Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

International Absences & the Importance of a Balanced Schedule

     32 players from MLS rosters were called up to their respective national teams for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup; several others will report to their national team for various other duties, some will not make the full squad, will choose to pull out or get injured and be back with their club teams in due time. Such a drain on an already limited selection pool for managers is a necessary evil for a league that is not able to respect the international calendar. There is much consternation at the pig-headedness of continuing to play matches while much of the league’s premium talent is away on international duty. While this is a concern, it is much more important that the league focus on maintaining a balanced schedule of competition, rather than worry if not all players are available for every match.  

     With the 19th club, Montreal Impact, joining the league next year a balanced format would involve 36 matches. This year’s competition of 34 already seems to be pushing the limit as to what the schedule makers can bear. With the increased significance of the CONCACAF Champions League, and the money-making international friendlies there is not a lot of spare room with which to work. When the 20th team joins - rumours of the New York Cosmos return are circulating - a truly balanced schedule would consist of 38 matches… is this something that is even possible for the North American game?

    Each season kicks off in March, concluding in November, so there is already a significant off-season that has begun to be eaten away. Considering that the European season progresses from August to May, it is feasible that the calendar could be stretched, early games in Toronto in March, perhaps even MLS Cup last November were a method of testing a passionate fan bases’ ability to come and watch soccer during times of inclement weather.

    The first thing that should be disposed of are those interminable mid-season friendlies, though MLS would argue that with many clubs still not turning much of a profit, such “big events” are necessary to get the desired media and fan attention that will aid strugglers in making ends meet. Far be it from anyone to stop another from making a living, but perhaps to preserve the sanctity of the competition it would be wise to simply continue the games without MLS participation. It is understandable that the occasional victory may earn MLS some of that much sought after respect on the global platform, but really the concentration should be to get things right locally and worry about the rest when the time is more appropriate. Superliga served a purpose, supposedly anyways and was duly jettisoned, the Champions League, which leads to the Club World Cup would be a far more effective route to proceed to make an impact on the world’s stage.

     In the event of further expansion, something that as time passes is extremely possible, some of the more worrisome supporters should brace for one of two possible outcomes: Either a promotion-relegation system of two leagues, both under the umbrella of MLS, but radically controlled in some such as yet unforeseen manner, or as an old-school MLB system of American and National Leagues of 10 to 16 teams who meet at the seasons conclusion for a championship. Such an outcome would be satisfactory, though it could mean not playing a team, nor seeing its players for an indefinite period of time. It could give more meaning to a single-table regular season structure and to playoffs as well. It could also have the unintentional outcome of making the cup competitions, US Open, Voyageurs (NCC) and the Champions League more interesting, as there would be a possibility of playing a team that you did not regularly meet in league action. Should the league split in two, and decide to make it an East-West Coast divide, though the big New York-Los Angeles match would be lost, it could serious decrease the amount of travel any team would have to endure, thereby allowing for a tighter schedule and more serious competition. The lack of practice time made available by these crisscrossing flights around the continent must have an effect on the level of proficiency a squad has on the field.

     Whichever path is chosen it is of utmost importance that the parity of the balanced schedule be preserved. It is what makes football the purest sporting competition, and different from the regional congregations in other North American sports.

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