Tuesday, September 22, 2009

U.S. League Bows to South Africa 2010

Major League Soccer is the top level of club competition in the United States, and it has been notable, during the past three World Cups cycles, for continuing to play matches while the World Cup was going on.

That will not be the case during South Africa 2010.

The league recently announced it will schedule no matches during group play of the 2010 World Cup, June 11-25.

And that's not all.

MLS also will not play matches on the same days as the World Cup semifinals (July 6-7) or championship (July 11).

The move demonstrates the globalization of soccer inside the U.S., and should be seen as progress by the soccer world inside the world's biggest economy.

The MLS, founded in 1996, just played right through the World cup in 1998, 2002 and 2006 because, rest assured, it didn't believe its fans were distracted (or even all that interested) in the World Cup.

That has changed. And it is another victory for the world's premier sports event.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter would also like to see MLS shift its schedule from March-October toward something in line with the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, from September until May or June.

MLS is resisting that sea change, still, probably because American football is so popular -- and runs from September to the first weekend of February) that MLS apparently fears being thoroughly eclipsed by it. A not unreasonable concern; in the end, soccer is an also-ran on the U.S. sports scene.

Also, the league in the past shared many of its stadiums with American football clubs, making a fall schedule highly difficult -- though that is changing with the growth in soccer-specific stadiums in the U.S. and Canada.

Anyway, American soccer fans won't have to worry about having to divide their attention, on any given day next June, between their local club team and a suite of World Cup matches.

One more upside, for MLS: Its stars, many of whom will be in South Africa playing for their national clubs (such as Landon Donovan, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Ricardo Clark, etc.) will miss fewer club games back home in the States.

All this represents progress, and is good.

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