We often turn our laser focus to international duty and the fact that MLS often plays during FIFA windows — and rightly so. That's something that sees the best teams' squads depleted, and RSL is often hit by that very thing.
This is partly because, no matter the magnitude of the match in question, Real Salt Lake is obligated to release players for international duty. That applied as of August 2014. So unless a player is injured, they're gone, unless the national team is actively working with the team to meet some need or desire.
With the Gold Cup coming around once again for its nearly-month-long stay, we have to start to wonder, though — how many international games is too many?
Let's take a look at the FIFA calendar and what windows have will affect and have affected RSL in 2015.
March 23 - March 31
June 8 - June 16: Official or friendly matches
July 7 - July 26: CONCACAF Gold Cup
August 31 - September 8: Official or friendly matches
October 5 - October 13: Official or friendly matches
November 9 - November 17: Official or friendly matches
This doesn't even touch on matches organized outside of those FIFA windows, so let's look at the U.S. for that one.
April 15: US vs. Mexico
June 5: US vs. Netherlands
July 3: US vs. Guatemala
That doesn't even start to touch on dates for youth teams, particularly with the Toulon Tournament for the U-23s and other such matches. Let's look at those outside of the FIFA windows, too.
April 22: US U-23s vs. Mexico
May 27: US U-23s vs. France
May 29: US U-23s vs. Netherlands
And hey, let's look at the U-20s, too, although this is a genuine FIFA window, as it's for a FIFA tournament.
May 30 - June 20: FIFA U-20 World Cup
As we look at these dates, we can see a fairly big chunk of time taken up by international dates. Some of those dates are less disruptive than others — the U-20 World Cup being the big one here — but they all play a role.
Sixty-four days of international windows and Gold Cup action for senior matches. There's more if you count U-23s and U-20s. That's 17 percent of the year right there, and those are all match dates that FIFA's mandating. Throw in those other three matches, and we'll add two days to the beginning and end for a seven-day period. You have 15 additional days, so that's 79 days of potential international duty. That's 21 percent of the year. And that's of the total year, with the offseason — a necessity — included.
So — let's take our season, which is 277 days long (or thereabouts) for the two teams that make the MLS Cup final and 234 days long for those that don't make the playoffs. Those 79 potential days of international duty really start to eat up the season. That's nearly 30 percent of the potential match days for finalists that would be taken away in 2015, and 34 percent for those that don't make the playoffs.
Throw in the fact that not every team in MLS will have as many players taken away as Real Salt Lake — who don't even have that many, to be honest — and you're left with a league that probably can't afford to take international breaks off. Now, there are certainly some things MLS can do to mitigate the problems — like bye weeks early in the season without an accompanying FIFA date instead of taking of those dates — but there's no easy answer.
Maybe MLS shouldn't be playing during international dates, but with the glut of international matches that they're tasking with coordinating around, it's easy to see why they don't.