Outside the box towards a 2020 game schedule

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

We are all wondering how Major League Soccer might reconfigure the 2020 season. The only given is that it will not occur as originally announced. New thinking is required.

The current situation

Paul Tenorio’s Question & Answer session with Major League Soccer Players Association executive director Bob Foose published March 20 in The Athletic (behind a paywall, so no point in a link) crystallizes matters.

In response to Tenorio’s question, “Would the MLSPA be open to shortening the necessary five-week offseason, per CBA guidelines, if the season has to extend into mid- or late-December?” Foose replied,

“ … . I believe very strongly that players currently around the world are overworked significantly and it’s not healthy, so I’d be very, very hesitant off the cuff to put our guys in the situation where they don’t have the proper [between season] time to recover, particularly coming off a season where they are playing a lot of games in a shorter period of time. Which is probably what we’re looking at. We will have that conversation and work hard as a PA to be cognizant of the economic realities and calendar realities the league is facing while at the same time protecting the players’ health.”

Tenorio next asked, “Have you spoken to players about the prospect of playing two games a week for several months consecutively in order to fit in a 34-game schedule?” Foose responded,

“We haven’t yet because until you have a little bit more of a guess on when we’re starting it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to try to map out a schedule. In the best of circumstances it is very, very hard to put a schedule together. We also have a lot of uncertainty on U.S. Open Cup, what’s going to happen with CONCACAF Champions League. On the positive side we do have about five weeks to play with, on a one-year basis, if we want to move the playoffs back and maybe more (than five weeks) if you had to. There is a decent part of the season that players play those midweek games anyway. My hope is, and this is without diving into this stuff with great detail yet, my hope is if it’s possible to play the full season without adding too much risk on players’ health we would be amenable to trying to make that work because it matters economically. And it matters more to our league than other leagues because gameday revenue is so important to us. We are certainly conscious of that. We all want the same thing, we just have to balance different considerations. It’s different if we start June 1st or Aug. 1st. I don’t know that anybody knows really what that’s going to look like.”

“Outside the box,” to address player-recovery health concerns

Given a compressed 34-game season with midweek games normal not exceptional, one strategic principle could be to require greater use of reserves.

One such approach would designate some of the games to be played by them. Strict guidelines disqualifying usual starters would have to be hammered out from scratch and compliance enforced. There is time for willing minds to do such work.

An extreme but simple scheduling method to increase the use of reserves would be to condense all in-conference home-and-away sets onto single dates, matching first elevens against first elevens at one location and benches against benches at the other. It would cut the needed time for the intra-conference parts of the schedule in half, reducing needed game dates from 24 down to twelve. Home firsts-versus-firsts matches would have be distributed evenly to ensure revenue equity. Each team would need a fourth goalkeeper, through whatever means. And tape delay broadcasts of the matche would have to be guaranteed to each market.

An alternative strategic principle might build from the way in which  the Development Academy program  ensures its players get appropriate degrees of participation. USSDA uses its system to promote development as well as health, but its rules could be a useful starting point.

The disease itself will determine whether playing the full schedule is possible in any fashion.


  1. Wow, starters vs. starters and reserves vs. reserves could be really interesting. Of course, they’d have to ensure someone like Vela couldn’t be marked as a “reserve.” It could be neat to see a lot of the younger guys play in a higher-level setting than just USL. Some weekend double-headers could be a lot of fun, too.

  2. Chris Gibbons says:

    I’ve heard the Prem floating the idea that all 20 teams might get together at a compound and play every few days, with several matches every day for a month or so (World Cup style). There have to be fields somewhere remote that could accommodate this, and it would make for great TV.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    I think the biggest problem with the starters at one venue and the reserves at the other is that the fans at the latter venue are getting the short end of the stick. I certainly wouldn’t be happy if I got 11 games with the starters and 6 with the reserves after paying full price for season tickets, and I could see it somehow being such that teams like NYCFC and Atlanta are getting 14 and 3 whereas Philly and Columbus get 8 and 9.
    Plus non STH sales would probably be miniscule for the games the reserves played.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      STH’s will be shortchanged as certainly as Amun-Ra has driven the chariot of the sun over Ancient Egypt every day since forever.
      But we all bought our tickets knowing there would be no refunds.
      Given the high probabilities of recurring waves of infection until either the virus mutates or an effective prophylactic is discovered and disseminated, continuing to invest in season tickets in the future is problematic.

  4. So today my calendar showed yet another game that we are missing! Hope everyone is safe and staying home!

  5. Scott of Nazareth says:

    Im sure it would be either too expensive to pull off or too much health risk but…

    Pick 5 or 6 Midwestern college campuses that are within a 2-3 hour drive of each other – lets say Omaha, NE.

    Give each team a dorm to base out of.

    Set up some cameras around each field with fixed shots, don’t need cameramen – a skeleton technical staff for broadcasting.

    Play games and show them on TV all day long like the first 2 rounds of March Madness going from one game to another.

    People are starving for sports to watch. The first league to put games on will get TONS of eyeballs.

  6. JACK Mahon says:

    Did somebody say 1 August? Might as well flip the calendar and play a season schedule that matches UEFA’s. Our first opportunity to try this might be our last.

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