Another MLS regular-season schedule shift could be incoming.
When members of the competition committee meet on Friday, holding the line at 34 games or expanding to 36 will be one of the topics up for discussion, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday during a season-ticket rally here for the Columbus Crew.
The perfect symmetry that is 18 teams playing a 34-game schedule will be difficult to maintain next year when the Montreal Impact join MLS, Garber said. No further expansion plans have been announced past Montreal, but the Commissioner said the league is preparing for the inevitable.
“It will be impossible to be balanced at 20 or 22 [teams],” he said. “It’s just too many games for a professional soccer league.”
While some top-level leagues around the world play 38 or more matches, MLS have to be mindful of weather, outside competitions, international dates and other factors in fitting games between mid-March and the MLS Cup in late November.
“We’re going through all this stuff for 11, 12 years now trying to figure it out,” Garber said. “We’re going to go over competition format, playoffs structure, our schedule [and] how we deal with the breaks with [World Cup] qualifying next year.”
The league added four games this season to accommodate expansion teams in Portland and Vancouver, and also increased by two the number of playoff qualifiers for a total of 10.
“We’re getting it right, but we still recognize we’re young,” Garber said. “The NFL doesn’t have to worry about how many games they have and what’s their season because they’ve been that way for 100 years. We’re still kind of evolving.”
He likes the idea of limiting games during international dates as was the case for Labor Day weekend, and will be again on Oct. 8-9.
“It would be great not to play at all on FIFA days,” Garber said. “It would be great for FIFA, as the European club associations have asked for reductions of international competition days, particularly friendlies; it would be great if we had fewer days our guys are called away.
“Until that happens, we’ll have to manage through it with our shorter schedule. But I think it was a good idea to take a break.”
Garber joined Crew president-general manager Mark McCullers, Columbus Mayor Michael C. Coleman and Crew players in launching the “Goal 10K” initiative to nearly double the season-ticket base to 10,000 for the 2012 season. The Crew are last in average attendance this year at 11,405 per game.
Hundreds of fans were at the noon rally in the new Columbus Commons downtown park.
Garber said Columbus were the first franchise in MLS to reach the 10,000-average mark years ago and held the record until 2007.
“We’re trying to rekindle the passion,” the Commissioner told the crowd.
Added McCullers, “Today is a rallying point to drive our organization back to the elite status in MLS where we were before.”