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The SBI View: MLS needs to start respecting FIFA windows for USMNT’s sake

You may not want any of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, or Omar Gonzalez on the U.S. Men’s National Team, but Gregg Berhalter might and as head coach he deserves every right to have the players he wants in camp.

There is one roadblock that has gotten in the way of that this month and it is one that needs to be addressed for the sake of the USMNT: Major League Soccer’s refusal to respect FIFA windows.

When the USMNT takes the field over the next week, it will do so devoid of much of the veteran presence that Berhalter has relied upon since taking over the program. While that may be well and good given the clear need to move onto the next generation ahead of the start of World Cup Qualifying, it is still unfair and disrespectful to Berhalter to limit his selections because MLS opts not to respect international breaks — as was the case for this month’s camp.

“We’re in a very difficult position because we’re only allowed to play in certain times of the year,” said Berhalter on a conference call last week. “One thing I’ve been a little bit disappointed with is MLS teams opting to play in FIFA windows. I think it’s infringing on the time we have with players.

“I understand their situation of not wanting to play midweek games during the year, but it also puts us in a difficult spot where we have to make some of those decisions that are difficult for both the player and the club.”

First off, and just to clearly state the obvious, Berhalter’s only job is to coach the USMNT. It his responsibility, duty, and objective to work with and prepare the players that he thinks make up the best group — regardless of who they are and whether we on the outside agree — for what is to come. How he does that is by using FIFA fixture dates to fine-tune his system, better familiarize himself with the pool and individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and more clearly define his vision and best lineup.

Secondly, let’s take away those polarizing veteran names for a second. What if the players in question were FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal, Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls, and LA Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget? What if their clubs pleaded with Berhalter to leave them at home this month for reasons related to the stretch run in MLS? Would Berhalter also have to make that sacrifice, leaving lesser known and lesser experienced commodities by the wayside to appease his former peers?

The answer should be no. After all, the entire point of the FIFA windows is so that national team head coaches have time throughout the year to work with their players. There should not have to be a conversation, much less a compromise, because a league decides to stick its middle finger at the international calendar.

You think nations like, say, Canada, are refraining from calling in their top players because of the MLS playoff race? Just look at the Canadians’ latest roster, with fellow Toronto FC player Jonathan Osorio included on it, for your answer.

Unfortunately because of the awkwardly cozy relationship between U.S. Soccer and MLS, it is not as clearcut or simple for USMNT head coaches as it should be. MLS’s insistence on giving clubs the option to play games during FIFA fixture dates complicates things for both the USMNT manager and his players, which is both a ridiculously absurd and an unjust position to put them in.

Playing for both club and country are not mutually exclusive items, and they should not be treated as such.

“It’s the worst part about the league: the fact that teams play through FIFA dates,” said Bradley last week. “Because as you’re trying to give everything you have for your club team and the national team, there’s too many moments where you’re missing something.

“It’s got to be one of the next steps for the league in terms of respecting the FIFA dates, not playing through summer tournaments, and it always comes back to scheduling issues and all this. I get it but it has to become something where it gets worked around, because you can’t have the rest of the world respecting the FIFA calendar and FIFA dates and then there’s still a full slate of MLS games … It is not the right way to do things.”

It is not. Just as it is not Berhalter’s responsibility to have to bend over backwards for MLS teams and officials that refuse to respect the international dates on the calendar. Just as it is not his obligation to prioritize other coaches’ jobs and their teams’ well-beings over his own. Just as it is not his duty — contrary to popular belief — to have to manage relationships and negotiate with club coaches over players’ availabilities.

The straightforward rule FIFA has in place is that clubs are obligated to release players during international windows, of which there are but a handful a year. There should be no conflict. There should be no negotiation. There should be no accommodation.

Just look at Colombia head coach Carlos Quieroz, who just this window was asked by Brazilian outfit Cruzeiro to not summon Luis Manuel Orejuela in order to play a cup game. Quieroz responded publicly by saying that the club should take the matter up with the Brazilian federation for scheduling the match during a FIFA window and added that he hopes ‘this is the last time’ he receives a request like this.

The majority of leagues across the world recognize and honor international windows. The ones that chose not to, by and large, do so knowing and accepting that they will have to make due without national team players.

MLS, however, refuses to. Not because it cannot — it absolutely can — but because it does not want to. Because it does not want to lessen its on-field product. Because it does not want to have to schedule more midweek games, which would result in more fixture congestion, less attendance, and less financial gains. Because it does not want to have to do away with midseason competitions and revenue streams like the League’s Cup and Campeones Cup. Because it instead wants to continue to prioritize its business and sporting models and ignore FIFA windows at the expense of the USMNT.

That this is even a thing after the Americans’ colossal failure of not qualifying for the last World Cup is ludicrous and dumbfounding, and tells you all you need to know about the state of the sport in this country.

“Having worked in MLS, we try to be somewhat accommodating and try to work through it together with the clubs,” said Berhalter. “But sometimes there’s not perfect solutions and sometimes we just have to say, ‘Okay, this is the way it is.'”

Berhalter needs to come to the full realization that he has the final say, and he should not feel guilty for calling in whoever he wants, whenever he has the chance.

He is not the one ignoring the rules in place. MLS is.


  1. fun read and take again Franco, thanks, and the comments too, well most of them at least 😉 my take is if MLS doesn’t work with the USMNT (and other nations populating MLS teams with national team players), then all are weakened instead of strengthened together

  2. MLS has for a few years scheduled the playoffs around the Oct. and Nov breaks. If a match has been a non friendly people have always gone. Canada is playing Cuba in NL that is why Osorio was released but Bradley and Altidore. I’m ok with Open Cup continuing during the GC since most MLS teams play reserves until the semis but they should halt the season.

  3. Why doesn’t FIFA work with MLS and change the windows, which seem to be random times anyway? The USAis very important to FIFA, or should be.

    • Because the schedule works for a vast majority of the World. Most leagues play August to May. Scandinavian leagues use a calendar similar to MLS but they break for the FIFA windows.

  4. Yeah it’s ridiculous. I think MLS will eventually come around because they won’t have a choice. It’s not just the USMNT, but also many concacaf internationals now play in MLS and will get called up for nations league, etc during FIFA windows. MLS needs an attitude adjustment regarding the USMNT. They should be supporting in every way possible, and using the (hopefully) success and greater global exposure of USMNT games to promote the MLS players involved, and therefore the league. If MLS isn’t careful, all our elite young talent will head overseas (ala Pulisic, McKennie) and maybe at some point, the USMNT won’t need the MLS players and then the next Berhalter will simply give MLS the finger.

    • your a coward thatsscared of the truth. MLS and the MLS apologist need t realize if they want Americans and other concacaf nations like Mexico Canada, Costa Roca and other cocacaf nations having same prpblem MLS need t ne held accountable.

  5. My opinion
    MLS should obey it, but there is too many “breaks” for them to obey it.
    It is all too much, now all the countries are going to go to make all the matches meaningful with League of Nations garbage rather than just friendlies all the time. Playing at least once a week and many times twice a week for 50 out of 52 weeks, just isn’t what they should be expecting of the players.
    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ rules and they are doing it.
    ps. Everyone gets on Nagbe, but tell me when a guy like that gets a break if he does all the Nat team stuff. Nat team quality and his team won MLS well into Dec. Guaranteed to be invited to the Nat team camp in Jan. Champions league starts probably before that is over and the season starts then.

    • I disagree strongly that there are too many “breaks” or international dates.
      This year alone there are only five FIFA windows for USMNT players, one of which was substantially longer for the Concacaf Gold Cup. The 2019 windows are March, June, September, October, November. You think that’s a lot?

      • Yes thats 5 different times during a year where a club/league has to halt its schedule for their players to go reisk injury and accumulate more wear and tear on the body. And those clubs are not reimbursed for games lost due to injuries on international duty. Think about this. What other major sport puts up with international dates like soccer does?

      • Byrdman, what other sport has a nearly 10-month long season as does most of European soccer? Huge reason there have to be int’l breaks.

      • September, October, November always kills MLS. Three months straight, during the most important part of the season, where you lose 7+ days.
        Whether you play through and have games that are shorthanded, or if you have two weeks between playoff games, there is no good answer. You are either putting an inferior product out there or you are killing any flow/momentum/hype surrounding the playoffs.

  6. The more I think about it, it’s becoming more apparent that both MLS and the USSF are in it for business purposes rather than sporting purposes which is becoming a detriment to the growth of the game in the US. Hence the reason why MLS does not stop for FIFA windows, why MLS’ calendar is not aligned with the rest of the world, and why there is no promotion & relegation. It’s all about the bottom line of making money rather than improving the sport in America. That’s why Carlos Corderio was elected USSF President over the other candidates. Very frustrating to be a US Soccer fan.

    • I am going to say this isn’t some recent revelation.
      Like you were right there with me thinking Pro/Rel is the dumbest thing in sports, but then you realized a PRO league was trying to make money.
      You thought that owning season tickets to the Minnesota team playing in Dec-Jan-Feb was a REALLY BAD idea, but now…now you see it was a plot, the owners just wanted fans to buy tickets so they could make money.

      • Let me ask you a question, have the US come close yet to winning a World Cup? No. You want to know why, because of the asinine rules and regulations put in place by MLS and USSF that does not allow the sport of soccer to grow in the US. I guess you don’t care about winning, and are cool with the status quo, You, sir, are part of the problem, not the solution.

      • Oh dear, Eagles. The sport has grown immensely in the U.S. in the past two decades, in part thanks to a stable pro league which has helped establish an academy system. The fact that the U.S. isn’t close to winning the world cup is not evidence of the contrary, unless you are unreasonable, unrealistic, and uninformed.

  7. do it for the benefit of the mls teams! isn’t Seattle missing 7-8 players due to scheduling over the FIFA window. completely unfair how some players from some teams get exceptions while others don’t

  8. When your calling in your roomate Omar Gonzalez, just because he is your friend, NO EXCUSES. When you play your network connected Bradley 90 minutes when he is a traffic cone vs Mexico. NO EXCUSES.


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