MLS looks at switching to international schedule

Major League Soccer has announced it will investigate aligning
its schedule with football’s international calendar, responding to
a demand from FIFA as the United States bids to host the 2022 World
Cup.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said the current March-October
season is the overwhelming reason the MLS cannot compete with top
leagues in Europe.

Blatter is on the 24-man executive committee that will decide on
Dec. 2 whether to award the 2022 hosting rights to the U.S.,
Australia, Japan, Korea or Qatar.

Aligning with the international calendar would help MLS teams
attract top talent – and avoid losing players to national team duty
for World Cup qualifiers and other friendly matches.

The European season varies from country to country but roughly
runs from August through to May. MLS suspended the season for two
weeks during the group stage of the World Cup in South Africa
earlier this year but teams typically play without players on
national team duty on FIFA fixture dates.

”It’s way too premature for us to go into any details of what
it could look like,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Sunday.
”What we’re basically saying is we’re going to do the research.
We’re going to do a study, we’re going to take the time to get it
right. There’s no rushing.”

With so many teams in northern climates, Garber conceded a
winter break would be necessary to avoid playing games in snowy
conditions.

Garber also said that the MLS will expand its finals series to
include two extra clubs in a 10-team format next season.

Garber says next year’s playoff format has yet to be determined,
but the goal is to avoid a repeat of this season, when two Western
Conference teams (Colorado and San Jose) met in the Eastern
Conference championship. Six of the eight playoff qualifiers this
year came from the West.

The league will grow to 18 teams next season when Portland,
Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, join the competition. The
regular season will increase from 30 to 34 games and teams will
play a balanced schedule with the same number of games against each
opponent.

The addition of two western teams will require moving one
existing team from the Western Conference into the East. Garber
said no final decision has been reached on which team will make
that switch.

A 19th team, Montreal, is set to join the league in 2012.