If Jurgen Klinsmann had his way, there would be a full compliment of first-choice players at this week's United States national team training camp. Instead, Klinsmann's squad is missing most of the MLS contingent, including cornerstones Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley.
The culprit is MLS's refusal to abide by FIFA dates, and it sounds like this could become a more contentious issue as it persists.
"Our biggest wish going forward is that MLS takes time off at the FIFA fixture dates because it's a lose-lose for both sides when that happens,"Klinsmann told reporters.
Klinsmann's frustrations are understandable. More than 30 MLS players were taken away from their club teams this week, some of them to play in competitive matches like the Copa CentroAmericana, but mostly to play in friendlies that give teams an opportunity to work together. After getting pushback from club coaches, the only MLS player Klinsmann called in was Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
It may be a perfect time to give some of those players a break -- the USMNT won't have any competitive matches until next summer -- but building the American program is already hard enough without having to work around club schedules like this.
But the solution isn't as easy as Klinsmann seems to think, either. Klinsmann apparently suggested extending the schedule earlier in the year and wrapping up earlier as well. While it's possible MLS could someday figure out a way to be done before the Nov. 9-17 window, there's no way they could be finished before Oct. 5-13 window. And the reality is that any changes as significant as ending the season three weeks earlier is not going to happen as soon as 2015 anyway.
That leaves MLS with trying to figure out how to schedule around international dates, something it has been reluctant to do aside from the World Cup. There seems to be at least some level of compromise available here, though.
If MLS plays through the March 23-31 FIFA date next year, that shouldn't be a huge problem as the season is only getting started and losing a handful of players shouldn't be a huge problem. But the league should go dark for the June 8-16 window and for at least part of the Gold Cup from July 7-26. The dates that are going to take some real compromise are the Aug. 31-Sept. 8, Oct. 5-13 and Nov. 9-17 dates.
MLS needs to figure out a way to take off the October date and hopefully Klinsmann can agree not to call in players whose teams are in the playoffs from the November date. That leaves the August-September date, which might just have to be a similar situation to this current window. The unfortunate reality is there are no simple solutions.