc. It showed not only lack of respect but worse, just how out of touch the league authorities were when it came to the realities of the sport. Don Garber and Co. now finally appear to appreciate the magnitude of the world’s most-watched sporting event. Or maybe they just realized nobody would pay attention to the games MLS played during the tournament. Either way, it’s a no-brainer.
The balanced schedule is long overdue as well. MLS is simply not big enough to require separate divisions in the first place (more on that in a bit), much less some goofy arrangement where certain teams play each other more often than others. The home-and-home thing is simple: all teams play each other twice, once in both stadiums. It’s also a lot fairer if each team only has to play once on Gillette Stadium’s horrific fieldturf, for example.
Kudos for MLS for finally showing some common sense, but more will be needed if it is going to be taken seriously. Here are just a few initiatives we would like to see as soon as possible:
- Stop play for all international match dates, not just the World Cup (and it’s not even the entire World Cup but just the first forthnight. Better than nothing, but still…)
- Get rid of the divisions and switch to a single table.
- Cut the playoffs to a single game: The MLS Cup, pitting the top two teams from the regular season, played at the first-placed club’s home ground. This will a) make the regular season (far) more meaningful and b) increase the incentive for finishing first. Are you really making that much money from the other playoff games? We didn’t think so.
- Get rid of the SuperLiga, once and for all.
- Allow clubs to keep all players who come up through their developmental academy and (wait for it!) count only a fraction of their salaries against the salary cap. This will reward clubs for investing in their academies and spreading the game locally.
- Increase the size of the rosters and/or allow clubs to play academy players on the senior roster if needed.
- Increase the salary cap and minimum wage for individual players.
- In most parts of the country, summers are too hot and winters too cold to expect grown men to play soccer outdoors for 90 minutes. Make the necessary adjustments to the league schedule.
Promotion/relegation, while a nice idea, is not realistic at this point. No owner will ever agree to it and for good reason: the risks are simply too great. But it isn’t necessary either. With the above bullet points, the league can finally move toward the real time. And join the global family of soccer nations.
Addendum: There may have been another reason for MLS’ decision to shut down during the World Cup. According to World Football Insider, the move is expected to boost U.S. chances of capturing the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Especially, as the same article points out, now that Australia’s bid is hit with funding issues.
Your thoughts, U.S. soccer fans (and anybody else who wants to opine)?