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It’s time to change international breaks for the better

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Let’s get rid of this long weekend every other month during the European season and respect global soccer.

Syria v Australia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian Playoff: Leg 1 Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images

Currently FIFA schedules out international breaks and tournaments in a haphazard schedule based primarily on what is best for Europe’s top leagues. The primary tournament break is in the summer with international breaks for things like World Cup Qualifying taking up a long weekend every other month (essentially).

In 2018, there is a FIFA break in March (19-27). From June 14 to July 15 there is the World Cup in Russia and December 12 to December 22 is the Club World Cup. This only addresses events at the senior men’s level. Women’s and youth soccer operate on different calendars. That’s only eight weeks of time away from club soccer, a rather light load, and one that is unnecessarily light. Still remaining in 2017 are the week off in November and two weeks in December for the Club World Cup*.

*the Club World Cup is included in this for reasons to be apparent later.

There are a few problems with this structure. Certain leagues in the Southern and Western Hemispheres play during those tournament breaks (World Cup, Euros, Gold Cup, etc.). Also, while FIFA and many European nations take the winter off, some dummies like England do not.

FIFA is already considering longer, but less frequent, international breaks. But they are not taking it far enough. They are not considering unifying the breaks for friendlies and qualification with the major tournaments. They should.

A simple concept would be to have two breaks every year. One in the height of winter and the other in the oppressive heat of summer. Take seven weeks off for competitive international soccer, whether for qualifiers or tournaments, and then give all of soccer two more weeks off from 1st division and international club soccer.

For example this could be from on, or about*, December 20 to February 7. All 1st divisions would not play during this time. It would be reserved for either international qualifiers or tournaments as appropriate. Then, every 1st division starts back up on February 21 (except those in extreme climates where heat or cold would prevent that from safely occurring. Those areas would still have to play league games on weekends, but only those areas.)

Then, the process repeats in the summer on about June 21 June to August 7*. Again there would be a two-week break so all 1st division and international players would rest. Yes, that’s only four weeks of rest that FIFA would mandate.

*Dates are merely conceptual and would obviously be negotiated with powerful clubs and leagues.

This would mean that every league would have 34 weekends available. For most 1st divisions throughout the world, that would mean no midweek games. There are two notable exceptions (England and the United States).

It would also mean that the vast majority of leagues would avoid their harshest weather/climate patterns. A World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere (or Mideast) could be in their cooler times. Yes, some tournaments would be in harsh weather, but those would be for a smaller number of athletes while also being in a reduced number of facilities that could prepare for the events.

Further, it would enable an expansion of the Club World Cup into a multi-week event with more invitees per Confederation (something like 4 from UEFA/CONMEBOL, 2 from AFC/CAF/CONCACAF, 1 from Oceania and 1 from the host nation).

Transfer windows could be matched with these two international breaks. The windows would have less bleed into the professional seasons. A majority of players would be settled into their roles with their new team, because they’d actually have time with their team before games happen.

Furthermore, soccer would improve. One of the reasons that international soccer sucks is because national teams do not practice together. This fixes that.

The non-national team players would get a mix of rest, training and games in early rounds of secondary tournaments (Open Cup, FA Cup, League Cup, etc.). This helps them, as they are rotated into key roles for teams missing their best players, but over a significant period of time so that they can improve.

Finally, soccer writers would get to shift their focus for prolonged periods of time rather than think, “What’s the local angle on this?” In the short term, good writers could explore complex topics over many days as opposed to relax during these dumb weekends in middle of the season.*

*yes, I’m selfish.

Let’s look at MLS. Imagine MLS taking time off for the summer when playing in Dallas, Houston, KC, Atlanta, Orlando, etc. is dumb and filling that time with things like the Gold Cup, Copa America, a massive final two rounds of qualifying and the World Cup.

Imagine a winter when MLS can avoid games in Toronto, Salt Lake, Denver, New England, etc. and instead pay attention to things like Gold Cup/World Cup Qualifying, a Club World Cup run.*

*Imagine me actually deciding to write stories at a normal pace rather than treat international breaks as nap time.

Imagine covering international soccer as if it was a league, rather than a stutter-y debater (I was a stutter-y debater, somehow I still picked up a trophy or two). There would be a pace similar to a mini-league with a lower requirement for stories about “how did we get here?” The general public that loves the national nature of international soccer wouldn’t just get an amuse bouche, but a full seven-course meal.

International soccer could be fixed so rather than interfere with the professional game they would amplify each other synergisticly. The interwoven phases of soccer-football would be glorious. Portions of the game would be able to relax while others are amplified. Every part of the game would get a breather.

As the global game, the international game, expands it is important to allow it the space to succeed both on and off the field. As the professional game becomes more interwoven across borders and climates it is important to give it the gift of focus, rest and weather that permits the best of soccer-football.