What to do with the 2009 MLS Schedule

I see that Garber and the gang over at MLS are finally going act on the continued shambles that is the MLS schedule as it relates to international competition, both club and country. I don’t really like the idea of the split schedule, though I see its merits, especially with the Gold and Confederations Cup taking place next summer alongside WC qualifiers.

Looking at the FIFA calendar (attached here), there really isn’t a good way of doing things other than splitting things up. Of course, how do you apportion the schedule out between the halves? Do you play everyone once in the first half and play the reverse fixture in the second half? If my math hasn’t let me down (and Lord knows, it often does) that would mean 28 regular season matches in total or 14 per half. That seems okay to me. It’s the playoffs I am most confused by.

Next up comes the playoffs question. How do you apportion spots in the postseason? I’ve balanced the schedule, so I am assuming we’ll finally go single table. But more questions immediately shoot to mind:

 

  • Surely a playoff spot will go to the winner and possibly even the runner up of the first half of the season, how do you incentivize those two teams to play down the stretch in the second season?
  • How on earth do the other playoff spots get filled? If you go with an eight-team playoff over my preferred number of six, how do you ensure a system that is both fair and somewhat comprehensible to the average fan. To me, the most fair system would be to take the two split season champions and the four next best records in either season. A six-team system would better reward each season’s champ by giving them a bye in the first round. But again, I don’t really know how to make the other four spots work.
  • How will the Supporters Shield work? Will it be to the team with the most points over both split seasons? That would be a way to dissuade teams from tanking, especially if a Champions Cup slot come with it.
  • How will Champions League spots work? Assuming one goes to the MLS Cup winner and one goes to the Open Cup winner, maybe one goes to the MLS Cup finalist and the last one goes to the Supporters Shield winner or the team not already in Concacaf with the best point total aggregate over the two seasons.
  • Where the heck can the Superliga fit into all of this? I don’t really think it can.
I apologize that there are more questions here than answers but clearly MLS has a lot of work to do before they can make next season work. 
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14 thoughts on “What to do with the 2009 MLS Schedule

  1. I really can’t see a way SuperLiga survives, unless it happens during a “break” and only those four teams are playing. Kind of a pre-season before the second half.

  2. Yeah, just looking at the number of games is remarkable. Essentially, the league would have to start the season on either the weekend of Mar 1 or Mar 7.

    If an MLS has made it through to the Quarter Final round of the Champions League, those games will have started Feb 24-26 with game 2 played Mar 3-5.

    Then each weekend there will be matches played up until May 30 (if the season starts on Mar 7) with the exception of the weekend beginning Mar 28 for WCQ.

    There are 12 playable weekends in that stretch, so each team will have to play at one mid-week game. Teams competing in the Champions League would have to play their midweek match in May after the Champions League matches have wrapped up (April 28-30).

    With no games played between June and July, except for potential Open Cup matches. I think that SuperLiga should still go on during this time period. It’s a preseason tournament and it can be used to get reserve players some great experience. So what if teams are without their international starts. They’ll have 2 months off from league play, and a competitive SuperLiga to stay fresh.

    Then, once August kicks in, it’s fast and furious again. There are 5 weekend matches in August, with 3 potential week day matches. However, two teams will be have to compete in two preliminary Champions League matches on two of these mid-week clashes. The first Wednesday/Thursday should probably be set aside for the teams already qualified for the Champions League Group phase, just so they won’t have to put another week day match into that time frame.

    September is just as hectic with 3 weekend match dates and 4 mid-week matches. Again, there are three Champions League mid-week matches, so again, those teams competing in the Champions League will be stretched again.

    October has 4 weekend match days bringing the total to 12, and 3 potential week day matches. There are also 2 Champions League matches.

    November 7, weekend match date 13 is the final week of the regular season. Each team will once again have to play at least one mid-week match to equal 14. The group match in the Champions League is also in early November, so there’s really no way around the CONCACAF gauntlet (except for taking New England’s approach).

    The playoffs get interesting here because these the International dates on Nov 14 and 18.

    Let’s just say that the League keeps the East/West structure, even though it’ll be an even schedule (this just sounds like something the League would do). The Winners of the Eastern and Western Conference in the Spring and Fall qualify for the Playoffs (let’s call them SE1, SW1, FE1 and FW1). Then, the next top 2 overall finishers for the season qualify (let’s call them WC1 and WC2). To reward the second half winners, they get the bye going into the playoffs. Then in the first round of the post-season, the WC1 plays the Spring Winner with the fewer points, and the WC2 plays the Spring Winner with the greater points, however the Spring winners host the game (1 game).

    The Winner advances to play the Fall Winners, at the Fall Winners home.

    Winners advance to MLS Cup.

    But no matter how you set up the playoffs, there’s no way to get around the November WC Qualifies. Either the teams will lose players to the Qualifies or they’ll get their players back from the qualifies with only a few days to prepare them for the Conference finals/MLS Cup.

    I like the Playoffs and MLS Cup structure, but it sure would be easier if MLS just crowned the season champion with the most number of points.

  3. Brian – As much as I hate it, SuperLiga will survive because the League wants their Money-Making Vehicle to stay in place. (Granted, it’s not like it was packing out RFK, but still.)

    Ted – That’s probably the least-complicated way to arrange the schedule, but I would think the League would not want MLS fixtures played during June and July.

    I don’t know what an answer is – though to be fair, it’s not like the European Leagues don’t lost players for international play – The African Cup of Nations has been a source of Premiership bitching for years. I’m not sure if there is an answer that will solve all of the problems.

    (And I agree that the League should go to a balanced schedule as soon as Seattle comes in with the points leader at the end getting MLS Cup.)

  4. Marcel, you’re right. If the league scrapped the post-season in favor of a League Champion, then the November International Calendar dates become a mute point.

    You could do a 13/14 week Spring and a 13/14 week Fall season, with each team playing in at least 1 mid-week clash, during that time. The League would break for June and July to allow for SuperLiga, US Open Cup, World Cup, Confederations Cup, Gold Cup, international club friendly matches, etc.

    Qualifications for the Champions League would go to:
    1. MLS Regular Season Champion
    2. US Open Cup
    3. Spring Season Champion
    4. Fall Season Champion
    If the MLS Regular Season Champion or Open Cup Champions are the Spring Season Champion and/or the Fall Season Champion, then the next best team in the standings takes the spot.

    SuperLiga would still go to the top four finishers at the end of the season.

    Regardless how you do it though, teams competing in the Champions League will still have a rough schedule, since they’ll have to play mid-week Champions League matches both halves of the season (assuming they advance to the knock-out phase).

    The real obstacle comes for the clubs that pay rent during the months of June and July when no league matches are played. They’d have to ensure they’ve got enough friendly or tournaments to host a few games during this stretch.

  5. They’ll never eliminate the playoffs/Cup Final format.

    1. Teams lose home dates where they’re more likely draw fans/make $$
    2. Why would league surrender it’s only national TV date?
    3. Sponsors get feted at events like the final and all-star game – an important reason for their existence.

  6. An alternative solution (for 2010 and beyond), that keeps MLS’s current vision in line.

    Format: The league consists of two conferences, East and West. For 2010, each conference is comprised of 8 teams. Each team plays the other teams in its conference at home and away for a total of a 14 game season.

    Season: The season runs from mid-Mach though mid-October, with a break in June and July.

    MLS Cup: The top 4 teams in each conference advance to the playoffs with teams seeded in order of their conference standing. The No. 1 seed in the East hosts the No. 4 seed in the East in a 1 game playoff to advance to the Eastern Conference final. The No. 2 seed in the East hosts the No. 3 seed in the East, in a 1 game playoff to advance to the Eastern Conference final. The higher seed hosts the Conference final with the winner advancing to MLS Cup. The same structure exists for the Western Conference.

    CONCACAF Champions League: The winner of MLS Cup advances to the group phase of the Champions League, as does the US Open Cup winner. The Eastern and Western Conference champions advance to the qualifying round of the Champions League.

    SuperLiga: The top two finishers in each Conference advance to SuperLiga to be played in June and July.

    Expansion: The end goal is two 11 team conferences, enabling a 20 game season. 2 teams (an Eastern and Western team must be added at the same time).

    Benefits:

    Scheduling – The fewer number of games allows for greater flexibility in scheduling the Champions League, Open Cup, SuperLiga, World Cup Qualifying, Gold Cup, Copa America, Confederation Cup, and whatever other Cup competition.

    Demand – with fewer matches, more affordable season ticket packages can be sold to a greater number of fans.

    Level of play – The reduction in the number of games played leads to more meaningful games. Particularly in the eyes of fans who have 7 home matches during the year. Plus, with only 7 home matches, teams can compete in a greater number of international friendlies or tournaments, without the problem of fatigue.

    Cost – The strict conference schedule prevents teams from spending so much money or time flying from DC to LA to Toronto to Houston to DC to Guadalajara, etc.

    MLS Cup – really puts the best team in the East and best team in the west against each other. The fewer number of games also prevents a bad team from sneaking into the playoffs.

    SuperLiga and US Open Cup will provide added excitement that MLS teams from each conference can face one another for the only time during the year. And for the Open Cup, MLS teams can start their best players.

  7. Ted – That plan is even worse than the other if you’re an owner, because if you are in the East, you’re not guaranteed a Beckham game and if you’re out West, you don’t get a Blanco game.

    Plus, how can the regular season only be 14 games? That’s too short with too few home dates, especially for teams not in international tournaments.

  8. I know that!

    But the politics of scheduling Beckham and Blanco games should be thrown out. If a league is run based on one player’s availability, then the league schedule is a sham. If at team in the East wants to play Beckham, then they need to win their Conference and hope that LA can too, that way they may face each other in either MLS Cup, SuperLiga, or the Champions League. Otherwise, they have to make it to the US Open Cup final and hope that LA gets there too. If you really want a crowd to show up at your home games, then the owners can sign their own Beckham… or they can win tropheys.

    You’re right. 14 games is too short. But the long run would be 20 games (10 home).

    If the team qualifies for CONCACAF, they’ll have 1 game for qualifying, and/or 3 additional games in the group phase (4 more matches). If they make it to the elimination round then, depending on how far the go, they could have an additional 3 home matches the next Spring.

    SuperLiga gives them at least 2 more home games with the possibility of another 3. (5)

    Open Cup gives the owners another opportunity to host another 1 – 4 matches.

    Overall, a team could host up to (7) league matches (2) MLS playoff matches, (1) MLS Cup, (4) Open Cup matches, (5) SuperLiga, and (7) Champions League matches. That’s maximum of (26) home matches.

    If a team can’t compete in an intenational tournament, then that’s their fault for sucking and the owners should invest into their teams so that they’re good enough to qualify. You’ve got to spend money to make money.

    The one thing that a shorter season will not do is punish a team for qualifying for the tournament, which is what happens now.

  9. You’re right about all the positives of that idea, it’s just not realistic. The NHL fights this as well, because recently too many western markets weren’t seeing either Sidney or Ovie. The easy answer to this is just to balance the schedule..

  10. It’s easier from a “who gets to see who” standpoint, but as we’ve seen, the number of games played when you consider the breaks for the International Calender, plus international tournaments and the US Open Cup becomes overwhelming.

    Unless the league is willing to push the fall season into late November/early December (which I don’t think it will), there just isn’t enough time to play all these games with their current structure.

    The only real solution that allows them to keep everything relatively the same today (while adjusting to the international calendar and balancing the schedule) is to significantly increase the salary cap to allow for sufficient competitive roster depth and to raise the minimum salary (something the players association will require before the roster depth).

  11. I think the MLS needs to evolve or it will lag behind. USL has a great european like concept that works.. All teams face off against each other different times. What MLS could do is start a Clausura Apertura like system were each team plays against each other 1 or 2 times per tournament… allowing for the players to be called up during the summer.

    http://futbolboricua.blogspot.com

  12. I agree that Ted’s revised suggestion of 14 games is a non-starter. But I can’t understand any reference to a loss of “Beckham games” as being a problem.

    The guy is OLD. Will he really still be playing in 2010? I doubt it.

    And frankly – he’s a one off. I really can’t see that sort of money being offered again. And I can’t think of another player with his level of fame who would end up in the MLS.

    I really don’t want to have a go at the MLS – it’s a great league and I love the Rapids. But over here in the UK, the general public consider the MLS to be a joke league. And now Beckham is laughed at too. Football fans in England never thought Beckham was that good (he’s no Pele). But he lost all credibility when he moved to LA and players like Henry, Owen etc will be VERY, VERY aware of that. They won’t be following him.

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