[MLS] Commissioner Don Garber's statement that MLS will examine the possibility of switching to summer-spring season has been lambasted as pandering to FIFA President Sepp Blatter in an effort to win his support for the USA's World Cup 2022 bid. But there are some very good reasons to adopt the move ...
THE CASE FOR ...
The most important reason to adopt a summer-spring calendar used in most of Europe, Mexico and Argentina is, simply put, to allow MLS teams to begin the season with all their horses. Imagine if NFL teams had to wait until November to make their marquee signings. That's the image problem MLS has now.
The switch to a summer start would put MLS on the same cycle for the signing of new players -- i.e., allow teams to sign players during the summer transfer window that opens on July 1, market these new signings before and at the start of the season and have them available for all or most of the season.
As things stand now, no other major league endures the mid-season turnover MLS does with all the negative repercussions of such moves.
Each year, more and more big-name players are signed during the summer as they become available or dispensable by their (mostly) European clubs.
All nine of the Designated Players signed in 2010 were signed during the summer transfer window -- Omar Bravo won't play for Kansas City until next season -- which meant that their clubs had no chance to incorporate them into preseason promotions and more important, integrate successfully them into the lineup.
The 2010 season was a wasted season for the New York Red Bulls' two big signings, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez. Granted, both arrived in MLS after having played in the 2010 World Cup and that wouldn't change if the MLS season changed to a summer-spring calendar. But the Red Bulls could have promoted the signings of Henry and Marquez, moved them slowly into the lineup as they gained their fitness and had them both at 100 percent for the second half of the season. As it was, they had marginal impact on what was a successful campaign.
I'm sure Seattle fans would have liked to have seen Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez break into the Sounders' lineup in similar fashion.
With the possible exception of San Jose's Brazilian signing, Geovanni, none of the nine DPs was a factor in their team's season, meaning owners wasted their money -- for one season -- in their most valuable investments.
The preseason should be when teams promote their new signings and prepare for the long haul, but now all they have available are scraps -- players without teams or players whose contracts expire at the end of the calendar year by virtue of playing in one of the few leagues that play spring-fall seasons.
As it stands now, the activity during MLS's January-April transfer window is a largely wasted exercise. (Joel Lindpere -- available because the Norwegian season ends in the fall -- or Alvaro Saborio -- released by his Swiss club, FC Sion, in February -- were this season's notable exceptions.)
For a moment, just pity poor scribes like us trying to "preview" an MLS season in March before the vast majority of the maneuvering takes place, beginning on July 1 when players under contract in most leagues abroad are free to sign with new teams. The hot-stove season -- air-conditioner season? -- is lost if it takes place midseason.
And just pity MLS trying to hype its new season with such big offseason signings as Danny Allsopp and Collins John.
The summer-spring season also works the other way: a switch to a summer-spring season means MLS will be able to sell players on the summer transfer market -- after the MLS season ends -- when demand is the highest. Few European clubs have interest in signing players during the January window when MLS players are currently available.
Secondary benefits of switching seasons:
-- Teams won't have to play league games in the middle of summer when the weather is the hottest. The only other major league that forces teams to play through the hottest time of the year is Japan's J-League.
-- Teams still alive in the Concacaf Champions League will be entering the second half of their seasons when the knockout phase begins in the late winter -- not forced to jump back into Concacaf action during preseason.
-- Teams will be able to schedule many of their lucrative summer international friendlies during their preseason instead of congesting their schedules, as they do now, with friendlies in the middle of the season.
-- Teams will finish the season in the late spring instead of late fall. No more MLS Cups in late November with swathes of empty seats as the game moves into overtime.
-- The summer-spring season puts MLS in sync with the seasons of their academy teams, meaning academy signings -- the majority of which take place in the summer -- can go through preseason with the first team and develop more quickly.
THE CASE AGAINST ...
The biggest argument against switching is playing into the winter. For every week taken off during the summer means a week must be added to play during the winter. The summer break will need to be at least a month to, well, feel like a break in seasons. MLS will have to begin the second half of the season in the end of February if it doesn't want to play past Thanksgiving.
-- Such a short break won't be enough time for teams to prepare for the new season.
Counterpoint: Remember that only the MLS Cup finalists will have a month off. The teams that don't qualify for the playoffs will have up to two months to prepare.
-- Such a short break won't be enough time for teams sell season tickets for the next season.
Counterpoint: Nothing says they have to wait for the end of one season to begin selling another season.
-- Teams will draw better in the summer than the winter.
Counterpoint: The schedule can be adjusted so warm-weather teams re-open first at home in the spring. MLS games draw the best in the October so the league should move into full swing -- not wind down -- in the fall.
-- Such a switch would require MLS to play a short season -- in the spring -- before starting the new cycle.
Counterpoint: The 2014 season -- a World Cup year -- would be the perfect time to launch the new season.
MLS would crown a short-season champion (rewarded with a berth in the Concacaf Champions League) in mid-May, break for the World Cup in Brazil (let's hope the USA is indeed playing!) and launch the new format in mid-July.