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Why It Is Time To Change The Ineffective MLS Schedule

Admittedly, I cannot consider myself the biggest fan of Major League Soccer. Sure, I went to a DC United game this season and was aware that they ended up with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but other than that, I cannot say I knew much about the squad, as my primary focus was on the English Premier League. But given the dearth of other successful sports in this town, I told myself that I would follow United throughout their run in the MLS Playoffs this season.

So I did my due diligence and found out that the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal against the New York Red Bulls was scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday, November 2nd. After comparing it to the other sports that were on at the time, I discovered that this match was going head-to-head with the New England Patriots-Denver Broncos football game featuring Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. This presented a rather difficult decision.

If I, as someone who loves soccer enough to write about it, was unsure whether to watch an MLS PLAYOFF GAME (featuring my hometown team mind you) over an NFL regular season game (albeit a really good one), what hope was there for the general population?!

I am certainly not the first one that has questioned the MLS schedule. Unlike most of the rest of the world, whose league schedules run from August to May, the MLS season runs from March to November. U.S. Men’s National Team Manager Jürgen Klinsmann is not a fan of the MLS schedule, as he is forced to field a limited roster so as to not take players in the MLS playoffs away from their club at such a critical juncture of the season. It also means that the MLS players are not off at the same time as their international counterparts, which forces players like Landon Donovan to go on loan to keep fit for important qualifying matches. In fact, there are rumors that Clint Dempsey may go out on loan back to English football this January to stay fit.

In addition to the potential competitive disadvantage the MLS schedule has on the National Team, it also puts the playoffs up against the most popular sport in the U.S., where for now at least, the National Football League and college football are king. They are going to dominate the news cycles, coverage on sports radio, and all major sports websites. This isn’t to say that the MLS should avoid the NFL entirely, but it does not make sense to put the most important, competitive portion of its schedule up against the NFL and college football. The NBA and the NHL are both also in full-swing, and while those sports do not really pick up until later, they also take away potential viewers from the MLS playoffs. 

In contrast, if the MLS followed the schedule of the major European leagues, the season would conclude in May, followed by the playoffs. Though the NBA and NHL would be in the playoffs at the same time, MLB would be in the dog-days of summer and the NFL and college football would be nowhere to be found. I have several friends that really enjoyed the World Cup that told me that it came at the perfect time in the sports schedule and they were much more likely to check out the MLS (or other soccer leagues) during that May-August window when there was less going on in the sports calendar than during the heart of football season.  

At this point, Major League Soccer should be thinking of the long-run and how it can build on the positive momentum from this past summer’s World Cup in Brazil and keep hold of that attentive audience. The die-hard MLS fans will follow the sport wherever it is on the calendar, so they should not be the focus. In looking forward to both the potential benefits to the U.S. National team, as well as the opportunity to have its playoffs grab as much attention as possible, MLS should change its schedule to mirror most of the other leagues around the world. The summer is available for the taking, MLS...seize it.

Follow Mike Smith on Twitter @thefootiegent

Sorry MLS…I speak the truth.

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