From single entity to turf fields, MLS still has a long way to go to become the league that so many fans dream it can be. Some of these aspects seem far into the future, considering the current group in charge of the league is so adamant about keeping the status quo. Most needed changes are fine for the short term, but there's one aspect hampering MLS which must change immediately: playing through international breaks.
As MLS continues to evolve and the quality improves, the league brings in better talent--players from Latin America join the league every year at young ages. Many of these players are invited into their national team's setup as they continue to develop.
MLS is one of the few leagues around the world that doesn't adhere to FIFA's international calendar. While leagues around the globe take those weekends off to protect their clubs from losing key players, MLS plays through the break.
The reason for this decision is a very simple one: MLS attendances on weekends are higher than they've ever been. The executives of MLS are proud to announce that they have a higher average attendance than the NBA or NHL. But while weekend attendances continue to rise, weekday attendances are often minuscule in comparison.
In order to accommodate the international breaks, the league would be forced to schedule more games during weekdays--something they've worked very hard to weed out.
Wanting to draw large attendances to your product is nothing to be ashamed of. It's wise to present your product at a time when it will be the most financially successful. But in this case, it's to the detriment of the league.
Not adhering to the FIFA international calendar hurts both the teams and the fans. The fans pay their hard-earned money to go see their team play and want to see their top players. Other spectators will buy tickets months in advance to see a particular player perform. Having that player missing due to an international game is insulting to those fans.
More than being a problem to the fans, playing through international breaks is a problem for the teams. The best players on each team will often be regulars on their national teams and it's their current form that gets them selected. To have several players representing their national teams is a source of pride for a club. Yet, MLS is punishing these clubs by forcing them to lose these players during important league games.
Essentially, they are punishing teams that are good and have made wise decisions.
Nowhere has this problem been seen more than in Orlando. Orlando City recently learned that their captain, Kaká, was called into Brazil's senior national team for a pair of friendlies in September. They will also lose starters Cyle Larin (Canada) and Darwin Ceren (El Salvador) because of World Cup qualifying. In an interview with AS Colombia, the country's Olympics coach, Carlos Restrepo, revealed that Carlos Rivas and Cristian Higuita may be called in to camp that week as well.
These call-ups will leave Orlando City, a team already decimated by injuries, five additional players short in what may be a must-win game in New England in their attempt to reach the playoffs.
Complaints of MLS playing through the international break are hardly new for the league. Every year media and fans grumble about the fact that several key players are missing from time to time due to their high performance levels. But those complaints fall on deaf ears at the league office.
The only way MLS will change its ways is if the owners get involved. They hold the power. The commissioner of the league, Don Garber, essentially works for them. If they demand this change, MLS will be forced to comply.
Playing through international breaks has gone on long enough in MLS and needs to stop. But as much as fans and media want the league to change, they don't have the power. The only way this change will be made is if the owners and investors force it to happen. It's already having a negative effect on several teams and could very well have a major impact on this year's playoff race. Hopefully a change will soon be made for the benefit of the league, its teams, and its fans.