We can’t be too surprised by this report:
We can get a good laugh over John Herdman’s complaint about players getting too many games on artificial turf when they’ll be playing the Cup on the fake stuff (hopefully better fake stuff than in most NWSL facilities), but the fact is we’re looking at a difficult scheduling question here. The World Cup runs from June 6 to July 5. Women’s national teams are even more insistent than men’s national teams when it comes to getting their players together ahead of a major competition.
So are we looking at an NWSL season in which the national team players will miss half the games? Yes.
So what do we do about it?
Option 1: Just deal with it and play a season in which the best players aren’t around most of the time.
Option 2: Forget player loans, both incoming and outgoing. Extend the season into September and maybe October. Loans out to Australia or in from Europe won’t be practical any more, which will limit the player pool a bit, but the league could take a bit of a break for the Cup and still play a significant number of games.
Option 3: A split season. (I did say “offbeat,” didn’t I?) Here’s how it works:
First of all, with all apologies to the Algarve Cup, the league can’t put everything on hold so you get full representation from the USA in World Cup years. The NWSL season starts in early March. The first half of the season runs 8-9 weeks, with all the national team players on board. If the league is up to 10 teams in 2015, then that’s time to play each other team once.
The top team in the first half of the season is automatically seeded into the playoffs.
The second half, without the World Cup-bound players, is a new season of sorts. Once again, play 9-10 games over 8-9 weeks. And the top team in the second half is automatically seeded into the playoffs.
In mid-July, once everyone has taken a one-week breather from the Cup, we return to NWSL play. Two teams have qualified for the playoffs. The other eight try to qualify. Split into two four-team brackets — probably two-leg aggregate series, with the team with the best overall record hosting the second leg. (Even better: the Page playoff system I’ve long sought for MLS, giving significant advantages for top seeds while giving most teams at least one home game.)
The disadvantage for the top two teams is that they’ll be sitting idle while all this is going on. Why not spend that time having an international tournament? Invite the Champions League winner and Japanese champion for a four-team tournament.
So by August 10 or so, we would have four teams ready for the NWSL playoffs: The winner from each season, and the winner from each four-team bracket. Wrap it up by Sept. 1 so players can go out on offseason loans. And the USSF could still do its revenue-friendly “Victory Tour” from September to November in which they’ll examine the player pool for the Olym– … yeah, I nearly said that with a straight face. In reality, of course, they’ll send the Olympic players around to play easy friendlies and sign autographs. It’s easy for us to laugh, but it makes money from women’s soccer, and the sport can’t afford to pass that up.
Too complicated? Too whimsical? Too sensible to happen in real life? What do you think?