Commerce City on Friday, New Jersey on Wednesday, Los Angeles on Saturday. The Rockies to the East Coast to the West Coast--totaling 4,600 miles over the course of eight days. While this is certainly an industrial strength scheduling monster created by Major League Soccer to the detriment of the Colorado Rapids.
But in reality, the travel schedules for all MLS teams are the most rigorous in the world due to the fact that this country is bigger than most other countries. This phenomena that is unique to MLS is a significant adjustment to non-Americans coming over to play. Bobby Warshaw sums this up nicely in just a couple of paragraphs:
That’s more time with your butt in the seat than on the training field or the cold bath.
On top of that, MLS teams have to fly almost everywhere; a lot of European teams can bus or train to games. When an MLS team plays away Saturday night, they fly to the game on Thursday or Friday, then home Sunday. The altitude changes, and decreased oxygen levels are tough on the legs. Muscles swell and tighten. That’s two days of extra of wear and tear on the body, whereas a foreign player might be used to having those extra hours to recover.
Then another seemingly minor difference: European teams often travel home at night after the game; they don’t have to sleep in a random bed on an unfamiliar pillow away from their families. MLS games can end at 10 p.m., and there often isn’t a commercial flight to catch that night. When a guy has moved his life across the world, extra nights alone in a hotel room can take their toll.
Each soccer league in the world has its own feel, its own ambience, its own strengths and weaknesses that differentiate it from the other, I believe we should not discount that soccer in America brings a special toughness by the sheer volume of the travel, and that there are men so committed to playing the game that they are willing to put up with a not-so-perfect systems in place with MLS in the process.
When the World Cup came along last time, what was one of the big storylines that came out? The USMNT travel schedule. Approximately 8,800 we had to travel. But you know what? We made it through the so-called "Group of Death" through the likes of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany into the knockout stages. Could it be that, given the core of our players played in MLS that they were conditioned and ready?
Sure, MLS has struggled scoring goals over the last few years, with around 2.2 goals per game--and how much of that has to do with travel schedules more rigorous than other leagues (along with the caliber of talent as well, to be sure)?
The Rapids have a rough stretch. It's ludicrous! But this particular stretch brings to light all travel schedules that teams deal with week in and week out. It's a testimony to the toughness that Americans have shown throughout its history (at the risk of sounding too melodramatic). But I believe this provides a interesting and unique aspect to a game trying to get its footing here in the States.
I believe, however, if the MLS expands to 28, 30, or 32 teams, then split the MLS into East and West, and thus cut down on travel, increase training, then provide a better product on the field and a competitive product on the World Stage.
That's my view from the South Stands. Let me know your thoughts!