As soccer leagues around the world completed their weekend schedules, hundreds of players summoned for international duty dashed off to train stations and airports. Beginning Monday, the sport entered a FIFA window, an official nine-day period when clubs are obligated to release players to national teams and many top-tier domestic leagues go dark for a weekend.
Over the years, MLS has gotten better about abiding by the FIFA calendar, scheduling fewer matches when teams are shorthanded and fans’ focus turns to World Cup qualifiers, friendlies and other competitions. During most FIFA windows, however, MLS does not shut down completely. The problem, MLS contends, is the number of optimal dates over the course of the spring-to-fall schedule. Fewer weekend matches means more weeknight dates, when attendance drops in most markets.
Clubs do have the option of requesting time off during a specific FIFA window. D.C. United, for instance, will not play during the October timeframe.
Only six of 20 teams are in action this Saturday, with all affected by call-ups of varying degrees. No side will be hit harder than FC Dallas, which will arrive at Washington’s RFK Stadium without seven players. United will miss two.
The other two matches pit New York City FC (minus three players) against the New England Revolution (two) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (six) hosting the Houston Dynamo (two).
Dallas’s absentee list includes …
… two players summoned to the U.S. under-23 squad for a two-leg Olympic playoff against Colombia:
Defensive midfielder Kelyn Acosta (three league matches, two starts)
Center back Walker Zimmerman (three, three)
… one to the Mexican U-23s for a trip to Portugal:
Goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez (three league matches, three starts)
… and four to senior national teams for CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers:
Honduran left back Maynor Figueroa (three league matches, three starts)
Canadian forward Tesho Akindele (three, zero)
St. Kitts and Nevis right back Atiba Harris (two, two)
Guatemalan defender Moises Hernandez (no game-day roster selections)
In all, that is three sure starters, two possible starters, a regular substitute and a reserve.
United’s absentees are starting center back Steve Birnbaum (U.S. national team) and reserve striker Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica).
New York City FC will miss midfielder Mix Diskerud (U.S.), forward Khiry Shelton (U.S. U-23s) and defender Ronald Matarrita (Costa Rica).
New England’s loss: midfielder Lee Nguyen (U.S.) and defender Je-Vaughn Watson (New England). Watson would have missed the match anyway after receiving a red card in league play Sunday against Philadelphia.
Vancouver: defenders Tim Parker (U.S. U23s) and Kendall Waston (Costa Rica), forward Blas Perez (Panama), midfielder Christian Bolaños (Costa Rica), goalkeeper Marco Carducci and midfielder Marco Bustos (Canadian U-20s).
Houston: midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia (Honduras) and forward Erick Torres (Mexico U-23s).
Clubs were not obligated to release U-23 players but, as is common in club-country relations, compromises were struck.
FIFA scheduled windows from May 30 to June 7 (non-UEFA countries) and June 3 to 26 (Copa America).
MLS will go dark June 3 through June 17, which encompasses the Copa group stage and two of the four quarterfinals. With six CONCACAF teams participating, the tournament will have a heavy impact on MLS rosters. On June 18-19, MLS will restart with a full 10-match schedule.
There is, however, non-league activity: MLS teams enter the U.S. Open Cup on June 15 in the round of 32. Canadian clubs have domestic cup matches June 1 and 8. (Canada did not qualify for Copa America but several players on Canadian-based MLS teams will report to national teams.)
FIFA booked a window from Aug. 29 through Sept. 6, which will include the final two matchdays for the CONCACAF World Cup semifinal round. During that stretch, MLS scheduled one game on Sept. 1 (NYCFC vs. United), five on Sept. 3 and two on Sept. 7, which is outside the window but, for all practical purposes, is affected.
For the Oct. 3-11 window, when the final round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying begins, MLS will hold four matches (one on the 8th, plus one on the 12th and two on the 13th).
MLS will pause for two weeks early in the playoffs to accommodate the Nov. 7-15 FIFA window.