Did Major League Soccer sell out RSL by changing the schedule?

So on Wednesday Real Salt Lake will be in action against the Seattle Sounders, a time when both teams will be impacted by the FIFA dates for World Cup qualifying but RSL will be missing a lot more talent than the Sounders.  It is a match that shouldn’t be on the schedule.

Of course this match should have already been played, see this match was originally scheduled to take place back in mid-July, the 18th to be specific.  For RSL that match would have been during a very busy part of the season, RSL played a match at San Jose on the 14th, and then at home on the 21st against the Rapids.  Of course Seattle also would have been playing on little rest as they had a July 15th match on the road against the New York Red Bulls.  The match would have been just two weeks after the 0-0 draw the two sides battled to at Rio Tinto Stadium on the 4th of July.

This move took place before the MLS season started, so both sides had plenty of notice, but the reason for the move and approval from the league for such things show a continuing issue around Major League Soccer.  The match wasn’t moved to clear a date for FIFA qualifying, it was moved so the Sounders could sign a big name European team to a summer friendly.  Yes for the second straight year RSL gets treated like an afterthought by MLS in favor of mid-season international friendly matches.

Last year the circumstances were far worse as RSL had traveled to Vancouver for a match only to have it cancelled and rescheduled just a couple hours before it should have been starting.  It was the Whitecaps playing host to Manchester City, that had them lay down sod just 24 hours before a scheduled league match, which was made even worse as they failed to incorporate any drainage and it rained.  That match was rescheduled for October 6th last year, a match that RSL would lose 3-0.

This year the circumstances and the stakes would be much higher than last year, when the sides battle on Wednesday at stake will be a possible 6 point swing which could determine where each team will find themselves in the standings at the end of the season.  RSL currently sits in 2nd place in the Western Conference with 55 points from 32 matches, while the Sounders are sitting at 52 points from 31 matches.  Both sides are trying to avoid the 4th spot which would require a team to play in the wildcard match to actually advance to the playoffs, that slot is currently occupied by the LA Galaxy with 50 points from 32 matches.

Now when the date was changed, Major League Soccer knew that the new date would fall at the tail end of a FIFA break, and that players taking part in FIFA matches would likely be unavailable.  At the time of the change, RSL had regularly been sending multiple player to their respective national teams, all 4 of RSL’s players who were representing their national teams had been doing so at the time of the schedule change.  Meanwhile, the Sounders players who are impacted by this round of call ups were either not with the team or not a part of their national teams plans.  So a distinctive advantage was gained by the Sounders, and a disadvantage dealt to Real Salt Lake.

Now do I think MLS intentionally thought about these things?  Nope, but their lack of planning, their lack of proper scheduling and decision making (choosing to chase a friendly over a scheduled league match) have given a team a distinct advantage in both the match at hand and in the battle for playoff positioning.

I know that MLS is desperate for the league to grow and they continue to proclaim that these big summer friendly matches help the league, but I have yet to see it.  I don’t see it in overall MLS attendance, I don’t see it in better sponsors coming to MLS, I don’t see it in better TV ratings or a bigger TV deal for MLS.  All I see is the league chasing a quick payday by pulling in some “Euro-Snobs” who normally won’t give MLS the time of day.  It is actually funny that it was Dave Clark (of Sounder at Heart) who was one of the first to declare, “Trophies Not Friendlies”, something RSL has taken to heart while, MLS and the Sounders haven’t.

Whatever happens on Wednesday will happen despite the change, it is just a shame that we won’t get to see both teams at full strength for such an important match.  As long as teams continue to fill their season ticket packages with promises of friendlies, this will continue to be a problem. With the schedules of MLS teams so full of US Open Cup matches, league matches, Champions League matches for some, and the league trying to take FIFA breaks off, there is going to be a point where I think MLS has to make some hard choices on this topic.

Nobody could have known the exact circumstances that would unfold with rosters 8 months ago when this match was changed, nobody knew that these teams would be in such a tight race, so I can’t say this was an intentional act by MLS to give one side an advantage, but as with everything in life, choices have consequences. Nobody would have expected RSL to send a private jet to KC to pick up Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman after their USMNT match on Tuesday, and nobody would have thought they would offer a ride to Seattle’s Eddie Johnson.

For me it is time to put the priorities in order, Trophies Not Friendlies, and I only hope that MLS will put their season first, and friendlies as a nice to have as long as they don’t interfere with league play.

That’s How I See It

One comment

  1. Ktasay says:

    Excellent article. Intentional or not, it would seem that once again RSL must play the underdog. Hopefully we can see a big performance from players who we normally see as subs!

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