It’s a quiet weekend in the soccer world. Teams in Germany’s Bundesliga won’t return to the field until near the end of January. Spain, Italy and France are also taking multiweek winter breaks. England is really the only Northern Hemisphere league that plows on through the Christmas period. Most of the rest either take a winter break, or simply play a summertime schedule, as Major League Soccer does.
But MLS’ scheduling issues go far deeper than just playing in the summer.
Plenty of people have called for MLS to make the switch to running the season along with the worldwide autumn-spring calendar. Every year MLS runs into scheduling conflicts with a summer international tournament, which takes the best players away from MLS teams. The player transfer window also runs counter to the MLS schedule. Since most transfers happen in the summer, MLS is left in the difficult position of having to try to move players in and out during the middle of the season.
The league has explored switching to a winter schedule, but previous studies have led to Commissioner Don Garber calling it “almost impossible.” Scheduling winter games in several MLS cities would be nightmarish, with Minnesota perhaps now leading the frozen pack. Asking fans to bundle up for January games in St. Paul, rather than basking in the July sunshine, seems remarkably counterintuitive.
North America is not alone in this regard; Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a former Bayern Munich great and a leading voice in European soccer, has called for Germany to play in the gorgeous summertime, rather than in the miserable winter.
The real problem with MLS scheduling isn’t whether the league chooses to run the season from fall to spring or spring to fall. It has more to do with the league’s decisions the rest of the season. The league mostly takes off December through February, because of weather concerns, but also wastes the month of November on interminable rounds of playoffs. Throw in the league’s reluctance to schedule midweek matches, and its commitment to keeping the schedule at 34 games, and the schedule-makers quickly start to run out of match days. This leads MLS to play during FIFA’s official international breaks, a major problem for a league that wants to attract the type of players who will be away for international matches.
The fastest fix for this is the simplest — more midweek games. Teams balk at the cross-continent travel required, but in part that’s because of MLS refusing to let its teams charter flights for all but a handful of games. Every other major league lessens travel impact by scheduling its own flights, but MLS flies commercial. Charter flights would allow three or four more midweek games. Knock off a week or two of the playoffs and the league might be able to squeeze in 34 games, without playing on international dates. Those scheduling concerns are a far bigger problem than whether the league season ends in May or October.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Liga MX Final: Club América at Tigres, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Univision. The first leg of the fall-season championship finished 1-1, after América missed a penalty in the first half. Now the series moves to Tigres, where the home side may be missing all-star striker Andre-Pierre Gignac. He scored his team’s goal in the first leg but left the game with a head injury.
Premier League: Crystal Palace at Watford, 6:30 a.m. Monday, NBCSN. The traditional Boxing Day slate of English matches kicks off with a cross-London trip for a struggling Crystal Palace side, which just fired manager Alan Pardew. Palace has been the worst home team in the league this year but has been slightly better away. Under Pardew, the team had won just once since September.
Premier League: Sunderland at Manchester United, 9 a.m. Monday, NBCSN. Sunderland has found itself where it always seems to at Christmas — in a relegation battle. Manager David Moyes hasn’t found any more success than his predecessors at Sunderland, but at least he’s not enemy No. 1 among the home fans as he was at Manchester United.
Premier League: Manchester City at Hull City, 11:30 a.m. Monday, NBCSN. Manchester City got a much-needed home victory against Arsenal last week and now visits the team with the league’s worst record. With a seven-point gap yawning between Man City and Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, the Citizens can ill afford to drop points at Hull, which needs every point it can get as well.
• Alex Morgan (above) is officially making the (temporary) move to France. The Orlando Pride star is being loaned to French club Lyon until June, giving her the chance to play the rest of the French season before returning to the U.S. in June for most of the National Women’s Soccer League season. Lyon started the season impressively, winning nine of 10 games and amassing a 52-4 cumulative goal tally. But it still trails Paris Saint-Germain, which has won all 10 of its matches and has yet to allow a goal.
• The Bundesliga season might be just half over, but Bayern Munich’s 3-0 victory over upstart RB Leipzig felt a little bit like a championship decider. Barring a second-half collapse by Bayern — something the annual league champions aren’t in the habit of doing — it’ll be another title for the Bavarians.
• In Christmas news, Arsenal players canceled their Christmas party, after losing twice in a week to drop out of the Premier League title race. Their fear was that fans would see pictures of the players having fun after losing, which would cause more headaches than the party was worth. Merry Christmas to all (even those on losing streaks)!