The Throw-In: Why MLS could take a lesson from all that CONCACAF madness
If you’re anything like me, your remote got a workout on Tuesday night akin to doing bikram yoga while running an ultra-marathon – all condensed into 90 minutes.
We just couldn’t help it, could we? Phil Schoen told us Costa Rica had scored. So we surfed over to Telemundo. But our priorities were still with the US national team, so we hit the “previous” button to get back to beIN Sport.
Oribe Peralta equalized for Mexico. Back to Telemundo. The US were threatening! Back to beIN again. Michael Orozco heads in the equalizer! We’re back in it. But wait, Álvaro Saborío scores a go-ahead for the Ticos less than 15 seconds later – and then Panama take the lead and stick a nail into Mexico’s coffin. ¡Caramba!
Well, we all know how it ended. And it’s possible you might have even missed Graham Zusi's heartbreaking equalizer and Aron Jóhannsson’s winner because you were surfing back and forth to see what was very nearly El Tri’s premature demise.
To complicate matters, if you had beIN Sport en Español (or sought out a questionable stream), you saw the Jamaicans nearly throw a wrench into Honduras’ march back to the World Cup. Hell, some of you were watching all three at once.
— Ben Fast (@bwfast) October 16, 2013
That furious finish to the CONCACAF Hexagonal will probably go down as the most insane night of soccer of the year. There was so much on the line in every game, and the players didn’t know a whisper of what was going on in the other matches as the clocks were in sync at all three.
But we did. And that made it even more fun. It made our hearts race and our thumbs sore.
And I immediately started craving more.
That got me to thinking, too: Could Major League Soccer do something similar and schedule an entire week’s worth of matches at the same time?
Picture it, especially as the regular season’s final weekend approaches with several playoff spots likely still to be at large: a possible Supporters’ Shield clincher in any one of three games at once. Four teams on the playoff bubble all fighting for their lives in three different cities. A Golden Boot showdown as Marco Di Vaio goes hunting in Toronto while Mike Magee & Co. visit the Shield-hungry Red Bulls.
Those are just the headline acts. There will be meaning in pretty much every single one of the nine games coming up in Week 35. How utterly zany would it be if all of them were running concurrently?
Of course, the reason CONCACAF does this has little to do with the “fun” aspect. They do it to minimize the risk of any improprieties that could occur on the black market, or as a confederation spokesman told me, “to protect the integrity of the game.”
That’s not much of a concern in MLS, though it is something the suits in Midtown Manhattan think about. They also think about television schedules. The league has national TV partnerships with ESPN, NBC, Univision and TSN, and as such must work within their scheduling parameters. That’s probably not going to change.
But think if the very scenario described above came to pass. It would create the ability to expand on the NBC Sports MLS Breakaway experiments from earlier this season, a whip-around show that danced between games occurring at or close to the same time with Arlo White, Kyle Martino and Ross Thaler in various stages of can’t-miss spontaneity.
And the idea of an “NFL Red Zone” for MLS – which actually was the inspiration behind MLS Breakaway – should be on the table. I think we can all agree that fans would love this. It adds a bit of that “March Madness” feel that college basketball fans go nuts over every spring. It’s part of the fun of the World Cup group stage, too.
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There’s something to be said for knowing what exactly is at stake heading into a game. But there’s something more to be said when teams have to go into their respective matches blind except for the knowledge that they’ve got to get a result and take care of business regardless of what’s going on in another stadium.
As this season looks like it could approach one of the wildest final weekends in league history, I again think back to 2009 when six teams were fighting for the final two playoff spots, and all needed results in their final games to get into the playoffs.
All that drama played out over five hours on a Saturday and left about 18 hours until kickoff on the final game on Sunday to settle matters. It was frantic stuff, to be sure, and it was fun to behold. But I wonder how much more fun it would’ve been if all seven games were stacked on top of each other.
Call it white-knuckle soccer, red-zone style. That’s something that might even put Martino’s well-groomed coif out of place. I’d pay to see that.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.