Bruce Arena unhappy with MLS schedule, proposes 'creative' solution
LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena isn't happy with the congested schedule his team has been dealt during its most crucial stretch of the 2015 MLS season, and he has a proposal to prevent it from happening again.
With just Sunday's match at Sporting Kansas City (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) to go before the league's playoffs begin and a first-round bye still up for grabs, the Galaxy sent a skeleton crew to Guatemala for Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League group stage final against C.S.D. Comunicaciones.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER LATEST
- Davis: MVP Giovinco sets new standard
- McIntyre: Five players to watch in MLS Cup
- Garber: We are searching for next Ronaldo
- Carlisle: Why playoffs make sense for MLS
- Parker: MLS Cup tactical battles emerge
- Klinsmann picks team, not me - Don Garber
- MLS highlights | Playoff schedule | Tables
Missing stars such as Giovani dos Santos and Robbie Keane, LA settled for a draw -- a result that pits them against Mexico's powerful Santos Laguna in the knockout stage when the tournament resumes next year. Arena said that attempts to avoid the conflict -- one that hurts the MLS Cup holders in both competitions -- weren't successful.
"We made requests a year in advance to the league and CONCACAF not to have a Champions League game this week," Arena, who didn't travel to Guatemala either, told ESPN in a phone interview just before Wednesday's match. "And of course we have it."
Arena acknowledged that for MLS, fitting the payoffs, a 34-game regular season, the Champions League, the U.S. Open Cup and international tournaments and friendly matches into a window limited by weather isn't easy.
But he said that the league can open international fixture dates if it wants to. And he said that it must. For their part, multiple sources have told ESPN that MLS has no plans to change course and avoid them all in 2016.
"We have to make sure that our regular season is done in such a manner that in the end you feel it was fair for everyone, and the best teams made it, not the teams that got a break because of scheduling, or because this team had four players missing for national team duty," Arena said. "That shouldn't happen. Hopefully as we move forward that gets resolved."
MLS allows teams considerable input when it comes to plotting out the calendar. But as the Galaxy's unfavorable slate this week demonstrates, those requests aren't always granted.
"When we got our schedule this year, I said it's the worst schedule I'd ever seen," Arena said. "I thought we'd really struggle to make the playoffs."
Arena boasts a record five MLS Cups and the most wins in postseason history. With a win on Sunday, his team would secure second place in the Western Conference. The Supporters Shield is well out of their reach, though, but Arena does not put much value in it.
"Whoever wins it, credit to them. But what is it at this point?" Arena asked of the award that goes to the team with the best regular season record. "We have an unbalanced schedule, all these other variables. Then think about next year, we've added Copa America on top of everything else."
So what's his solution? Turns out the 64-year-old U.S. Soccer Hall-of-Famer wants to take a page out of the English Premier League's book.
"We should have a Boxing day-style setup, and I'm going to ask the league to consider this: next year, play July 1, which is a Friday, and play July 4. Everyone in the league plays on those two dates. The setup should be home and away so you don't get two home dates. And keep it regional.
"There's one way of knocking off two dates for the entire league," Arena continued. "That would be a little bit of a break in the scheduling scramble that we have, and it can be done. All of this stuff can be done. We can play 34 games without playing on the fixture dates if we get a little creative. We don't get creative enough."