The end of the European season inevitably heralds the arrival of the transfer speculation ritual to Major League Soccer.
There are few out of contract players that won’t be linked with one MLS club or another in the coming days and weeks and tweets and blog posts will be issued debating signings and salary terms and whether the particular player in question would be a useful addition to either the league or a club.
That last point will, with wearying regularity, inevitably dissolve into two factions of opinion.
On one side we have the “He is a big name who will do wonders for the media exposure of the game in North America” contingent and on the other side we have the “He is too old and won’t like the cross continent travel or the artificial turf” brigade.
Could it be though that this season (and for the foreseeable future) the signing of a player for the latter half of the season might actually make sense from a purely footballing point of view?
The unbalanced schedule that was introduced this season was greeted by supporters with tepid enthusiasm at best and with most decrying the loss of the traditional “everybody plays everybody else twice” formula that is the norm in most footballing countries.
Most clubs and players though welcomed a system (any system) that reduced their travel time and limited the hours that they were spending in airport terminals.
What the new schedule also did was load the fixtures in a way that meant the latter half of the season matched teams from the same Conference together as much as possible with the explicit intention of making late season games more competitive but also, as an added bonus, reducing travel in that period of the season substantially.
So if an ageing star from Europe did parachute into MLS at the end of June what kind of gruelling schedule would he be faced with?
If he arrived in New York then he would barely register enough airmiles to maintain his platinum status, for the Red Bulls schedule is remarkably kind (almost as thought he league wanted them to do well) with only a visit to Kansas taking them out of their East Coast comfort zone and with nothing else that would strike a European exile as a particularly onerous journey.
If our hero headed off to join the Galaxy then only flights to Chicago and Columbus would hit his body clock hard (and why bother taking such a player to games against a none Conference opponent) and even the far flung, and traditionally long travelling, Pacific Northwest teams of Portland, Vancouver and Seattle only face four trips out East between them during the final half of the season.
So when Montreal signed Marco Di Vaio from Bologna for example they weren’t just getting an ageing player that would attract the “eurosnobs” who normally wouldn’t give MLS the time of day they were signing a player who, even on a short term basis, could make a genuine impact.
The unbalanced schedule is with us for at least two more years, and the clubs who realise the increased effect that a mid-season signing could have on the outcome of their season will surely be the ones who prosper.
Let’s hope that the sterile nature of the debate about those signing also evolves to fit the new circumstances.
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