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Blatter’s missives likely mean nothing to MLS

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Once again, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has issued a warning to club teams around the world, saying that there are too many games being played and league are getting too big.   FIFA wants to see international leagues cap their top divisions at 18 teams each.  That’s not a new mandate — but Blatter made a series of statements on the state of the international game in a FIFA.com Q&A, and added fuel to the flames of the club-versus-country debate.

“The other big issue is the calendar. In my view, and this is something on which (UEFA president) Michel Platini agrees, domestic championships are too long because there are too many teams and too many matches. Teams in leagues with 20 clubs play 38 games, on top of which they also have national cup competitions and league cups, etc. This also creates a conflict of interest between national teams and clubs, some of whom complain that their players come back tired or injured. That’s not the fault of the international calendar, however, and it’s a subject that ought to be discussed.”

That it’s not the fault of the international calendar is up to debate. If we count the number of club managers irked by the number of players injured in friendlies… well, we don’t have that many fingers and thumbs, do we? Heck, national associations were playing friendlies just weeks after the World Cup. It’s not right. And, until FIFA moves to cap the number of meaningless games each national association plays in a calendar year, it doesn’t have the moral right to tell the club teams how to conduct their businesses.

But, is Blatter speaking to all nations, or is he targeting only Europe? Note that in his statement, he mentioned he had the moral support of Platini, underscoring UEFA’s support of seeing pro teams in its region chop their schedule. No word from South America, Asia or CONCACAF.   Hmm.

Heck, South and Central American leagues play Clausuras and Aperturas,  two seasons, if you will, in one calendar year. A lot of South American leagues give players one month off. That’s it. One competition ends, the other begins. If Blatter is going to talk about 38-game schedules, he should also tell Argentina, Mexico and Brazil to consider having one championship per calendar year.

But, if past history is an indication, MLS and other North American leagues need not worry about anything Blatter has to say about restricting domestic leagues. In 2009, MLS commissioner Don Garber said that his feeling was that the limit on club teams was a mandate aimed at South America and Europe, not North America. He said FIFA understood that North American leagues faced different challenges; because of the sheer geographical sizes of Canada and the United States, leagues needed to be bigger. In his mind, MLS would be given leeway to expand.

As well, MLS sources have pointed out that FIFA never made a stink when the league had shootouts to break ties and mini-games to decide playoff series in the league’s infancy.   nd, before the USL-NASL battle, there was no stink made even though USL allowed five subs per game, rather than the three allowed by FIFA regulations.

Truth is, North American soccer officials have been allowed to colour outside the lines when it comes to promoting the game here. MLS is far more in line with the international rules of the game now than it was back in 1996, but there is still no shaking the feeling that, when Blatter talks about changes to the game, that he’s not really speaking to Canada and the United States.

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