Opinion (November 19, 2016) – Attention Major League Soccer schedule maker(s), I’ve got a bone to pick with you. Leg one of both MLS Cup Conference Finals will be this coming Tuesday. The Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders will play their second leg on Sunday, November 27th at 4 pm EST. Toronto FC and Montreal Impact will finish up the following Wednesday, November 30th at 7 pm EST. I get why MLS scheduled these games when they did. But it’s still dumb.
MLS Cup Conference Finals Schedule: I Get It But It’s Still Dumb
This is the first time since I can remember (possibly in league history) that three of the four conference finals games will occur on week days. The same can be said for Tuesday night playoff games.
Normally, one would consider this a disaster as far as scheduling is concerned. Fortunately, the clubs have had more than two weeks to prepare for this. Attendance shouldn’t be an issue with Seattle regularly getting over 40,000 in attendance. Montreal also nearly sold out Stade Olympique for Tuesday’s match.
Meanwhile, the second leg home teams have had nearly three weeks to market and sell tickets. BMO Field in Toronto is already sold out for the second leg. Colorado had the lowest attendance of these four teams this regular season (albeit with the smallest capacity stadium). That said, they only averaged 16,278 this season, 82% of its capacity.
Colorado will have the only weekend home game of the four matches fortunately. And they will not be competing directly with a Denver Broncos home game. With some traveling supporters from Seattle, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park will make it four sell outs in four games. That’s huge for the league.
This schedule avoids all TV viewer conflicts with the NFL and college football. There were also potential conflicts with the stadiums. The Seattle Seahawks had a home game today, preventing the Sounders from hosting this weekend. The CFL Grey Cup will be played November 27th at BMO Field, preventing TFC from having their home leg then.
That said, there are still issues.
First off, the Western Conference champion will have an extra three days to prepare for MLS Cup (thirteen compared to ten). While both teams will have more than a week, extra time and injuries are very possible in the second leg. That could be a serious advantage for the Western Conference champs.
If you’re going to go crazy with the schedule, you could at least be consistent for both conferences. If Toronto FC can host a Wednesday night playoff game, so can Colorado.
It is inconsistent for the league to schedule two Tuesday playoff games, but not both second legs. The league also wasted this past weekend when many other leagues (the EPL for example) returned to play. They could have used this weekend, having two weeks off from the international break.
MLS has done a really good job making Friday nights their night during the summer. They could have tried Friday night playoff games and still avoided the NFL and College Football TV competition.
If CenturyLink Field needs a day between MLS and NFL games, the Sounders could have played on Friday instead of Tuesday. The same potentially could have been done for BMO Field and TFC. And if not, why then must the Colorado home game occur when the Broncos have a home game?
I get that this year the league had a number of variables to contend with that they don’t usually. The two legs are scheduled between Thanksgiving week. The Eastern Conference Finals is an all Canadian match up, so there’s the NHL and CFL to contend with. The league historically gives two weeks between the conference finals second leg and MLS Cup.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I was wrong if these four games set MLS Playoff TV rating records. But if they are on par with ratings from recent years, then the weird schedule wasn’t very effective. The league could have done something slightly different to the benefit of the teams and the fans.
The league came up with a creative way to schedule around various circumstances. But it’s still kind of dumb.