MLS took some drastic liberties with its scheduling to accommodate the June FIFA dates and the benefits made the drawbacks worth the trouble.
You might have missed it, with all the buzz generated by the European Championship and the commencement of play in the Concacaf World Cup qualifying semifinal round, but MLS is back in business.
And, to parlay a pun, it’s back with a vengeance. After scheduling just two games during the first two weekends of June, the league staged nine matches last Saturday and Sunday, and turns right around with six more on Wednesday, which just happens to be an off-day for the Euros.
Some teams used the break to good effect, bouncing back to post convincing wins. Others continued more or less in the same vein, which was bad news for FC Dallas, a 2-1 loser to Texas rival Houston and now winless in its last 10 games. Coaching changes in Philadelphia and Toronto produced changes in attitude but no points. The Montreal Impact played its first game at the renovated State Saputo, yet it was the visiting Sounders who suffered from jittery nerves and practically handed Montreal a 4-1 victory with some boneheaded defending.
More shakeups are quite possible starting in about two weeks, when the domestic transfer window opens. Montreal signing Marco di Vaio will be eligible to play, as will midfielder Barry Robson, who will attend – but not participate in – Vancouver’s training session Monday after he’s introduced to the media.
Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko, a rumored MLS signing for at least half a decade, is again talking up a possible move stateside. He might seem tailor-made for the discounted Designated Player option, by which a DP signed in midseason counts for only one-half of the normal $335,000 salary-budget charge, yet after playing in his native country for two years and being hailed as a hero for scoring twice in Ukraine’s Euro opener, one would wonder about his motivation, his energy reserves, and his fitness at age 36 playing in a rough-and-tumble league.
It’s influences like this that renders MLS a most unpredictable league. With season near its halfway point, many teams are still re-shaping themselves and with the transfer window about to open can ponder significant changes. Prior to their meeting Sunday, Portland and Los Angeles – last year’s expansion darling and the defending champion – were seventh and ninth (as in last), respectively, in the Western Conference.
The Timbers have already pushed the trade button, sending Jorge Perlaza to Philly in exchange for Danny Mwanga in one of the last moves engineered by departed Union coach Peter Nowak. While RSL coach Jason Kreis used the break as an in-season boot camp after his team lost, 3-1, to Minnesota Stars FC in the U.S. Open Cup May 29, TFC – which replaced Aron Winter with Paul Mariner – and Philly (assistant John Hackworth took over for Nowak) took advantage to radically change direction.
Next year, the Hexagonal round of qualifying will disrupt the MLS schedule yet again and I hope the league again virtually shuts down for about two weeks at this point of the season even though the first one-third of the season produced some very weird scheduling and imbalances in games played.
The later qualifying dates aren’t conducive to such a break, and coming as it does two and a half months into the season and just before the transfer window opens, it gives everyone – players, executives, coaches, fans – a chance to reassess and revise. And in a few cases, pull the trigger that needed to be pulled.