By Paul Kennedy
) Jurgen Klinsmann
says the MLS season needs to be longer. How much longer the pro soccer season should be is debatable
, but let's accept that the nine-month season for the eight teams that don't make the
playoffs -- a few days more for the four teams that will be eliminated in the play-ins in 2015 -- is too short.
There is no chance -- at least in the lifetime of the new (eight-year) MLS
television deal -- that MLS would ever consider scrapping the playoffs in order for every team to play into early December when MLS Cup is currently held. It will not happen.
You can also
debate the actual number of games MLS teams need to play compared to teams from other parts of the world. After all, MLS's 34-game regular season is consistent with the league games played in an
18-team league -- FIFA's recommended size. But Klinsmann's point is MLS players need to be focused and working for longer than they are now.
Klinsmann's specific concern is extra work for
national team incumbents or candidates -- the players under his reins. But it also applies to players on the under-23 and under-20 national teams as well.
As an example, one of the
under-23 players Klinsmann called into January camp is the LA Galaxy's promising outside back, Oscar Sorto
. The Galaxy reached MLS Cup, which was played on Dec.
7, but Sorto's MLS playing time last season was limited to 15 minutes and his season effectively ended when Galaxy II was eliminated in the semifinals of the USL PRO playoffs in October.
The lack of work for some of the U-20s preparing for January's Concacaf tournament in Jamaica was such an issue that a 10-day fitness camp for 10 field players, all but two of whom play for MLS clubs,
was held in early December in Florida
The point is, Klinsmann is not the
only coach needing to find extra work for players. There is no perfect solution to the problem, but one model comes from baseball.
Major League Baseball operates the Arizona Fall League
(AFL) in October and November. The 30 MLB clubs stock the six teams, all based at baseball complexes in and around Phoenix, and furnish the managers and coaches. Each AFL team provides seven players,
mostly Triple-A or Double-A players, for the 31-games season.
The MLS model could be similar. Working in cooperation with U.S. Soccer (and the Canadian Soccer Association), MLS clubs
could each send four players, stocking four teams of 20 players each for a six-week season beginning with the end of the regular season and going through the weekend of MLS Cup.
players could be national team players Klinsmann wants to get extra work, or under-23 or under-20 players whose playing time ended when their USL PRO seasons ended. They could be players coming off
injuries and needing extra work or they could be players who might be tested out at a new position (which is often the case in the AFL).
Such a development league doesn't translate as
neatly for the national team program or MLS clubs as what the AFL offers for MLB. It's a lot simpler setting up a league to get pitchers innings or batters at-bats (or instruction for fielders working
out at new positions) than it is putting 11 players out on a soccer field together for the first time and getting something useful out it. But the intent is the same: providing an environment for
players to get better and place for them to show up for work every day.
Like the baseball complexes constructed in the Phoenix suburbs for MLS spring training, there are soccer complexes
in Arizona that would be available in the fall, namely FC Tucson's Kino Sports Complex and Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, the home of Real Salt Lake academy program between Phoenix and Tucson.
Both have working relationships with many MLS clubs for preseason training going on right now.
FC Tucson held such an event in November 2013 when it hosted the FC Tucson Fall Showcase
against Chivas USA, which was seeking offseason competition after its regular season ended.
Arizona's location close to Mexico offers the possibility of including potentially
crowd-drawing Mexican clubs in the circuit. For all the problems created by MLS's use of a playoff system, it shouldn't be forgotten that Liga MX has it worse, operating split seasons that both end