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Major League Soccer Needs More Meaningful Games. Why Not Play Split Seasons?

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Amid a spring of underwhelming TV numbers for Major League Soccer came some more promising news this week, depending how you view it.

According to Spanish-language journalist Jaime Ojeda, more than 1.4 million viewers in total watched the Concacaf Champions League final first leg between the Seattle Sounders and Pumas UNAM of Mexico’s Liga MX on Wednesday night.

Yes, more than 1.2 million of that watched in Spanish on UniMas or TUDN, with the remaining minority viewing in English on FS1. But even if a big Mexican club was the primary draw for most viwers, it was still a reminder that larger American audiences can find MLS-level games captivating when the stakes are high.

The same was also true in last fall’s MLS Cup Playoffs, when an average of nearly 1.9 million viewers watched a Thanksgiving Day match between Colorado and Portland, and more than 1.1 million viewed the MLS Cup final.

As we compare all these respectable numbers against the more tepid early-season MLS ratings, it’s also the outcome of the spring regular season games don’t matter all that much.

To give more games higher stakes, MLS should consider something radical: cutting its season in half.

For all the talk of whether MLS would ever adopt a European, fall-to-spring calendar, the split-season format used in Mexico and much of Central America would solve more problems for the league.

Here’s how:

More Games With More Urgency

Americans often view the National Football League as the perfect format to attract the casual fan.

Well, a spilt MLS season would essentially involve playing an NFL schedule twice.

Two 16-to-18 game regular seasons would be short enough that every match is meaningful, yet long enough that every team can recover from a couple bad performances.

Two 14-team postseasons would just bring more high stakes matches without changing a single-elimination format that has drawn generally positive reviews.

More Trophies For More Teams

With the league growing to as large as 32 teams in the not-too-distant future, introducing split seasons could bring more legitimate silverware aspirations to more clubs across the league.

Right now, there’s considerably less silverware per club available to MLS teams relative to European leagues that usually max out at 20 teams.

Crowning biannual playoff champions would bring that ratio back in closer alignment with European leagues.

Sanctity Of The Shield

The Supporters’ Shield could remain a once-a-year award given to the team that finishes atop the combined spring-and-fall regular season standings.

That could give the award even more clout than it currently possesses, and make it feel less like a consolation trophy when excellent teams like 2019 LAFC, 2020 Philadelphia Union or 2021 New England Revolution lose in the playoffs.

The U.S. Open Cup could also remain a one-a-year tournament, with the MLS-heavy portion occurring in the summer and fall. This is because fall season would probably be played over a longer window than the spring season, based on the U.S. climate and the timing of international summer tournaments.

Alignment With Mexico, World

Split seasons would aid MLS collaboration with Liga MX on initiatives like The Leagues Cup and the MLS All-Star game.

It could also potentially shorten MLS’ problematically long offseason if the Leagues Cup shifted to a winter event played before the spring seasons of MLS and Liga MX in warm-weather U.S. Climates.

Meanwhile, the All-Star Game could be a kickoff event for both countries’ domestic fall schedules, similar to England’s Charity Shield.





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Philadelphia Union take draw streak into matchup with the Portland Timbers

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Philadelphia Union (5-1-6, first in the Eastern Conference) vs. Portland Timbers (3-4-6, seventh in the Western Conference)

Portland, Oregon; Sunday, 10 p.m. EDT

LINE: Portland +139, Philadelphia +189, Draw +241; over/under is 2.5 goals

BOTTOM LINE: The Philadelphia Union play the Portland Timbers after playing to a draw in five straight games.

The Timbers are 2-1-3 at home. Bill Tuiloma leads the sixth-ranked scoring team in the MLS with four goals. The Timbers have scored 20.

The Union are 2-1-2 in road games. The Union are first in the Eastern Conference conceding only nine goals.

The matchup Sunday is the first meeting this season between the two teams.

TOP PERFORMERS: Tuiloma has four goals for the Timbers. Jaroslaw Niezgoda has three goals over the last 10 games.

Daniel Gazdag has six goals and one assist for the Union. Julian Carranza has scored four goals over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Timbers: 2-4-4, averaging 1.6 goals, 4.0 shots on goal and 4.3 corner kicks per game while allowing 1.8 goals per game.

Union: 4-1-5, averaging 1.3 goals, 4.7 shots on goal and 4.7 corner kicks per game while allowing 0.7 goals per game.

NOT EXPECTED TO PLAY: Timbers: Diego Gutierrez (injured), George Fochive (injured), Felipe Mora (injured), David Ayala (injured), Blake Bodily (injured), Claudio Bravo (injured), Jaroslaw Niezgoda (injured), Larrys Mabiala (injured).

Union: Mikael Uhre (injured).

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Salloi and Sporting Kansas City visit the San Jose Earthquakes

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Sporting Kansas City (3-7-3, 13th in the Western Conference) vs. San Jose Earthquakes (3-5-4, 11th in the Western Conference)

San Jose, California; Sunday, 7:30 p.m. EDT

LINE: San Jose -156, Sporting Kansas City +402, Draw +300; over/under is 2.5 goals

BOTTOM LINE: Daniel Salloi leads Sporting Kansas City into a matchup with the San Jose Earthquakes after a two-goal showing against the Colorado Rapids.

The Earthquakes are 3-2-3 against Western Conference opponents. The Earthquakes have a 3-2 record in one-goal games.

Sporting KC is 3-5-1 in conference play. Sporting KC has a 3-2 record in games decided by one goal.

The matchup Sunday is the first meeting this season between the two teams.

TOP PERFORMERS: Jeremy Ebobisse has seven goals and one assist for the Earthquakes. Jamiro Monteiro has scored three goals over the past 10 games.

Salloi has four goals for Sporting KC. Johnny Russell has scored three goals over the past 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Earthquakes: 3-4-3, averaging 1.8 goals, 4.3 shots on goal and 6.0 corner kicks per game while allowing 2.2 goals per game.

Sporting KC: 2-5-3, averaging 1.0 goal, 3.6 shots on goal and 2.2 corner kicks per game while allowing 1.9 goals per game.

NOT EXPECTED TO PLAY: Earthquakes: George Asomani (injured).

Sporting KC: Gadi Kinda (injured), Alan Pulido (injured), Daniel Salloi (injured), Nikola Vujnovic (injured), Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (injured), Andreu Fontas (injured), Ozzie Cisneros (injured), Khiry Shelton (injured), Graham Zusi (injured), Johnny Russell (injured).

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CF Montreal hosts Real Salt Lake in non-conference action

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Real Salt Lake (5-3-4, fifth in the Western Conference) vs. CF Montreal (6-4-2, second in the Eastern Conference)

Montreal, Quebec; Sunday, 4 p.m. EDT

LINE: Montreal -142, Real Salt Lake +393, Draw +273; over/under is 2.5 goals

BOTTOM LINE: CF Montreal and Real Salt Lake take the pitch in non-conference play.

Montreal is 3-1-0 at home. Montreal is 4-0-0 when it records a pair of goals.

RSL is 1-3-3 in road games. RSL is fifth in the league drawing 68 corner kicks, averaging 5.7 per game.

The teams meet Sunday for the first time this season.

TOP PERFORMERS: Djordje Mihailovic has scored six goals and added three assists for Montreal. Kei Kamara has three goals and three assists over the past 10 games.

Bobby Wood has two goals and one assist for RSL. Tate Schmitt has two goals over the past 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Montreal: 6-2-2, averaging 2.2 goals, 4.5 shots on goal and 4.5 corner kicks per game while allowing 1.7 goals per game.

RSL: 4-3-3, averaging 1.1 goals, 3.8 shots on goal and 5.4 corner kicks per game while allowing 1.6 goals per game.

NOT EXPECTED TO PLAY: Montreal: Mason Toye (injured), Bjorn Johnsen (injured), Tomas Giraldo (injured).

RSL: Zack Farnsworth (injured), Bret Halsey (injured), Erik Lee Holt (injured), Jonathan Menendez (injured), Anderson Julio (injured), Scott Caldwell (injured), Damir Kreilach (injured).

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