Obviously, there are far greater concerns in the world at the moment, but I can't help but think about what a restructured MLS league schedule might look like.
The league has been presented a unique opportunity, potentially, a restart, or even reintroduction, as it were. The original 2020 schedule has been humpty-dumpty'd and, as a result, ideas for reconstituting it are everywhere about MLS soccer circles at the moment. And it's not just spitballing FanPost writers. Commissioner Garber has pointedly stated the league is looking at some kind of league tournament, behind closed doors, in July and or August of this year to restart MLS. It is an idea already with a semblance of branding- MLS Studio he referred to it in an interview with Taylor Twellman.
And speaking of Twellman, there are not too many journalists/pundits/broadcasters in the US more keyed to the sport's movers and shakers then TT. So when he did not dismiss outright in an ESPN FC hit that MLS is looking at changing its schedule to a euro August to May model, well, I really became curious.
Now, I'm an advocate for such a switch. I'm not particularly a fan of summer soccer, and summer is a time when Americans tend to drift toward vacations and relaxation and whatnot. Plus, it's hot and I just don't like it :)
But every counter to switching the season is repeated ad nauseum: "You can't play soccer in the American north, let alone Canada, in December through February."
True enough. There would have to be a break in the regular season.
The second most mentioned counterpoint to switching the season, assuming you can get your Twitter skeptic to concede that working around the weather problem is doable, is this: "No sport in the US/Canada is simply going to shut down its season for a two month siesta! And to think SOCCER could do it and survive is crazy talk!"
Again, probably true.
But what if the hiatus wasn't a true hiatus? What if it offered potentially some of the most intense matches in MLS, complete with a single elimination bracket American sports fans LOVE!?!?
Hear me out. This is my plan. I think it's pretty darn interesting.
Start the season in August. After the 15th seems better. Labor Day seems best, but that's not the important point of all this. Then, play til mid December (just schedule the cold weather teams on the road in December. It's 2-3 matches, tops. Not a killer to this plan.) Then take a break for the holidays. This would be great for everyone- it's a dead time, players and staff get to be with family, fans take a breath, etc, etc. Home for the holidays!
But now here comes that bugaboo break that has been scheduled in. Or has it?
From shortly after the First of the Year to mid February I suggest MLS operate a league tournament with SERIOUS stakes. What would I put at stake? Something that garners the players, management's, advertisers, and (probably most importantly) broadcasters attention?
A spot in MLS Cup to the winner, that's what.
I propose splitting the league into 4 pods of, eventually, 8 teams. Send them to 4 warm weather locations to live/train/play. I'm thinking LA is an easy call. So is a pod with matches played in Orlando and Miami. Put another in Vegas and Phoenix. And probably another in Houston/Dallas (?). Another option is Sacramento/San Jose. Play every team in your pod once. Top 4 in the pod advance to a Round of 16 knockout. Playing pretty much every Wednesday/Saturday over 6 weeks provides enough game dates. Travel is virtually negligible during pod play. Weather is great. A little more travel in knockout rounds because of crossover play, but that wouldn't be obnoxious, I think.
Think about the benefits.
Meaningful, engaging soccer that should be an easy sell to broadcasters and players alike.
Warm weather destinations for traveling supporters to flock to. With the Wednesday/Saturday matches setup, supporters could fly in for a week of sun and three soccer matches. Will they sell out venues? Probably not. But the teams control them so it's not like they're losing dollars just to lease a stadium to play in.
Because of the condensed schedule of play, a solid opportunity for teams to squad rotate is presented, potentially to the advantage of younger players who could net minutes in pressure-packed situations.
Did I mention how much I think ESPN/FOX/NBC/CBS might like this tournament? Caveat, there has to be a big meaty prize at the end. A guaranteed spot in MLS Cup is just that.
After this tournament, the season continues. Postseason plays out in May. Put the Cup final on Memorial Day.
Easy peasy :)
Am I nuts? Should I just call up MLS HQ with this idea?