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President Mark Abbott explains 2010 decisions
by Ridge Mahoney, September 17th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS]As it did this year during certain FIFA international dates, MLS will lighten its schedule next year during the World Cup. But rather than reduce the number of games, MLS will take a complete break during the group phase. MLS president Mark Abbott spoke exclusively to Soccer America on the league's decision to halt play June 11-25 and to institute a balanced schedule.

"There are three or four games each day, and it's a time where the global soccer community kind of takes a break to watch the World Cup," Abbott said. "We thought it was an appropriate decision to make.

"We can't break for the entire 30 days, that doesn't work for our schedule for our teams from the standpoint of trying to stay fit. We think the two weeks, particularly the most intensive time in the number of games, is a period we could [take a break]."

MLS will also try to avoid scheduling games on the date of the World Cup semifinals and final as it works up a balanced schedule - each of 16 teams will play each league opponent twice - for the first time in its history. The complete schedule will not be released until early next year, though the list of opening games for each team may be ready in a few days or by the end of next week.

"I think it's reflecting the change in our fan base," said Abbott as the rationale for this change. "The reason we chose to do it now is that we recognize that the people who are going to be watching the World Cup next summer are our fans. They're either fans of MLS teams or are people we hope will become fans of our teams and our league."

The 2010 regular season will begin March 25 and conclude Oct. 24. The MLS Cup championship game will be played Nov. 21, and while discussions continue regarding changes to the playoff format, no final decision will be made until meetings are held the week of MLS Cup.

Abbott says the two-week break - which will take two weekends out of the MLS schedule - won't necessitate a large increase in the number of midweek games, partially because with the addition of Philadelphia as a 16th team, the necessity for bye dates with an odd number of teams is eliminated. Another Northeast team also facilitates simpler travel logistics for several opponents and shorter trips for teams playing two games in the same week.

"Not a lot more, maybe one more per team," said Abbott about increased midweek games. "We were able to work it so it's not going to be that significant."

A working schedule has been drawn up that includes dates for 30 game per team, and non-league competitions such as the U.S. Open Cup, SuperLiga and Concacaf Champions League.

The league has not decided how much of its schedule it will play during the World Cup knockout phase, other than trying to avoid the semifinals July 6-7 (Tuesday-Wednesday) and final July 11 (Sunday).

"The schedule is tight," says Abbott. "It was tight this year and it'll be tight next year. But we've done a schedule where we can fit in SuperLiga and Concacaf Champions League so we can meet the commitments that we have and still play our own schedule. We were very pleased that we were able to achieve that, to have a balanced schedule. I think again, the fans will appreciate that."



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