January 5, 2012
By Michael Lewis
Unbalanced schedule won't work, unfair
I have two words for Major League Soccer.
No, it's not what you think. No profanity in this column.
That's what the league needs and that's what the 19 teams and several hundred players who toil for 90-plus minutes a game deserve.
A balanced playing field, where teams played each other the same amount of times. In other words, 36 games, not unlike the rest of the world.
That would solve everything.
But this is America, land of the different soccer and unusual rules, rules that seemingly change from year to year.
MLS already has the longest continuous soccer season in the history of the United States -- one that kicks off on Saturday, March 10 and climaxes on Sunday, Dec. 1 -- 10 days after Thanksgiving.
Perfect. The season starts during the winter and finishes in the wintry month of December. Heaven help us if MLS Cup is held in Toronto, Chicago, Montreal or New England. A total of 267 days.
Or should I say, imperfect?
When it comes to counting the points at the end of the season, there is no doubt we will hear of teams with an "easier" schedule reaching the playoffs while clubs with more difficult matches wind up standing on the sideline.
Beyond the unbalanced schedule, there is another inequity. Some teams will be denied having the "glamour" clubs in their market every other year, but will play some teams from their own conference as many as three times this season.
In much of the MLS East this season, that means no home stadium glimpse of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and, in all likelihood, David Beckham with the LA Galaxy, in favor of repeated visits to and by the likes of perennial underachievers Toronto FC and DC United, as well as the expansion Montreal Impact.
That's the price you pay for an unbalanced schedule.