I was recently able to send a few questions to Andrew Wiebe (Twitter: @AndrewWiebe_MLS ), Sporting KC beat writer and New Media Editor at www.mlssoccer.com, about the length of MLS season compared to the English Premier League mainly but the rest of FIFA also. Andrew was nice enough to take the time to answer them and get back to me. If you want to frame of reference or more discussion on the topics please take a look at my other two posts on www.fromthelandofoz.com.
Q: Do you feel that the MLS hurts its talent and competitiveness by having such a long break from the end of one season to the beginning of the next?
A: It's been said plenty already, but the point bears repeating: Major League Soccer's footprint isn't all that much different from the English Premier League, the standard bearer when comparing our league to the rest of the world. I know Jurgen Klinsmann gave this talking point some serious momentum with his comments following the 2011 season, but I don't buy it for the most part. And that's not me simply sticking to the company line.
Comparing the 2012 MLS season to the current EPL campaign makes my point for me. Premier League fixtures start and end on the 13th of August and May this season, meaning there are almost exactly three full months of offseason to work with in the English top flight. Obviously, the MLS postseason skews things a little bit on our side of the Atlantic, but since more than half the league participates, it isn't quite as drastic as people would like to believe.
In 2012, MLS will play from March 10 to December 1 (not including CONCACAF Champions League). That means nearly nine months of play. Sure, it’s slightly less than the EPL (by just 10 days), but that makes sense because MLS plays four fewer regular-season games per team – essentially a month of action. Preseason starts in mid-January, so we are talking about around two months off and as little as a month or so in select cases. Plus, most teams continue training for a few weeks after their season ends, whittling that down time even further.
So is it valuable for rising stars, players with high ceilings and whoever else can find an opportunity to train or go on loan abroad during their down time? Sure. But that was happening long before Klinsmann took possession of US soccer’s top job. It's just been publicized heavily since he made his opinion known, and his connections (and desire to see national team hopefuls train abroad) have opened doors to players who may have taken the time to rest and recharge during previous offseasons. For me, this is an argument born of the idea that Europe does it right and MLS does it wrong without really examining the nitty-gritty details. It just doesn't hold much water in my opinion.
Q: In your opinion what is the coldest temperature that competitive soccer can be played in without hurting the attendance figures clubs can draw to their matches?
A: Certainly, a huge part of the puzzle regarding playing games in the dead of winter is the game itself. You can't play with snow/ice on the field or on top of a frozen pitch. Along those lines, it is nearly impossible to maintain some stadiums and fields during the winter months as well, especially if you are expecting to play top-level soccer in those facilities (see BMO Field).
Realistically speaking, though, this is about the fans and whether they are willing to brave the conditions on a regular basis. Who is heading out to a January/February game in 80 percent of the league's markets? Not many people, that's who. How many owners want to put on a game without any butts in the seats? They don’t exist.
While the quality of the games and facilities would be a huge concern in the winter months, the real issue here is attendance. There just isn’t a compelling argument that I’ve heard to play into December, January and February, especially since the offseason isn’t as long as some would like to believe.
Q: In your opinion would setting up a winter league in Arizona and/or Florida help a player that are not able to secure training stints or loans to Europe?
A: I'll go back to the first question on this one. If players want offseason training opportunities, they can find them with the help of their agents and clubs. And if they don't go that route, it isn't as if they are sitting at home on a fast-food diet, burping and scratching themselves all winter.
These guys are professional athletes for a reason; they are motivated, driven to succeed and dedicated to their occupation. I think a winter league is just over thinking things. Who runs it? How do you determine who plays? Can you actually get enough guys to make it viable? More importantly, do the clubs actually want their players in an environment they can't directly control?
Probably even more importantly, what is the cost/benefit ratio of funding such a venture when players have plenty of (better) alternatives at their disposal?