The solution? Add four games to the schedule. A 34-game season would maintain the balanced, home-and-away format that leagues around the world employ and would ensure that fans in each city get the chance to see every other club. FanHouse understands that the expanded schedule is not a definite, but that there is a very good chance that it'll happen.
Do fans want more regular season games? Wouldn't it make more sense to use that time for a fun friendly or two? Perhaps more leeway in scheduling CONCACAF Champions League matches or a more sensible U.S. Open Cup structure?
Yes to that also, according to commissioner Don Garber.
Speaking to Examiner.com at this week's SuperLiga final in Foxborough, Garber said MLS is looking into tweaking its calendar in order to help those involved in other competitions.
His full quote:
All of that, plus four additional regular season games? It's just not going to happen. Something has to give. It can't be the Champions League, it better not be the Open Cup, and while many wouldn't mind seeing SuperLiga bite the dust, there really should be a place for a secondary international competition (like in Europe and South America) that gives more teams, players and fans the opportunity to enjoy some cross-border rivalries. It's good for the development of the game in the U.S."We've got to reassess the calendar quite a bit and we've been spending a lot of time doing that. I'm up here today actually, with our competitive guys doing some planning, just talking about how could we do a couple things -- capitalize on the excitement that took place during the World Cup, that clearly proved that Americans loved this game, and how do we build on that? Do we need to look at different formats? Do we need to look at our schedule again? How do we ensure that our teams are at full strength while we're playing in very, very crowded schedules? We're spending a lot of time planning and I want to be sure that we do well in all these tournaments. The first priority is our league tournament (MLS Cup playoffs), but certainly, so is the (CONCACAF) Champions League and again, I'd like to see the U.S. Open Cup be a bit more important to all of us.
"We've got to be sure that we can continue to do well in all these other competitions and not be disadvantaged. The schedule disadvantages us a little bit. In Champions League we're playing at the key time in our preseason, but at the same time we just have so many games and right now probably need to take a look at how we can be competitive in all those different tournaments."
(For those who argue that SuperLiga is just a "money grab," so what? Don't the people who've invested millions in MLS and in growing the game in this country deserve a little return on their investment? It's not like they're robbing people.)
The truth is, there's nowhere really for those four extra MLS regular season games to go, especially in the cold-weather cities, and the 34-game schedule will be moot anyway once Montreal enters the league in 2012 and the 20th team (perhaps New York?) comes aboard soon thereafter.
Garber cannot have it both ways. There is no room for the expanded schedule, relief for Champions League clubs and the Open Cup without adding a 13th month to the calendar.
Our hope is that Garber's comment about the MLS Cup playoffs being the "first priority" was genuine. The abbreviated four-game tournament, which uses a two-game first round that offers no home-field advantage for the higher seed, is the worst thing about MLS. It's too short, far too random and often fails to produce a deserving and worthy champion. It's like telling marathoners that only the last 100 yards of the race count.
If Garber can find some give in the schedule, he should do something about the playoffs. Expand them, and make them a true test for the teams involved. We don't need four additional regular season games.