When MLS Doesn’t Brake for International Break

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

MLS logoMajor League Soccer likes to, but can’t have it both ways. That doesn’t stop the league from trying. As of Friday, nearly three dozen MLS players — led by New York City FC’s David Villa — have been summoned to their national teams for World Cup qualifiers and friendlies. That number does not include players from Coach Bruce Arena‘s as-yet unannounced United States roster.

A list of the players has already been posted on MLSsoccer.com, replete with the dates and opponents for games during the official FIFA international break that begins in most of the rest of the world after this weekend’s games. Note that the MLS games these players will miss at the start of September are not on the list. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself. But it’s not a pretty picture.

This is a crucial time for more than a few MLS teams as August gives way to September and the race for the playoffs takes on added urgency. And while the league has tried, really tried, to be better about giving its players and teams a break during FIFA dates (and the recent CONCACF Gold Cup), it is still falling short — now and in November when the final round of FIFA dates will conflict with the MLS postseason.

Recently, NYCFC Coach Patrick Vieira practically conceded the Supporters’ Shield in Toronto FC, even though his club only trails TFC by seven points with a game in hand. Did Vieira already know something few others did — namely that David Villa, Yangel Herrera (Venezuela) and Alex Ring (Finland) — would be called to their national teams for two qualifiers? The three are expected to depart after Friday night’s third and final Hudson River Derby of the season, and are likely to miss two league games — Wednesday at Sporting Kansas City and Sept. 9 against visiting Portland. One can only imagine the thoughts spinning around in Vieira’s brain as he contemplate the sublimely ridiculous prospect of playing on without three of his best players.

Across the Hudson River, the Red Bulls will have to make due without two defenders — Fidel Escobar and Michael Amir Murillo, both of Panama — but probably for only one game, next Saturday at FC Dallas.

Montreal, which has won four straight to vault back into the playoff picture, will be without three Canadiens — David Choiniere, Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Samuel Piette — but only for a friendly on Sept. 2. A fourth player, Laurent Ciman, will be with Belgium for two qualifiers.

Toronto, the top team over all so far this season, will be hit hardest. The Canadians Jay Chapman, Raheem Edwards, Jonathan Osorio and Tosaint Ricketts will be gone for the Sept. 2 friendly against Jamaica. Armando Cooper (Panama) is headed to two qualifiers. Add Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore of the U.S. and note that the U.S. roster had yet to be announced by early Friday afternoon.

As long as MLS does not adopt the European calendar and adhere to FIFA dates by sticking to its Spring-Fall schedule, its clubs will be forced to play shorthanded in crucial games. Perhaps that is why, when it comes to expansion, the league is increasingly cognizant of trying to add more teams in more temperate climates. Think Sacramento; North Carolina; Austin, Tex.; Phoenix; even Jacksonville, Fla. Change in calendar. Is possible. No joke.

So while the league, loves, simply loves, trumpeting and promoting the players called to their national teams, it is at the same time placing a handicap on MLS clubs at a critical time of the season. Does it have to be this way?