March 22, 2016
By Michael Lewis
No more halfway measures on international playing dates for MLS
If Major League Soccer wants to become one of the great soccer leagues of the world, it must act like one.
Case in point:
International playing dates, when 12 CONCACAF teams are competing for berths in the 2018 World Cup on Friday and next Tuesday.
Yet, the league scheduled six teams in three games on Saturday: New York City FC vs. the New England Revolution, D.C. United vs. FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo.
FC Dallas' roster has been decimated by the seven, that's right, seven call-ups.
Midfielder-defender Kellyn Acosta (U.S U-23 team), defender Walker Zimmerman (U.S U-23 Olympic Team), defender Moises Hernandez (Guatemala), goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez (Mexico U-23 Olympic Team), midfielder-forward Tesho Akindele (Canada), defender-midfielder Atiba Harris (St. Kitts) and defender Maynor Figueroa (Honduras) were called in to represent their respective countries.
And some of these calls-ups were not minor players.
Zimmerman and Figueroa started and played all 270 minutes in Dallas' three opening matches. Acosta and Harris started two matches and Akindele saw action as a substitute in three matches.
D.C., by the way, lost two players -- defender Steve Birnbaum (U.S.) and Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica).
Closer to home, NYC FC has been hurt, losing three starters -- defender Ronald Matarrita and midfielder Mix Diskerud forward Khiry Shelton (U.S. U-23's) for its Saturday encounter at Yankee Stadium with the Revs. New England will be without midfielder Lee Nguyen.
I wonder what NYC FC head coach Patrick Vieira, who is all too familiar with international playing dates as a French international from 1997 to 2009 thinks about that.
I realize the MLS schedule is compact enough already with Copa America Centenario in June, but it can't allow teams to start a match with one leg tied behind its back.
It may be too late for this season, but there are always time for course corrections in 2017 and beyond.
No team should be at a disadvantage when there is supposed to be an international break.