MLS' ideas short-sighted

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
7:39
PM ET

TORONTO -- Major League Soccer went 0-for-2 on the decisions it announced today.

First, the playoffs will be realigned to make it more unlikely that two teams from one conference play the deciding game of the other conference, as was infamously the case this season. This is good news, as it adds credibility to the conference finals.

There will likely be fewer wild cards, minimizing crossover between the conferences, but also adding an additional playoff berth in each one. The fourth and fifth seeds from each conference will play a de facto play-in game over one or two legs (this hasn't been decided yet).

Unfortunately, MLS will end up diluting the importance of the regular season as well as playoffs.

It's a shame. Making the postseason was a legitimate accomplishment in MLS. This year, only half of all teams qualified, when once it was 80 percent of clubs. And with more teams set to join the league, the fight for the playoffs looked to add a lot of intrigue to the regular season and make the postseason ultracompetitive. So much for that.

Second, commissioner Don Garber indicated that the league will strongly consider adapting its schedule to fit the international calendar. This is justified by the expanded regular-season schedule, which will go from 30 to 34 games in 2011 and still include a heavy continental schedule and the possibility of added playoff matches.

This new calendar would run from the end of the summer to early winter, at which point the league would take a break for January and most of February. Play would resume in late spring. The idea is to spread the games out and restrict the "clutter" in the schedule, as Garber called it, while also catering to international dates so that MLS teams will no longer be without their internationals for a few games each year.

Fair enough. But this new season robs the league of the chief boon of the current system -- little competition from other big American sports. For much of the summer, MLS is the only game in town other than Major League Baseball. At the start and the end of the season, there is competition from the more established sports, but those summer months are a nice way to highlight soccer.

Even worse, MLS is asking fans to sit through many more games in cold conditions, especially with the next three expansion teams in Montreal, Vancouver and Portland, Ore. Does the league really think people will turn out in bitter conditions to watch? It's a gamble, to say the least.

While the proposed changes will ingratiate MLS to FIFA, which has been critical of the league's summer calendar, in its bid to help land the U.S. the 2022 World Cup, and please ownership groups desperate for more playoff games, the net outcome for the league is a negative one.

These decisions serve short-term interests, but not long-term interests of the sport in the U.S.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.

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