One more detail on MLS playoffs, FIFA dates and looming conflict

Landon Donovan: vital to the Los Angeles Galaxy, vital to the U.S. national team. He is a big reason why all this could be important come November.

Also file under: He’s writing about that AGAIN?

I hate going on and on about MLS playoffs and the reconfigured format. After all, there’s so much to buzz about between then and now.

But the sun has shined on one more detail in the playoff scheduling issue. In fairness to MLS, it deserves to be reported. Besides, it’s an important detail.

Super-fast review: MLS has changed playoff formats. Some people are OK with it, a bunch aren’t. It’s complicated further because two FIFA international dates fall right in the middle of the post-season plan. This is all covered in the previous pair of blog entries. Consider yourself “briefed.”

A member of Major League Soccer’s communications team alerted me yesterday to this tasty little tidbit: the league hopes to avoid playing on those November FIFA dates.

He acknowledged that it will be a challenge – but he told me they are committed to doing their darndest.

Click forward for how it could work … or to examine why it may not be possible:

MLS league play wraps up on Sunday, Oct. 23. We won’t even get into the argument over why MLS, once again, will not kick off all Round 34 matches simultaneously – we’ll beat that one to death another day.

So the new play-in games could be staged the following Wednesday, Oct. 26. That would leave the following weekend (Oct. 29-30) for first-leg conference semifinal matches.  Those would wrap up Nov. 5-6.

Would that seriously squeeze the wild-cards, who pass and trap on a Wednesday (or Thursday) and then again on a Saturday (or Sunday)? You betcha. But perhaps that would work perfectly to provide the maximum advantage to the higher seed, the team that performed better over a longer period.

Moving on … The international matches will fall on Friday, Nov. 11 and Tuesday, Nov. 15.

That would leave Nov. 19-20 for conference finals. The MLS Cup would be played on Nov. 27.

Before you begin penciling in those dates … here’s why that won’t work. Or “might not” work. This is where MLS has some serious thinking ahead.

Most importantly, MLS has long been committed to holding its title match prior to Thanksgiving. This year’s holiday falls on Nov. 24, which is a little early.  So the league would have to budge there.

You might bump up the order of it all by beginning the conference semis on Nov. 9. But, truly, that won’t help anyone. First, U.S. manager Bob Bradley will surely call in his players on Monday, Nov. 7. He’ll want them for the entire week on an important “double date.” Besides, even if he waited to summon the players into camp, he wouldn’t want important figures performing in heated playoff matches on Nov. 9, two days before the international date.

You might say that we’re only talking about a player here or there, since so many current A-listers on the U.S. side are coming from Europe not MLS. Then again, the one or two involved might be important players. Landon Donovan springs immediately to mind. (There are other nations involved, too, of course. Omar Cummings for Jamaica, for instance, or Rafa Marquez for Mexico.)

The one savior to impending controversy may be a fast start in World Cup qualifying for the United States. If the currently proposed format is adopted, the Nov. 11-15 dates would be Nos. 5 and 6 in the opening round, four-team round-robin format. Theoretically, the Americans could already be through to the next round. If that’s the case, all of this is a non-factor.

In any event, this won’t be the last time journos like myself write about it all. Maybe, on the other hand, we can wait until the fall to revisit it all. 

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