MLS started over 20 years ago with many American quirks. Most have disappeared but one has stuck doggedly: a schedule that is the opposite of most major leagues in Europe. While most FIFA-sanctioned leagues begin sometime in August and end the following spring, MLS starts in the spring and ends in the middle of fall. While this takes advantage of North America’s summer weather it also raises significant issues. This complex issue can be controversial, but here are four reasons why MLS should switch to the FIFA calendar.
Four Reasons MLS Should Switch to the FIFA Calendar
Coaches Won’t Leave Midseason
In recent years many aging stars in Europe have joined MLS. It is common knowledge that many pick the big cities of LA and New York because they are simply more interesting to live in. What is true for players is evidently not true for certain coaches. In quick succession, both coaches in the Big Apple ditched their respective clubs for greener pastures in Europe. First Patrick Vieira agreed to terms to coach Nice in France. More recently, Jesse Marsch left the New York Red Bulls to be an assistant in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig.
Both moves are not too terribly surprising. Ambitious professionals will go where the ambition (and cash) call them. But both would not have happened if MLS was on the FIFA calendar. The World Cup is still happening and European clubs have just started preseason training. Unless they replace a coach who is sacked midseason this is the time to make a move and start fresh with a new club. Changing to the FIFA schedule would make these types of transitions less disruptive to MLS as a whole.
The Product Isn’t Any Better in the Summer
Coaches leaving midseason means a new coach, probably an assistant, needs to take over with no preparation time. This could make for some ugly play as teams adjust to the new order. Both New York clubs are having good seasons and have strong rosters that can probably weather the storm. But that does not mean the teams are being helped by a major transition in the middle of their campaigns.
This gets to the next point. The summer does not make soccer games any better. Yes the weather is nicer more often but one forgets that much of the US boils in July. Houston and Orlando come to mind. LAFC had to delay their kickoff this past week because of temperatures over 100 degrees in the afternoon there. Games with mandatory water breaks are possible but they are not any better (for players or fans) than games played in subfreezing temperatures. Changing to the FIFA calendar would maximize the ideal spring and fall seasons while avoiding the dangerously hot times of June and July.
You Won’t Need Long Midseason Breaks
Most summers bring about a break of some length to the MLS season to accommodate the many tournaments at this time of year. This year is the World Cup but nearly every summer is now filled with a Gold Cup, the Euros or some other championship. These competitions do not merely drag the season to a halt just when the season is getting interesting, they deprive the top players of being at their clubs during multiple games on either end of these breaks as well. Why should fans pay a premium on a beer and hot dog to see a “B” MLS squad?
The FIFA calendar manages this by forcing European leagues to take weekends off at certain times in the year and finishing in May so players can meet their international commitments. Weekend breaks every couple months will be less disruptive to the flow of the season than longer ones in the summer for MLS.
Snow Can Be Managed
The biggest argument is that in a league that includes Canadian teams, snow will be an issue. So what? Major League Baseball has 162 games. Rainouts are a constant. They find ways to make up the games. Ditto with the NFL. If it is too dangerous to get players and/or fans to the stadium rescheduling (often to the next day) should be workable.
The bigger concern is will any fans show up to a snowy subfreezing game in December? While it is likely that some games would take a weather-related hit, clubs have shown they can bring out the fans in awful weather. Minnesota welcomed 35,000 fans to a game requiring an orange ball last season.
There are many reasons MLS sticks to the summer schedule. The weather is nicer. They do not have to compete with the NFL as much. Old traditions die hard. But none of these reasons make delaying the switch to a FIFA calendar any less logical. Switching to the FIFA calendar of roughly late August to April or May would ease coach and player transitions, avoid major midseason breaks, and improve the product on the field. MLS should start the transition sooner rather than later.