International breaks are important, but…

Major League Soccer made the right call to concede the coming week to international play. If there is one thing that brings together all American soccer fans, it’s international soccer.

One could question the fact that MLS doesn’t respect the international calendar throughout the regular season, but clearly there is a different weight towards a regular season matchup and the playoffs. Every team should have their key internationals for playoff games.

The problem is how MLS broke up the schedule. Separating a two-legged playoff series by two weeks leaves a huge void, dulling any passion, momentum and animosity developed in the first leg. It’s like staging the first 6 rounds of a prize fight, only to send everyone home and have them come back a month later to finish off the final six rounds. It just doesn’t make much sense.

Separate rounds, not legs

Common sense would dictate that a hard-and-fast break be placed between playoff rounds instead of legs of the same playoff round.

Two issues exacerbated this problem.

  1. The 4 vs. 5 round. This provides a taste of the playoffs to a couple of middle-of-the-road teams but adds another round to congest things further,
  2. The two-week break between the Conference Finals and the MLS Cup Final. MLS likes to borrow from the NFL, but the Super Bowl media hype warrants the extra break more than MLS Cup does. Plus, the NFL has cut it to one week, from time to time.

MLS should eliminate the break between the conference finals and the MLS Cup final. Under that premise, the conference semifinals could have been played over the weekends of Nov. 2-3 and Nov. 9-10. The international break would have fit neatly between the two rounds, with the conference finals subsequently picking up for two consecutive weekends.

Late date for MLS Cup

That also ignores another cold fact that may come to fruition. Dec. 7 is quite late for an MLS Cup final, especially now that the highest seed hosts. Kansas City is the highest remaining seed and would host if they get through. If Real Salt Lake is able to hang onto their lead, they would host if Houston comes out of the East. The most southern team, Houston, is the only team left that has no chance of hosting the final.

If there ends up being a wintery final, that may ratchet up support for a fall-to-spring schedule. A final in the snow would probably get a place on the evening news, but so would a regular season game in the snow. The difference is that a trophy wouldn’t be hanging in the balance for a regular season game, potentially awarded based on a mishap caused by the weather conditions.

There are probably no easy fixes to this. I don’t envy the jobs of those trying to sort out the playoff series. If the international weekend didn’t involve a Qualifying Play-in, this schedule would flow much better. Hopefully in four years, the next time this issue might arise, a workable solution will be in place.


  1. I agree that they need to do a better job scheduling the playoffs and final but a fall to spring schedule makes no sense. Play half of the season in winter weather to avoid playing one game in winter weather?

    • They need to figure out a schedule that makes sense, is fair but competitive, and can be used EVERY year regardless of whether the international break is important or not. I fully support the Union and MLS, but the constant changing and tweaking of schedules every year is frustrating, and frankly doesn’t really help the MLS in its quest to become relevant to mainstream sports fans.

    • They are fools – FOOLS – if they ever change to fall to spring; not only will they get steamrolled by the NFL through February, but so too will they be crushed by the latter half of the NBA season. Not to mention this is a league with a number teams in Canada and the US Northeast…you’re telling me attendance wouldn’t suffer playing at those venues from November to February?

  2. In the last cycle, November 2011 was also significant in terms of World Cup qualifying. The teams outside the top 6 in CONCACAF, including Panama and Trinidad and Tobaggo were all playing their groups to qualify for the semifinal groups. Imagine if in 2011 the Union had advanced further in the playoffs but then were without the services of Keon Daniel because he was on national team duty. (OK maybe that’s a bad example since he couldn’t even get into the country at the time…)

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