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On the difficulties in MLS scheduling over FIFA weekends

MLS teams having to play through FIFA weekends while getting weekends off for Champions League play may seem backwards, but it's a necessary reality of the league.


This weekend the LA Galaxy will be without Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane, as they are off playing World Cup Qualifiers for the United States and Ireland respectively. Meanwhile MLS gave the Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Houston Dynamo week two off. MLS has also rescheduled week five matches for LA and Seattle.

Actions speak loudly, so why is MLS willing to reschedule around Champions League and not taking international weekends off this year? Is MLS the only league in the world playing through this FIFA international weekend?

For the most part, it's only lower divisions that are in action, but there are a few top levels playing through. The US' opponent this weekend, Costa Rica, has champions league side Herediano in action on Saturday, though Alajuelense has the weekend off. For the most part, it appears that teams affected by the FIFA weekend are not in action. Mexico, the juggernaut in the region, has the weekend off.

Also contrasting with MLS, other leagues typically only reschedule weekday matches due to Champions League. So why is MLS doing things backwards?

The practical answer is roster size. In the last few years the EPL adopted a 25 man roster rule, of which eight of those players must have been registered with an English or Welsh club for three years before they are 21. Clubs can use an unlimited number of players under the age of 21.

Contrast that with MLS, where there's a 20 man senior roster, and 10 man reserve rosters. EPL clubs have to ditch match day ready players to be 25 man rule compliant, MLS teams are cutting prospective reserve team players. A Manchester City or a West Ham can run A and B squads, MLS teams have an A squad and players not quite ready yet. For most MLS teams, the 18 man match day roster is the extent of their ready to go talent.

When it comes to moving matches for Champions League it's showing a commitment to the tournament, but it's also showing a fear that clubs will start a reserve squad to an MLS match sandwiched between two Champions League ties. There's nothing worse than a team punting a match.

Taking off due to call-ups is something teams can request from the league, but it appears that's where the league is settling on the issue. MLS did take off a few international weekends last season, but on the whole doesn't like having to schedule weekday matches. Attendance typically suffers.

Attendance is the reason why, even with expanded rosters, MLS likely is going to stick with rescheduling on weekdays only when clubs request a weekend off. Looking at it cynically, one can argue that more-so than player fitness and coaches filling out starting squads, MLS is worried about fans having to chose between two home dates in a week.

With CSUDH on spring break, a Liga MX team in town, and the possible return of Landon Donovan, attendance shouldn't be an issue for the Galaxy when Champions League returns. However, MLS has taken action to make things easier for LA taking on Monterrey, while through inaction have made things more difficult for the Galaxy against Colorado.