EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – David Beckham's long-haul dash across the Atlantic and back this week will draw attention to one of Major League Soccer's most serious flaws.
Beckham was due to fly from New York to London on Sunday night in order to play for England in Wednesday's friendly against Germany. The following day, he is set to return to California and claims he may be able to play some part in the Los Angeles Galaxy's game against local rival Chivas USA that night.
Sadly, it is not a glitch in the MLS scheduling computer that has created a conflict of interest and put a crucial league match in a slot little more than 24 hours after an international match day. Blame MLS' lack of provision in its scheduling for even World Cups and continental championships, let alone friendlies such as the England-Germany game at London's Wembley Stadium.
For a league trying to be taken seriously on the world stage, it is a grave mistake and one that needs to be rectified as soon as possible.
Beckham isn't the only player who will be affected. Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan and Chivas USA's Jonathan Bornstein are also primed for gruelling trips when they represent the United States in Sweden on Wednesday.
MLS commissioner Don Garber needs to take action to save the league from losing face over the matter. His chances of continuing MLS's momentum by adding more star players in their prime will certainly be hindered if he fails to do so.
The product has made positive steps in recent years, but it is light years removed from being strong enough to stand alone and disregard the international calendar.
Garber and his crew have shown they are not afraid to play around with the schedule when it comes to the Galaxy, so why not do it to benefit teams and their leading players?
The Galaxy have played six of their last seven games away from the Home Depot Center in a move that was designed to take Beckham to the nation. But that has created a disjointed Western Conference standings with some teams having played up to seven games more than L.A.
Making a similar alteration to allow players to represent their country without penalty or creating farcical travelling itineraries would be a sensible option that would produce limited disruption.
If anyone really needed to be convinced that the crowds in this country are only properly interested when the big names are involved, the Beckham factor, by even the most conservative estimates, added 50,000 to the attendance for the New York Red Bulls' 5-4 victory over the Galaxy at Giants Stadium on Saturday night.
With Beckham playing his first full 90 minutes for his new team, the figure of 66,237 was a throwback to the glamorous early days of the North American Soccer League, when the likes of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer pulled in huge crowds. Yet no one needs any reminding about how that experiment ended up, and although MLS is built upon an infinitely stronger platform than its predecessor 30 years ago, it must not rest on its laurels.
Beckham and Donovan started a marathon stint of city to city, hotel room to hotel room slog on August 3, when they flew to Canada two days before an MLS game with Toronto FC. Since then, they and their teammates have jetted to Washington D.C., Boston, back to Los Angeles and east again to New York.
And now the fun really begins.
"I am travelling to London to meet up with the England team and I would like to play some part in the game against Germany. Then I am flying back to Los Angeles," Beckham said. "Hopefully, I can sleep all the way on the plane, get some rest and then play some part in the Chivas game."
The situation is almost comical and a solution must be found. One sensible option would be to extend the MLS season – at the beginning, end or both – to create a break in the middle of the campaign.
It is tough on the Galaxy and their supporters, who have seen precious little of Beckham in action so far and will now have his services restricted for one of the season's biggest games against Chivas USA. The influential Donovan will also be missed for most of the game and will surely be exhausted during whatever part of the match he does take part in.
"If he is considered fit (and) it is an international date … we have to let him go," Galaxy coach Frank Yallop said of Beckham. "It is a FIFA date, so if he is called up, he goes."
Asked if he wants Beckham to play in England's friendly, Yallop replied cryptically: "He wants to go."
- Chivas USA
- Major League Soccer