Yeah, so I was reading one of the latest media releases from the fine people at the New England Revolution about the club's preseason trip to Austin, Texas this week. I assume this location was selected because it has a much more conducive environment for playing outdoor soccer in February than Foxboro, MA. Call it a hunch.
Now, over the years, you've probably gathered that soccer is an outdoor sport.* As are other sports, like baseball and football. Accordingly, baseball teams do not preseason indoors. Nor do football teams. So why are colder-climate clubs like the New England Revolution (and, I'm sure, the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls) reduced to conducting much of their preseason under a roof?
(*Except when played indoors under different rules, tactics, and a bright orange ball.)
Fortunately, there's a really simple solution to this dilemma. In fact, I think this proposal is a groundbreaking idea on my part. *
(*And I won't even charge for it!)
Here it is: MLS South.
The idea of what I like to call "MLS South" is nearly identical to set up of Major League Baseball's Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. For the duration of the baseball preseason, clubs relocate to the warmer respite of Florida and Arizona. They've been doing this for, like, a hundred years or so. Those baseball people are pretty darn smart.
Under this idea, MLS adopts MLB's approach and onduct their preseason training in Florida from February until First Kick. This allows players to truly show their fitness and sharpness on full-length pitches, breathing clean, unfiltered air. In other words, rookies and newcomers actually get a fair shake to show the technical staff their skills and abilities throughout the entire preseason.
This is pretty critical, especially if you're playing on a tryout contract and time is of the essence. Even this week's Revolution media release acknowledged as much:
"(T)he week training on grass – which concludes with the Revolution’s first preseason match against Austin Aztex FC on Saturday, Feb. 28 – will provide the coaching staff with its first opportunity to truly evaluate the players, especially those fighting for roster spots … head coach Steve Nicol has stated publicly that he wants to wait until the club is training outdoors before judging the players’ abilities."
So basically, the previous 2-3 weeks of the indoor phase of the preseason were for...team bonding?*
(*Please, oh please, don't tell us that it takes weeks to regain fitness. This is freaking 2009. The days of showing up for the preseason out of shape went the way of pet rocks and 8-tracks a long time ago.)
Obviously, an outdoor environment gives more time for overall evaluation, both veterans and rookies alike. It also allows a better gauge of how players perform in real-life conditions, since there is no such thing as a five-a-side indoor MLS club.
Now, part two of idea has to do with the level of competition. In the past, MLS clubs have occasionally played each other. But for the most part, many preseason fixtures list are comprised of a patchwork list of extracirricular opponents from the Carribean, Mexico, Antarctica, and the USL.
While the matches against foreign clubs certainly give an interesting twist to the monotony of two-a-days, MLS clubs are far better off - get this - playing each other. You know, kind of like how MLB, the NFL and the NBA roll during its own preseasons. They actually play each other. I know - pretty mind-blowing stuff.
And what better way to kill both birds with a single stone than to have everybody camp up in a common warm weatherlocale? The model already exists in professional baseball. I think it's worked out pretty well for them. So why not apply the same method to MLS?
So, here's the idea fully explained. Each MLS club has a base of operations in Florida, where the days are so sunny that even a single cloud has the potential to ruin a perfectly good day.* There, all MLS clubs train in the same conditions. Since every club is within driving distance of each other, this also allows MLS clubs quare off against each other, rather than flying out and playing against unfamiliar and often less-than-formidable sides. Plus, this only requires one preseason plane trip for each MLS club, rather than the two or three flights that many clubs partake in to play distant clubs. It's economically-friendly on purpose.
After a couple of weeks of conditioning, a six match preseason schedule against other MLS clubs commences. Then, everyone goes back home, and the regular season starts.
(*Have you ever seen that Southwest Airlines commercial where that chick on the beach comments that, after a single wispy cloud blocks the sun for like five seconds, "hopefully the weather's better tomorrow?" Yeah, that fifteen-second clip is brimming with truth.)
(EDIT: Is my thinking too far outside of the box here? Really?)