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International play impacts MLS schedule
by Ridge Mahoney, January 29th, 2009 7AM



[MLS] The MLS 2009 schedule is out. Finally. Just 50 days prior to the March 19 season opener the league unveiled its 225-game schedule by which each of the 15 teams will play 30 games, and from which eight teams will qualify for the playoffs.

The league's 2009 expansion darling, Seattle, opens the season at home against MLS Cup finalist New York. Six games will be played on July 4, including national telecasts on ESPN2 and Fox Soccer Channel, The season concludes Oct. 25 on the same corresponding weekend it did last year.

The schedule includes national telecasts on the ESPN network of channels, Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports en Espanol, and TeleFutura. A league spokesman said discussions are ongoing for telecasts on HDNet, which has broadcast games the past six seasons and has yet to reach an agreement to replace the three-year deal between the parties that expired last year.

MLS did take into consideration, somewhat, the FIFA international dates, but in no case did it entirely suspend play for dates that fall on weekends. There are four games scheduled for June 6, three games on Sept. 5, and three games on Oct. 10. There are no midweek games scheduled near the Aug. 12 FIFA date on which the USA plays Mexico at Azteca Stadium. On April 1 and June 3, both of which are Wednesdays, an MLS game is scheduled for the next day as part of the ESPN2 package of games, which are being spread around this season rather than confined mainly to Thursdays as in the past two seasons.

Games will be televised on every day of the week except Sunday, Monday and Tuesday on the ESPN networks. Most TeleFutura telecasts are slated for Sundays, and FSC/FSE will again televise a game every Saturday in a three-hour block. On the first weekend, as it was the case last year, a doubleheader of games and auxiliary live programming will fill out a six-hour block.

International club competitions also affected the schedule. Columbus, D.C. United, New York and Houston will play in the Concacaf Champions' League, which is tentatively scheduled to start in late July. Chicago, New England, Kansas City and Chivas USA are competing in SuperLiga, the dates and format of which are still being discussed by MLS and the Mexican league.

As expected, and necessary given the number of available weeks to fit in the regular season schedule, no concessions were made for the Confederations Cup (June 14-29) and Gold Cup (July 3-24)

Each team will play each league opponent twice, once at home and once on the road, and two additional games scheduled with past rivalries as well as geography in mind.

Seattle will play in the Western Conference as the eighth team, and with the imbalance in teams between conferences, the playoff slots will go to the top two teams in each conference, and the next four teams with the most points.

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