The MLS decided to create the most optimal path to success for MLS teams competing in 2018 CONCACAF Champions League leaving teams like Philadelphia Union on the backburner.
Upon first glance of the 2018 MLS schedule, the initial stop and start slate handed to Philadelphia Union in December by the league went overlooked initially. Throughout the first month of the season, Philadelphia will have only three matches completed when other MLS clubs will have as many as five all said and done by April 1st.
One main reason for the unique bye week this weeekend is the CONCACAF Champions League which is in full swing. When MLS released drafts of the schedule back in December, the league aimed to provide MLS teams competing in the CONCACAF Champions League the best opportunity possible to succeed in that tournament.A game in hand never hurts but the Union face a tough three game stretch in mid-September. As a result, Philadelphia’s March 10th matchup against Seattle Sounders was scratched and moved to Wednesday September 19th in Seattle to allow the Sounders to rest in between CONCACAF fixtures.
A league wide initiative to set up all MLS teams for success in CONCACAF, leaves other MLS clubs with a more cluttered road to wins and results.
“It’s a challenge,” said Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin during Thursday’s press conference when asked about the stop and start of his club’s early season schedule. “You want to get in a rhythm, you want to get some momentum,” continued Curtin.
But as an MLS coach, Curtin understands what success in CONCACAF would mean for US soccer as a whole.
“At the same time, you understand the importance of an MLS team winning the [CONCACAF] Champions League. It’s something that’s never been done,” said Curtin.
The CONCACAF Champions League is North America’s equivalent to Europe’s UEFA Champions League and it has been dominated by Mexican clubs for decades. Since 2008 when a League format was introduced, a Mexican club has won every single year.
Where do the majority of Mexican clubs come from? Liga MX, arguably the next great thing in the world of soccer with countless young talents coming out of the league each year. Landon Donavan also finds Liga MX to be of particular interest.
Three MLS teams remain in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League: New York Red Bull, Seattle Sounders, and Toronto FC. The fourth MLS club, FC Dallas, was eliminated in the first round after falling to Tauro FC of Panama.
Currently all three MLS clubs won the first leg of their quarterfinal matchups. CONCACAF action returns next Tuesday and Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, the MLS could have three of the final four teams remaining for the title, which has never happened.
While those MLS clubs are catered to in hopes of bringing international acclaim to the MLS as a whole, the Union and others are left to mend the gaps in their schedules with intense training sessions and good old fashioned scrimmages to keep players at their peak fitness levels.
But that definintely is not something players look forward to. “It… sucks,” said Bedoya post-match Saturday night when asked about the break this weekend. “Sorry I almost said a bad word there,” continued Bedoya. I think the word he meant to use was shitty?
Curtin and his technical staff are working on the final plans for their weekend training sessions. A key component of those plans involves the Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, currently still working through their preseason. Their were talks of a first team scrimmage against Steel FC Friday but a normal training session may be the move instead. But as for Saturday, Steel FC scrimmage New York Red Bulls II – which is closed to the public due to a change in venue thanks to the snow. Curtin mentioned Thursday he and his staff may plan to utilize some reserve players in that match to test their fitness and ability to handle the high pressure system New York loves to run.
One of the more important weeks of the season will come in mid to late September for the boys in blue. The Union will be forced to play three matches in eight days starting September 15th at home against Montreal Impact. The Seattle Sounders match is set for Wednesday September 19th followed by a Sunday afternoon home match against Sporting Kansas City September 23rd.
An early test of the Union’s ability to play on short rest occurs in early May. Philadelphia plays three matches in eight days starting Friday May 4th against Toronto FC and ending Saturday May 12th against Montreal Impact with a Wednesday night matchup against the Crew of Columbus May 9th.
For now, Union fans silently cheer on the three remaining MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League in hopes of bringing glory to American soccer. Or maybe they won’t, because the Union don’t benefit in the slightest from a bye after just one week of regular season play…
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Peace out Union fans!