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MLS International Conflicts Help No One

The conflict of interests between domestic and international fixtures is holding US soccer back

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports


Let’s start here with the people who really matter in this conflict of interests, not the clubs, not the countries, not MLS, or even the players, the real victims of this organizational clusterkick are the fans!

A recent example of a team suffering domestic versus international scheduling conflicts was the San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes have already come a long way in the course of Dominic Kinnear’s first season as head coach. The 4-1-4-1 formation was beginning to show definite promise, with Fatai Alashe as the critical pivot between midfield and the defense. The fans were seeing their team operating in an entirely different way and the haunting memories of the 2014 season were fading.

Then US Soccer calls up Alashe to the U-23 squad to play in the 2015 Toulon Tournament. The what now?

The Toulon Tournament traditionally features invited national teams to compete around the Region-du-Var, with the final being held in Toulon, in France. Why?

The tournament is not run under the supervision of UEFA or any individual national association. They even have the nerve to only plays two 40-minute halves so, strictly speaking, it’s not even a real game. Why not have them play blindfold on pogo sticks and try to win a goldfish bowl full of M and M’s, for Dempsey’s sakes?

With the pivot in their formation faffing about in France (congrats on the 3-1 win over The Netherlands, I suppose) and prime ball delivery player Matais Perez Garcia injured, the Quakes were in trouble from the get-go.

So why does MLS elect to play games during International tournaments? Other countries seem to be able to schedule their club seasons around the international fixtures. But the US domestic season is gutted on a regular basis of its best players, often at crucial points in the season or a particular club’s development.

The fact that MLS, unlike most of the rest of the world, plays its season from spring to fall means that conflicts with confederation championships in the summer are unavoidable. Once again this year the Copa America (June 11-July 4) and the CONCACAF Gold Cup (July 7-26) will hurt most MLS clubs to some degree or another.

This fall MLS will respect a period of FIFA fixtures in November and take an extended break. This gives everyone a potential win-win situation, a breather for clubs, no games with understaffed rosters, and the United States engaged in 2018 World Cup qualifier games.

With MLS increasingly attracting young players from all over the world, which is a good thing, the decision of the league to schedule games during FIFA dates leaving clubs at the mercy of a host of international team roster selections, is not a good thing. The end result is limited lineups, disrupted team development, lackluster games, and most importantly disgruntled or even missing fans.

MLS makes a big hoo-ha about the need to attract fans to games in stadiums and, perhaps more critically to the league’s financial growth, to get them to watch games on TV. You don’t achieve that by gutting teams in vain attempts to chase international glory and serving up disappointing games.

Give the fans great soccer, win international glory overseas, just don’t try to do it all on the same day.

After the game Quakes head coach Dominic Kinnear was philosophical about the team selections saying:

“I always try to talk about the guys who are here and not about the guys who aren't. I think it's a little bit unfair if you concentrate on the guys who didn't play.”

However, Kinnear went on to say:

“It was unfortunate the guys weren't here, we were hoping Matias would have been ready, still has a bit of a groin problem, and Fatai is with the U-23's, so what can you do?"