Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MLS Considering Apertura/Clausura Format? | TheOriginalWinger.com

TheOriginalWinger.com has this bit up. Last night DC United CEO Kevin Payne was on Fox Football Fone-in and while this precise question didn't come up, Payne admitted that the Mickey Soccer League is considering changes to it schedule and this is probably one of the concepts being considered.

Another might be to adopt a Bundeliga type midwinter break. Generally, the Bundesliga takes like a six or seven week break in the coldest months. The general problem with the Bundesliga approach is that teams like New England and Toronto are still pretty well socked in weather wise for most of December, January and February. You could solve it by having those teams on the road in early February, but that seems somewhat unfair.

But the Apertura/Clausura format seems to be something of a solution. It does a couple of things. First, the FIFA international calendar can be accomodated a bit better since most of the really big tournaments take place in the summer months of June and July. As TOW points out, with a fair number of South American and African internationals joining the Mickey Soccer League, this would mean less of a beating in terms of teams missing players during big tournaments. Even the African Cup of Nations, which usually happens in January/February wouldn't disrupt the MLS schedule.

Second, the Apertura/Clausura format lends itself to permitting MLS teams to compete in international tournaments with less impact on their MLS schedule. MLS teams could compete in say a Superliga on the same preparation schedule as Mexican clubs. The CONCACAF Champions league group play would only impact the second "season" of the Apertura/Clausura format, but teams would also be in season form for the knockout stages as well. The longer summer breaks means that teams will be able to rest/recooperate and heal injured players.

Third, I also think the shortened seasons could help the MLS bottom line. Figure a 16 week season and you play each team in the league once in the Apertura and again in the Clausura. If the league is 20 teams, you can would have each team have three weeks with a weekend game, a midweek game and then a weekend game. In an 18 team league, that is 17 games a season and thus only one week where teams have to have a midweek game. Given that MLS already plays midweek games (Thursday night soccer on ESPN), this is not much of a change. That gives the league 34-38 games a season depending on league size, which equals more ticket revenue which would be appealing to owners. The season still gives players at least a full month off after each season (depending upon national team duty) and a month of preseason training and friendlies.

Fourth, it might push the league to a single table format. With each team playing each other team once in a season, there would be no need to have two conferences. But this wouldn't have to happen, you could still have the East/West conferences if you wanted.

There are drawbacks of course. First, the players would likely demand more pay. This shouldn't be a surprise since they will be playing more games, but since the league is going to have to loosen the purse strings for its players anyway, this shouldn't be too hard. Given that teams with their own stadiums will earn more revenue from more games, this is a good thing to incentivize more team stadiums. The bonus incentives would also have to be restructured, but again, that is doable.

Second, the collective bargaining agreement will be renegotiated soon, so movement to the Apertura/Clausura format will no doubt be delayed until 2010 at the earliest, which may not be so bad.

Third, the playoff format as it stands now will have to be scrapped. There simply is not enough time in the two season format to make an 8 team playoff work after each session. I can see a four team tournament with the top two teams from each conference (if you have conferences) or the top four teams on a single table format advancing to four team, single elimination format playoff. This way, MLS still gets a "champion" for each season and could have a single game "Super Cup" each summer for the winners.

Fourth, this could complicate the U.S. entries into the CONCACAF Champion's League. Right now this is how clubs get in: The U.S. Open Cup Winner, the MLS Cup winner, the Supporter's Sheild Winner and MLS Cup runner up. You could change it to have the U.S. Open Cup winner, the Apertura Winner, the Clausura Winner and the Supporter's Shield winner over both sessions (this rewards consistency of play) with accomodtions if there are duplicates.

The more I think about this format, the more I like it. The problem is that this format is completely alien to American audiences and it could be a hard sell. Die hard soccer fans understand it (a little), but I think it could be good for the Mickey Soccer League in the long run.

1 comment:

evision said...