Week six of the MLS season is nearly upon us but for Toronto FC the sixth round of play will be marked by the club enjoying their second week off of the year. By the end of the week one team in MLS will have played seven games while others will have played just six.
While it is possible to provide some form of a legitimate explanation for most of the teams that have already logged two weeks off it is a bit of an odd trend to see so many bye weeks just after the season got started. It is even worse when you consider that some of the teams who have had two weeks off still had to play during the international break.
The New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact join Toronto FC as the teams that will have contested just three games after six rounds of play. The fourth team to have two weeks off already this season, the Columbus Crew, will be at five games through six rounds since they have a double game week thanks to a Wednesday meeting with the Vancouver Whitecaps (who will lead the league with 7 games played).
The Montreal Impact having two weekends off makes sense in the light of their busy early schedule thanks to reaching the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. MLS schedule makers doing what they can to allow the team to focus more on the CCL is just fine and they do the same for other MLS teams that make the knockout stage. Toronto FC don't have a home stadium so their light schedule is to help limit the number of road games they would have to play in a row at the start of the year. There really is no good explanation for why the Red Bulls have already had two weeks off.
D.C. United, New York City FC, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, and the Colorado Rapids have all had one bye week bringing the total number of teams to have one of the first five weeks off with the Chicago Fire joining them this week to bring the total to half the league.
In six rounds of play half the league has had a week off. That number seems far to high when you consider that many of those same teams had to play during an international window while some of their top players were away. Add in the fact that all of them will make up for these weeks off later in the season when MLS schedule makers return the favour by forcing them to play double game weeks during the dog days of summer.
The weeks off is not the only silly thing that MLS schedule makers have drawn up early in this season. The most glaringly insane thing in the early schedule comes to us via that Columbus Crew and their double game week. They are in Vancouver on Wednesday evening for a 10pm Eastern kickoff and then have to head all the way back across the continent to play the New England Revolution on Saturday at 3PM. The league gave them two games in four days which is normal but the fact that they decided to put them on opposite sides of the continent is just baffling.
So often we hear about how the size of the continent plays in to the demands that come along with playing in MLS which is why you see teams doing things like going on West Coast road trips. By playing a few games in a single trip it helps reduce the number of travel miles a team logs over the course of the year but in the case of the Crew the league seems to be doing the exact opposite of what makes sense.
In an ideal world MLS would find a way to play their schedule without games during international breaks, keeping midweek games to a minimum, and avoiding unnecessary travel. We don't live in an ideal world though so there will always be some oddities with the schedule. Every league around the World deals with similar issues when trying to put their schedules together. There will always be some clubs that are unhappy with the end result.
That said, we don't need to be in an ideal world for MLS to do a better job. Would it have been that hard for the league to move around a few more of these early bye weeks to lighten up the schedule during the early international break? Do the powers that run the TV side of things have that much say in the making of the schedule that the league had to leave a certain number of games on the schedule that week just to fill all of the TV time slots?
It is quite possible that TV schedules have that much sway over the way that the league made their schedule. If the folks that paid a large sum of money for the broadcast rights want games during certain time slots every single weekend of the season the league is in no position to say no. So until MLS is in a position to say no and move games around as they see fit the chances are pretty good that we will continue to see the league only slightly lighten the schedule during international breaks.
In the end, the schedule early in this season seems to be something that could have been improved on. A bit better planning and smarter use of the bye weeks could have helped to avoid some of the typical complaints from fans. It is a fact of life though as there are more moving parts behind any schedule than most of us are aware of.
The only real issue is silly things like sending the Crew from coast to coast in just four days. That is just silly and there really is no good reason for that to happen.