We have not even played the MLS Cup Final for the 2013 season, and Major League Soccer has already published the schedule for the 2014 regular season. This is the earliest that the schedule has even been released, which is an accomplishment considering how difficult it is to set up a professional schedule with an odd number of teams and having to deal with the U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and FIFA International Windows.
MLS is also taking a two-week break during the group stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in June. They did a wonderful job with the schedule, but now fans will look for MLS to improve the playoff schedule.
The playoff schedule in 2013 was not great by any means. MLS made the puzzling decision to play the first leg of the Conference Finals before a week-long FIFA Window, causing a two-week break between the two legs. One of the things that was brought up by commissioner Don Garber during his State of the League Address was that the league needed to find a broadcast partner to promote a “game of the week” type program — a consistent broadcast window opened up every week for an MLS match to be shown.
The NBC Sports Network has taken a step in the right direction by having a Friday night game broadcast on the network starting on June 27 and going through the end of the season, save for the weekend of July 25. All of those matches kickoff around 8 p.m. local time, so that is a start right there.
After taking a look at the 2014 schedule and FIFA International Friendly windows for November, I’ve come up with what I think is a great playoff scheduling model that could work for years and start a new tradition for Major League Soccer fans. That tradition is to have the MLS Cup Final during the weekend of Thanksgiving.
The 2014 regular season ends this year on Sunday, Oct. 26 with three matches, two of which are between Eastern Conference foes. Due to this, I would have the Western Conference play-in match on Wednesday, Oct. 29 and the Eastern Conference play-in match on Thursday, Oct. 30.
The first legs of the Conference Semifinals would start on Saturday, Nov. 1 with the no. 2 vs. no. 3 matches for both conferences. The no. 1 vs. play-in winner matches would take place on Sunday, Nov. 2. The second legs would then take place on Thursday, Nov. 6 and Friday, Nov. 7.
The FIFA International Window for November 2014 starts on Nov. 10 and goes until Nov. 18. Clubs are required to release their players for national team duty 4-5 days before an official match (Euro 2016 or African Cup of Nations 2015 Qualifying) or just 48 hours before a friendly match. I anticipate that those matches would take place on Nov. 11 and Nov. 16 during that window.
I would schedule both the Conference final leg matchdays to be doubleheaders, with the first leg taking place on Thursday, Nov 20. The Eastern Conference match would be kicking off at 7:00 p.m. ET, and the Western Conference match would be kicking off at 9:00 p.m. ET if FC Dallas is hosting, or 9:30 p.m ET if anybody else is hosting.
Dallas is mentioned specifically since they are the only Western Conference club in the Central Time Zone, and we would not want their match to kickoff too late locally on a weeknight.
The second legs would be held on Sunday, Nov. 23 with the Eastern Conference match kicking off at 4:00 p.m. ET and the Western Conference match at 7:00 p.m. if FC Dallas is hosting or 8:00 p.m. ET if anybody else is hosting.
This would pave the way for the MLS Cup Final to be played on Saturday, Nov. 29 at the stadium of the highest remaining seed. Thanksgiving weekend would be the perfect time to host this game as most Americans already travel to visit family, and most families have their own Thanksgiving traditions. An MLS Cup Final during Thanksgiving could be the tradition that brings the younger generations into future fandom.