I am a season ticket holder for Real Salt Lake. If you don’t know who that is, they are a “professional” soccer team that plays in the MLS. I use the term professional loosely because of something that constantly happens during much of the summer months that RSL plays. You arrive at the stadium early to watch the team warm up before first kick and you notice a few faces are missing. You think to yourself, “was there an injury that I somehow missed” or “there must be a bug going around.” You ask around to see what is going on when you are hear the three words dirtiest words in MLS. National Team Duty.
These three words are the reason that MLS will never be completely accepted as a big time league in this country. If you don’t follow soccer, what this means is any number of your players can be taken in the middle season for weeks at a time. They are called up to play in qualifiers, friendlies and even for tournaments that have very little meaning. Even the young players that aren’t well established are gone to play in under 20 competitions. I remember very meaningful games that RSL played just last season where they were without more than half of their main stays. If you are looking for a comparison just picture the San Antonio Spurs. They are coming down the stretch of the NBA season and are in the hunt for the number one seed in the west. They have a huge home game to lock up the top spot to which you have great seats. You drop 500 dollars for the tickets plus parking and food to see your favorite team get it done from up close. As the game starts you realize that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili aren’t playing. You look over at the bench and notice that they aren’t even there. In fact you don’t recognize anyone on the bench except for Matt Bonner. Dejuan Blair, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Tim Duncan are your starters. “It’s not a bad starting five” you think. “We still have some key pieces, but where is everyone else?” Well Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, and Nando De Colo are gone for three weeks playing for France. Manu Ginobili is away for almost a month to play for Argentina as is Tiago Splitter who is playing for Brazil. Not to mention that Patty Mills (Australia) and Cory Joseph (Canada) are also gone. As a Spurs fan you are furious knowing that something has to be done. That is my thought every time I show up to Rio Tinto Stadium and see guys on the pitch that aren’t normally even in the 18.
The MLS should not allow this to happen. It drives supporters (fans) crazy, and really hurts the product on the field. When the product is bad fans don’t want to come back. I didn’t buy season tickets to watch backups play. I’m pretty sure that club RSL is paying its players to play and not the player’s respective national team. That being said, shouldn’t they have more say in this process? This kind of BS doesn’t affect the real soccer leagues around the world nearly as much if at all. Their seasons are over by the time all these friendlies and qualifiers take place. The MLS needs to move when their season is played to coincide with the rest of the world or they needs to put their foot down. The hockey world championships are played smack dab in the middle of the NHL playoffs but you don’t see the best Canadians, Swede’s, Russians and Americans skipping out on their teams to represent their countries. They go and play when and if the team that pays them gets eliminated. Why doesn’t Major League Soccer do the same? You can’t go until our season is over. Until they do that, they will never be major league to me.