International windows have long been a problem for MLS teams. It is something that Toronto FC fans have first hand knowledge of having witnessed some extremely makeshift lineups as a result of players being called off on international duty. TFC is not alone in experiencing that problem as MLS has been unwilling to move games regardless of how many players a club is missing.
The league may be working on a solution to better deal with international windows, and according to Steve Davis of NBC's Pro Soccer Talk that solution could be to eliminate 6 games from each team's schedule and go with a 28-game regular season rather than the current 34-game format. Those six less games would allow the league to put a halt on pushing the league start date further forward and the end date further back while allowing them to take more time off for international windows.
A reduced schedule would allow the league to take some weekends off and would make it easier to work around next summer's World Cup while returning to a balanced format. With New York City FC set to join the league and bring MLS to an even 20 teams it would allow for each club to play their conference rivals twice (home and away) and teams from the opposite conference once to bring the total to 28-games. That part of it would be quite nice as many fans have been hoping for a return to a balanced schedule.
The big issue that exists with all of this is that it would mean each of the league's franchises giving up 3 home games. That is a substantial chunk of revenue for clubs to have to forgo even if it would help them avoid having to play without their star international players. Even the smaller crowds that would come as a result of more midweek games would bring in more revenue than not having the games at all.
MLS is still a young league which does not make a lot of money off of television deals so there is a heavy reliance on the revenue that is created by ticket sales and other match-day income such as concessions. They don't bring in the big dollars of a league like the Premier League so cutting matches would cost money that the league can't afford to lose.
On the surface it seems like there are some obvious pro's to a 28-game schedule but the con's may still outweigh them by a significant margin. The only teams I can see being on board with shortening the season are the ones loaded with international players and already dealing with the fixture congestion that comes from routinely competing in the CONCACAF Champions League.
On the Toronto FC side of things a reduced schedule would be nice if the club were to return to being a fixture in the CCL but until then it would not really make sense. If there is one thing that MLSE seems to love it is revenue so hard to imagine them wanting to give up three home games. That would hurt the bottom line and would have an even bigger impact if the team starts winning again and filling BMO Field week after week.
For now this is a story worth following but it is hard to see why the league would sacrifice the additional games even if it would be an easy solution to working around international windows and mean the return of the balanced schedule.
How would you feel is there were suddenly three less home games to attend each season?