How World Cup impacts MLS' competitive balance
Competitive balance is at the heart of European football leagues. All the top divisions conduct regular seasons in which each team plays every other, home and away. No club has an easier road to their league title than another.
Major League Soccer is different but then so are its circumstances. Manchester United or Bournemouth faithful often find the four-and-a-half-hour, 250-mile train journey to an away game between the two clubs ‘arduous’. Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps equally fervent supporters live more than 3,000 miles and a six-hour, roughly $1500 flight from any East Coast club. Try travelling to support your team under those conditions. MLS’ imposing geographical scope mandates its teams be divided into Eastern and Western Conferences with inter-divisional matches limited.
US weather also forces the league into a summer calendar that, every fourth year, clashes with the World Cup. Typically, the league goes on hiatus during the group stages so that
- its ratings don’t suffer
- its teams’ rosters aren’t decimated by international call-ups
Of course, MLS is largely an American competition and the United States failed to qualify for Russia 2018. This season’s break is only a fortnight, much like a normal international window. However, players have already left for World Cup preparation, with the MLS season ongoing. Some will remain in Russia after play resumes. With only 19 players from a 23-franchise league decamping for the Steppes, the disproportionate effect on various clubs may be more acute rather than mitigated. Many teams are at full strength. At least one is significantly weakened. The situation completely alters the competitive balance.
Here’s a look at teams with pronounced advantages and disadvantages.