During the CONCACAF Gold Cup, several Major League Soccer teams were left scrambling to fill out their rosters as players throughout the league had dispersed to play with their national teams. For the Sounders FC, that meant that Brad Evans and Tyrone Marshall were both away from the team for two games and it delayed the arrival of Leo Gonzalez.
For the 2010 season, the World Cup won’t cause such problems.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced Wednesday that for the first time in its history, MLS will not play League games during the group phase of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The group phase includes the first 48 games of the 64-game tournament that begins on June 11, 2010 in South Africa. The last MLS game prior to the World Cup will be played on June 10 and MLS will not schedule any additional League games until after the group phase concludes on June 25. MLS does not plan to schedule games on the days of either World Cup Semifinal or the World Cup Final.
"The decision to stop League play during the group phase of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is part of MLS' commitment to deepen its connection with the millions of soccer fans in the United States and Canada," said Garber. "The World Cup will be a focal point for all MLS fans and several MLS players will compete with their national teams at the tournament."
For players, whether they are in the tournament or not, it provides a break from the grind of the MLS schedule.
“I think that’s brilliant. It shows that the league has come a long way and we’re picking up with the rest of the world,” Marshall said. “The World Cup is the biggest spectacle. It’ll give the guys the opportunity to support their countries and their teammates that are over there playing.”
Part of why MLS is able to do this now is the increase in soccer-specific stadiums. With 10 of the 16 clubs playing in soccer-specific stadiums in 2010 and two others (Seattle and New England) playing in venues they control, the league now has the flexibility with scheduling to take a break for this two-week period.
“My feeling has always been that if we can do it, it’s positive for the league. It’s like plugging your batteries into a wall socket and being able to recharge everything. It remotivates everybody and keeps you focused,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “When you go to a World Cup you feel that excitement. That’s what it’s all about.”
Added Riley, “It’s significant for MLS to take that step. It’ll be good to have that time off and enjoy the World Cup spectacle.”
Schmid noted that he would have like to have the league make that decision before the 2006 World Cup, when he would have had the opportunity to spend some time in his native Germany.
While the league is opening up a two-week break, those games have to be moved elsewhere on the schedule.
“It’ll be a nice break in the middle of the season, but it’ll mean more mid-week games. You have to make up for it somewhere,” Evans said. “It will make things tougher, but that will be a nice break.”
After missing MLS games because of the Gold Cup, Marshall explains the difficulty caused by an uninterrupted schedule.
“You tend to have two minds because you’re worrying about your (club) team and at the same time worrying about your national team. If you play with your national team and you don’t have to worry about your club, that’s great,” Marshall said. “Hats off to them for doing that – everyone wants to watch the World Cup.”
More MLS Scheduling
The 2010 MLS Regular Season will again see each team play a 30-game regular season, followed by playoffs among eight qualifying teams. The 2010 season will begin with a single game March 25 and will conclude Oct. 24. The MLS Cup Playoffs will culminate in the championship match, MLS Cup 2010, on Nov. 21.
MLS plans to announce each club's 2010 home opener in the near future. The complete 2010 MLS schedule will be announced early next year.
Philadelphia Union will play their inaugural season in 2010 as the 16th team in Major League Soccer, joining the Eastern Conference. The two eight-team conferences allow, for the first time in MLS history, clubs to play a balanced schedule - facing each of the other 15 teams twice, once at home, once away. As in previous years, the club with the best record at the end of the regular season will win the Supporters' Shield, and the MLS Cup playoffs will determine the League's champion.