Monday, July 15, 2013

A pre-season game in the middle of the season?

Only in the MLS

Major League Soccer is about to enter that time of year when it sells itself to the highest bidder rather than focusing on strengthening its own brand.

The New York Red Bulls play Lyon tomorrow night in a game that doesn’t matter to anyone, and is just a pre-season game for the French team. This is amazing considering the Red Bulls have played 20 games in the league already, look like they will qualify for the playoffs and have nothing to gain from the fixture. It’s unlikely Thierry Henry or Tim Cahill will play – why risk the only good players they have? They also have to compete with the US National team who are playing Costa Rica at the exact same time (albeit in another match with little significance), which means fans and TV viewers are likely to be focused on something else. 

It begs the question of why the MLS needs to take on these games. It’s really not a benefit to the teams in the US and Canada, can’t bring in that significant revenue and isn’t a great advert for the league as the top players don’t participate.

The MLS All-Star game against Roma on July 31 is a little different. Putting the best players in the league up against teams like Manchester United and Chelsea (both former opponents for the All-Stars) can only be good for exposure and therefore attract a better quality player to the league. I’m sure players like Henry and Marco Di Vaio are not best pleased about having to play an extra game, and neither are there employers, but it’s good for promoting the league.

It’s already a league that doesn’t conform to the European football timetable, doesn’t have a regular schedule to attract fans (with games even being played at 1pm on a weekday!) and is still establishing an identity.

There is so much potential for the MLS, so here’s to hoping that they ditch some of these meaningless friendly games and focus on their own league.