March 2011: Scheduling conflicts are detrimental to MLS attendance

The Americanization of the world's game has always been part of professional soccer in the USA. From ending a game when a countdown clock hits zero or the 30 meter offside line of the NASL, the league made famous by the New York Comos, to the penalty shootout ending for tied games in Major League Soccer during the 1990s, rules to adapt the game to American sporting sensibility have come and gone.

Hans Backe, Swedish coach of the Red Bulls New York (left), had to make do without Thierry Henry (injured) at the 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew. (Photo: GettyImages)

Still there are many aspects of today’s game that remain unique to MLS that will remain in place for some time to come. First and foremost is the league ownership of all player contracts to help insure parity among the teams. There’s also the post-season playoff system accumulating in the MLS Cup Final that determines the league champion and the limit of three players that can be paid any amount by a club that is over the league imposed salary cap, called the designated player rule. This exception was put in place for the league to be able to sign star players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry or Rafael Marquez and keep American stars like Landon Donovan from leaving for more lucrative European club contracts.

MLS has also gone against the FIFA calendar and plays throughout the summer, with games scheduled from March straight through the Championship final in November. The league even went as far as to play during the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups before deciding to take a month off for the 2010 World Cup due to low attendance figures during the three previous tournaments. Soccer in America is not popular enough to draw crowds during the cold winter months, so the need for a summer schedule is understandable.

ContiSoccerWorld, Conti, Continental, Reifen, Fußball, FIFA WM 2010, Confederations Cup 2005, Hildebrand, Casillas, UEFA EURO 2008, Koerbel, Deutschland, Sponsoring, German Engineering, Conti-Stars, WM-Tickets gewinnen, Tickets, FIFA-Partner

However, MLS continues to play a full schedule of games on FIFA weekend play dates, something no other league in the world allows to happen. A full slate of league games were played on Saturday which conflicted with National Team games the world over. No less than 40 MLS players were called up for international duty, forcing many teams to do without their top players. This not only affects game results and league standings, but also attendance figures, which decline dramatically when star players are not scheduled to appear. The drop was clearly reflected in this week’s attendance figures, which fell by almost 4000 per game to an average of 17,201. Without a major television contact, MLS generates most of its revenue from game attendance and financial loss during FIFA weekend play dates is something the league can do without.

ContiSoccerWorld, Conti, Continental, Reifen, Fußball, FIFA WM 2010, Confederations Cup 2005, Hildebrand, Casillas, UEFA EURO 2008, Koerbel, Deutschland, Sponsoring, German Engineering, Conti-Stars, WM-Tickets gewinnen, Tickets, FIFA-Partner
Costa Rica missed Roy Miller (left), he remained with the Red Bulls to play against Columbus Crew. Together with Ballouchy (no. 10), he is arguing with referee Okulaja. (Photo: GettyImages)

Red Bulls hit hardest

No team was affected more than the New York Red Bulls, who managed to squeak out a scoreless draw at the Columbus Crew without six starters, including the injured Henry, goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul (Senegal), defenders Tim Ream (U.S.) and Marquez (Mexico), midfielder Dane Richards (Jamaica) and forward Juan Agudelo (U.S.).

Agudelo scored the lone Red Bulls goal so far this year in last week’s win over the Seattle Sounders and netted his second goal in his third game for the U.S. National Team in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Argentina.ew York would have been without seven starters, except that defender Roy Miller decided to remain with the club and miss Costa Rica’s 2-2 draw with China on Saturday. The club will be without Miller, Ream and Agudelo for the entire month of June due to the Gold Cup tournament and will miss Marquez in July due to Mexico’s participation in the Copa America.

“We’re good enough (to win the championship), but if you look at the schedule this year it’s a very tricky season,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said. “And if we are really unlucky, we can be without five to six players in 12 MLS games, and that’s a third of a season.”


Last week’s heroes see red

ContiSoccerWorld, Conti, Continental, Reifen, Fußball, FIFA WM 2010, Confederations Cup 2005, Hildebrand, Casillas, UEFA EURO 2008, Koerbel, Deutschland, Sponsoring, German Engineering, Conti-Stars, WM-Tickets gewinnen, Tickets, FIFA-Partner

Sporting Kansas City probably wishes that their Mexican star Omar Bravo would have been called up with Marquez for Mexico’s 3-1 win against Paraguay on Saturday. After scoring twice in his debut last week, Bravo was red carded in the 3-2 loss at the Chicago Fire. Another two-goal debut hero from last week that didn’t fair as well was Vancouver Whitecaps’ Eric Hassli, who was ejected for two yellow card infringements in the 1-0 defeat at the Philadelphia Union. Faryd Mondragon, who was not called up for Colombia’s 3-0 win in Ecuador, won with Union, but Vancouver had to play without starting defenders Jay DeMerit (U.S.) and Michael Boxall (New Zealand).

ContiSoccerWorld, Conti, Continental, Reifen, Fußball, FIFA WM 2010, Confederations Cup 2005, Hildebrand, Casillas, UEFA EURO 2008, Koerbel, Deutschland, Sponsoring, German Engineering, Conti-Stars, WM-Tickets gewinnen, Tickets, FIFA-Partner
Faryd Mondragon, with 1. FC Cologne until December 2010, won with Philadelphia Union 1-0 against Vancouver Whitecaps. (Photo: GettyImages)

Real Salt Lake won 4-1 against a lackluster Los Angeles Galaxy, who played without Donovan and recovering U.S. midfielder Charlie Davies scored his third goal in his second DC United game, but it was not enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat at the New England Revolution.
In Saturday’s other games, Toronto FC beat the Portland Timbers 2-0, the San Jose Earthquakes won at FC Dallas 2-0 and Chivas USA lost to Colorado Rapids 1-0. The Seattle Sounders played to a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo in the Friday night game.