Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Success to make MLS change?

I know that this was announced a while ago, but I just came across it and it got me thinking.

FIFA declared at the end of May that the LA Galaxy must release David Beckham for any and all England national team matches that he is called up for. As this is really nothing new in the international soccer world, it makes sense that FIFA would re-establish this with the Galaxy. The only problem with this is that this is something that MLS really hasn't ever really had to deal with and if MLS continues to try and lure more star players over here, it is a problem that they will have to deal with on a more permanent basis.

Right now, MLS really only has to worry about US players being called up for USMNT matches. Most of the time, these call ups come during the summer and the MLS clubs live through them, playing with different players instead of the US players. Living with might be a strong word, as last year the LA Galaxy themselves showed how bad they were without Landon Donovan and missed the playoffs based on their May/June results. Regardless of this, MLS never really had to worry too much about loosing too many of its players, and with the exception of Donovan and Dempsey (last year) never had to worry about losing its stars due to these call-ups.

Now they do. David Beckham will most certainly be called up for the remaining Euro 2008 qualifiers unless his form in MLS dips so low that he looks like he is 45 instead of 32. Chances are that he will also be called into their friendly matches as well, which means a total of six matches away for England. Those six matches either fall on the same date or around the same date as LA Galaxy matches. For the soccer fans who bought tickets for those six matches, sorry, let me restate that: For the non-soccer fans who bought tickets for those six matches only to see Beckham, they are now stuck with tickets to a regular MLS season match, instead of the Beckham show.

Considering that MLS intends on trying to lure more quality "stars" over to the USA, this is going to be a larger problem than MLS wants to deal with. The clubs themselves are going to really start to cry foul if their superstars and revenue producers are not in uniform for several matches. MLS will have to do something about this and they will have to start with the 2008 season.

The easiest answer will be for MLS to take the international calendar into consideration when they schedule their matches. I can only think of a few leagues world wide that do not halt their regular season when there is a FIFA date scheduled, MLS is one of them though. As we are seeing right now with the Gold Cup saw last season with the World Cup and will see with the Copa America, MLS chugs right along while FIFA has international match dates. MLS is going to have to adapt to this in the future.

A big problem with that is scheduling. Right now, MLS schedules their matches when they can. Several clubs share venues with other non-MLS sports clubs (DC United and the MLB Washington Nationals; New England Revolution and the NFL New England Patriots for example) so trying to schedule their matches around their home ground partner is hard enough for MLS, adding the FIFA dates to ensure that future players will be available will be even tougher, but it is something that they must do now. In the next couple of years, it will become easier as MLS clubs get their own Soccer specific stadiums or are no longer sharing a field with a baseball team. Once MLS gets used to scheduling their season around any FIFA dates, I honestly think they will have yet another reason for players to see MLS as an alternative to over leagues.

Obviously as with MLS operating as a Spring/Summer/Fall league, the scheduling gets worse and worse every time a FIFA regional championship or the World Cup is played. The best answer would be to move the schedule to a Fall/Winter/Spring league which would then mean MLS is only forced to schedule around qualifiers and friendly matches. Most people claim that it is pretty much impossible to have a Winter league in places like New England, Toronto, Denver, Salt Lake, Chicago and other northern cities. I have to say tough. I know that right now, MLS doesn't have the fan base to attract 12,000 fans out to a match at Gillett stadium in December when the wind chill and the snow might make it 10 below zero, but unless MLS is ready to always have to deal with losing the very stars that it is trying to bring over, for months at a time, they will have to come up with a different way to schedule their regular season.

In any case, MLS is going to have to do something about their scheduling when it conflicts with FIFA dates. If MLS really wants to sign players who are regulars for their national teams, then they will have to set up their schedules to allow them to play in both settings, without the conflicts occurring. The reason is that those players salaries are going to be primarily paid for by the club owners, who will lose them when the national team comes calling. If MLs begins to start scheduling around FIFA dates, with next season, this problem will be averted and we might see owners toss even more cash at higher priced players.

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