So the Montreal Impact won and D.C. United lost in CONCACAF Champions League play last night, and the usual excuses are being trotted out — MLS teams lack depth, schedules are too congested, etc. — like so many show dogs at Westminster.
Isolationism is a foreign policy which combines a non-interventionist military policy and a political policy of economic nationalism (protectionism). In other words, it asserts both of the following:
1. Non-interventionism – Political rulers should avoid entangling alliances with other nations and avoid all wars not related to direct territorial self-defense.
2. Protectionism – There should be legal barriers to control trade and cultural exchange with people in other states.
Dan Loney suggests this idea in this post at BigSoccer.com, which details MLS commissioner Don Garber’s stubborn refusal to adhere to FIFA breaks and the international calendar. Here are some key quotes from Garber:
There are 13 weekends affected by international play and we have a 30 week season. To not play on those dates is impossible….
We can go to ESPN and have them double their rights fee and go to Chicago Fire fans and have them sell out every game so that our revenue changes and then you can expand your roster. But the reality is we’re still a business that’s developing. The need to beat teams in the Champions League isn’t enough to reconfigure our entire business model.
The business model of MLS is one that clearly wishes to avoid entangling alliances with other nations, save for when those alliances are necessary to preserve the model and allow it to flourish. Garber seems quite content to ignore fan demands to align MLS with the international schedule, because… well, it’s not keeping fans out of the stands is it? Writes Loney:
The Saturday game where Toronto had to suit up Rick Titus? 19,863 announced attendance. That Beckham-Blanco game ESPN advertised that had neither? Sell out.
And the premise, once again, is that Major League Soccer should leave money – a LOT of money – on the table, so that quality of play doesn’t suffer. But until the money the league makes is linked to quality of play, that premise is going to be met with…well, read what Garber said. Polite dismissal.
Loney further posits:
The business model fails on the field once in a while, but it hasn’t actually failed as a business model. It would be interesting to see how many New England season ticket holders fail to renew as a result of the Joe Public debacle. As a rough estimate, I’d say mid-to-high single digits.
Indeed. Isolationism works for MLS because the supporters buy into the policy. Just like it is with the NFL, where all that matters at the end of the season is who lifts the Lombardi Trophy, MLS clubs are focused on winning MLS Cup because the business model demands it.
Roger Goodell, however, doesn’t have to worry about keeping his league in line with the rest of the world. Perhaps the only reason MLS clubs even play in the CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup is to allow MLS to maintain its status as the top-flight football league in America. The contempt with which Garber’s MLS clearly treats these tournaments is reflected in their play. How many starters did D.C. United bench last night to keep them healthy for a weekend matchup with Chivas USA? And yet the general reaction of D.C.U. fans seems to be, hey, why should we concern themselves with these international affairs? We have to get to the playoffs!
So instead real international challenges, we get made-for-profit events like SuperLiga and the Pan-Pacific Championship which allow MLS to feign interest in international play but force clubs in other countries to abide by its terms. When CONCACAF asks MLS to enter the war, however, the league shrugs its shoulders and sighs its collective, “Yeah, whatever.” This is an anathema to the way football works in the rest of the world. Imagine if the Premier League closed itself off from the rest of Europe and played reserve sides in UEFA competitions out of mere necessity. (Strangely enough, some folks involved with the Premier League seem quite comfortable with that concept.)
Ultimately, MLS can only keep itself isolated from the rest of the world for so long. This is the world’s game, after all, and you can’t keep the rest of the world at bay forever. Perhaps new owners will demand that Garber loosen the league’s trade restraints. Perhaps a metaphorical Pearl Harbor, like a USL club lifting a Champions League trophy — and really, does it seem all that far-fetched right now? — will force this league to join the fray in earnest. Until then, though, we can all expect MLS to be quite content with staying within its own borders. International embarrassment is meaningless here, so long as the business model keeps working at home.