MLS To Fans: Check Back In July

2015 schedule diminishes value of early games
by Peter Muller   |   Thursday, January 08, 2015

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

On a busy day of Major League Soccer news on Wednesday the release of the league’s 2015 schedule nearly slid under the radar.

But this year’s calendar, combined with recent news about when high profile players will come to MLS and changes to the post-season qualification system, highlight the league’s ongoing challenge of making its regular season relevant to fans.

For any sports fan the goal entering the season is for his team to compete for a playoff spot and ultimately play for a championship.  Much of the fun – and tension - is found in following the ups and downs of the club’s campaign for post-season qualification.

In the NFL each of a team’s 16 regular season games carries a heightened significance because the relatively few number of games leaves little room for error.

Major League Baseball’s season plays out slowly throughout the summer but even with the recent addition of an extra wild-card team in each league only one-third of the clubs, 10 out of 30, qualify for the post-season tournament.

In MLS’s new playoff format for 2015 a majority of teams – 12 out of 20 – will reach the playoffs.  In this new scenario, teams that finish as low as 6th in the Eastern and Western Conferences will still be able to compete for the MLS title.

Major League Soccer presumably wants to maintain fan interest over the course of a long season by keeping playoff hopes alive for as many teams as possible. 

But while that might help increase attendance down the stretch, it also diminishes the meaning of early season games.

What is the significance of an early-May matchup between the LA Galaxy and the Colorado Rapids, for example, when both teams know they still have 6 months before they need to secure a playoff position that is awarded to 60% of the clubs in the league?

And why should fans invest emotional commitment, not to mention the price of a ticket, for such a game?

The resolution of the Manchester City-NYCFC tug of war over Frank Lampard and the Galaxy’s signing of Steven Gerrard also point to the relative meaningless of early season MLS games. Both high-cost, high-profile players won’t take the pitch for their respective teams until the first half of the 2015 campaign is complete.

The marquee player in Houston, Erick “Cubo” Torres, who scored 15 goals for Chivas USA before an off-season transfer to the Dynamo, also won’t take to the BBVA Compass Stadium Field until July at the earliest because he has been loaned to Chivas de Guadalajara for the first 6 months of 2015.

Fans who are eagerly anticipating these world-class players will have to endure the first half of the season watching sub-par talent.

And, just as the likes of Lampard and Gerrard are due to report to their clubs, MLS teams will be bracing for the loss of potentially dozens of players who will be called up for national team duty for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.

The league scheduled a full slate of games during this period, ensuring that most if not all teams will have to do without some of their best players for at least 3 or 4 games.

Establishing the schedule for the MLS season is a thankless task. Balancing the days and times that fans are most likely to attend games with the demands of television partners, FIFA dates and other national team commitments will inevitably lead to dissatisfaction from nearly everyone.

And, to be fair, this year’s MLS schedule includes a more consistent lineup of televised games on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons and evenings that will allow fans to settle into a regular viewing routine.

But until MLS finds a way to increase the meaning of early season contests and ensure that high-profile players begin the season with their clubs there is little reason for fans to pay much attention to the league until the Fall.

I have been a season ticket holder for my local team, D.C. United, for 18 years but for personal and work reasons I switched to a partial-season plan for 2015. 

I’m going to ask the club to allocate my tickets for the second half of the season so I can see the games that really matter.

Peter MULLER

Nationality:
USA
College:
Saint Mary's
Club Domestic:
DC United
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.
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