Big changes look to be on the horizon for Major League Soccer, with the fastest growing league in America rumored to be contemplating a switch to a European-style schedule as early as 2014. The season would run from August to May and likely include a 6-8 week winter break to account for the harsh weather in cities such as Toronto, New England, and elsewhere in the Northern region.
While the FIFA community is certainly pushing MLS Commissioner Don Garber to make the transition, would it really be a good thing for the sport in America? Currently, MLS is competing for attention with baseball and basketball, two sports that are big but lack the same emphasis as MLS matches because they play nearly every day. With the new schedule, American soccer would be going against the NFL, College Football, and the MLB postseason.
Unfortunately, soccer probably wouldn’t stand a chance, not in attendance, not in television, and certainly not in popularity. The MLS would have an intermission spanning 6-8 weeks, but seasonal cycles usually last longer than that, and there’s certainly no guarantee that crowds would come out to watch a match in blizzard conditions. While the NFL has turned snowy match-ups into football classics, MLS simply doesn’t have that kind of prestige at this point in the league’s young life.
Think about all those games the New England Patriots played in the snow and how it captivated the attention of the entire nation. Could you say the same thing would happen if the New England Revolution took on a team like the San Jose Earthquakes? The answer is no, and that’s not a knock on MLS, it’s a fact. There just aren’t enough MLS supporters in this country to make that happen, not right now at least. Significant figures in the MLS world have been quick to refute the timing of the switch, with MLS spokesperson Dan Courtemanche writing via email:
“We will announce the plans for the 2014 season before the MLS Cup. The timing of the 2014 schedule will be very similar to the current season.”
It would make no sense for MLS to shake up their schedule to such a degree so soon and risk stunting its prolific growth, especially not in a World Cup year. Looking further down the road, MLS could seek to make the change in the 2015 season. They could either implement a shorter season or look to extend it into a 16 month journey to the cup, with the first idea looking to be the more viable option.
If the MLS really want to complete this drastic switch, by expanding into warmer regions such as Florida, this schedule change would be extremely counterproductive. Sending a hypothetical southern team such as Orlando City into Toronto in early February could potentially be disastrous, as these players would not be used to playing in freezing temperatures and potential blizzard-like conditions.
With all the debate surrounding the possibility of the MLS changing its schedule, let’s remember that soccer has a giant advantage over the other American sports it will attempt to overtake in popularity within the next few years. Soccer is truly a worldwide sport; there is not a single crevice on this planet that hasn’t heard, watched, or played soccer. Football is mainly an American-only sport, baseball is trumped by cricket in many parts of the globe, and while basketball is widely popular, it has so far failed to tap into both the Asian and Indian markets. With the world experiencing revolutionary changes in communication through social media, the hope that larger international love for soccer will soon spill over into America has never been greater.
Although we won’t truly know the pros and cons of the MLS changing its schedule until it actually happens, soccer fans across the globe should cross their fingers that the league makes the right decision for the growth of the sport. Potential for a fiery fan base in the United States is enormous, and for it to be fully exposed would be great not only for the US but for the entire world of soccer.