Major League Soccer is looking into taking a break during the Copa America Centenario, according to Toronto FC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. While discussing the pitfalls of having international players in a league that doesn't recognize international dates, Bezbatchenko said he isn't sure whether or not the league has made a decision on this yet.
The Copa America Centenario is a competition being held in the United States to celebrate 100 years of the Copa America tournament. It will be played between June 3-26 and includes 10 South American sides combined with 6 from CONCACAF.
Breaks for international windows are especially relevant when it comes to Toronto FC, because all three of their designated players have represented their respective national teams in the last year.
"There are some [MLS] teams without international players, or just a few and they will be okay with playing their games on international dates" said Bezbatchenko. "We are not one of them."
The list goes on from there: Jonathan Osorio, Ashtone Morgan, Chris Mannella, Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Manny Aparicio and Quillan Roberts have all represented Canada. Alex Bono and Marky Delgado represented the States.
Particularly with the Canadians, Bezbatchenko says having regular season games on international dates hurts when Toronto are trying to develop young Canadian players. This year they let some young players represent Canada who he says they would have gotten first team minutes.
"We have a responsibility to develop Canadians that are going to play in World Cup qualifying, and Pan Am Games and Olympic Qualifying," said Bezbatchenko.
Based on the participating team's most recent rosters, the Copa America Centenario could see anywhere from 19-24 players, depending on who wins the CONCACAF playoffs, miss most of the month of June to represent their countries. This does not include those who would represent their countries during the June international break, nor those playing in Euro 2016.
Jozy Altidore, who has a good chance of representing to United States at that competition, thinks that it is unfair that the league doesn't recognize international windows. He said it was difficult jumping between club and country this season, especially while dealing with injury.
"At our club here in Toronto we have so much invested in this project and the club," explained Altidore. "We love being here so it makes it really hard to leave to play a friendly against team 'x' or whatever and miss an important game here."
Bezbatchenko sees it as a numbers game, as the league grows more and more players are going to be called into their respective national teams. It is getting to the point where the quality of the league takes a substantial and universal hit while players are out playing for the country.
He points to an international window this year where he says between 60-70 Major League Soccer players were called up for their respective countries.
"We can't lose 60-70 players during our competition if we want to be among the best leagues in the world," he says. "That's just the truth."
If the league does decide to take a break for Copa America, this would be the first time they have done so for a major tournament. This includes the FIFA World Cup, with MLS being one of the rare leagues to keep its league going during the global competition.
"Over time as this league grows, I believe it needs to be a mandate," says Bezbatchenko, "we cannot play on these dates."