Christopher Kamrani: MLS should plan around December
Playing soccer on an ice rink.
Try it sometime. Two of the best teams in Major League Soccer were forced to do so in what is supposed to be the most important and marketable match of a grueling nine-month season. The pitch at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., was, for all intents and purposes, half-frozen during the 2013 MLS Cup final between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City on Dec. 7.
Both teams played on it, a 20-degree-and-falling affair of harsh tackles and slips and one 18-yard box that was riddled with various chunks of ice. Footing was hard to come by.
The match was dramatic, in that players were forced to attempt to play a game designed to be free-flowing and aesthetically pleasing in shivery fashion. Rather players were tasked with anticipating entering the ice rink and figuring out how many steps it would take to track down a defender or dribble the ball upfield.
"It was unbelievable," RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said afterward. "It was completely frozen."
In what was supposed to be the marquee match the year, two teams played a cup final on a frosted tundra. MLS is already a league trying to pry its way into minds of sports fans across the country, and having a final played in that manner will not help the future expansion of the league.
For starters, the final broadcast drew 505,000 viewers per John Ourand, a media reporter for the Sports Business Journal. That is quite bleak, certainly not aided by the below-freezing atmosphere.
SKC can't control the elements, nor can it control a schedule that rolled into the first week of December this season due to various international breaks in preparation for next summer's FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
But MLS has to figure out a way to get the match which should matter most on a field that isn't Antarctica.
Having recently decided to give home-field advantage to the MLS Cup finalist with more regular-season points is one thing, but in a year in which the schedule extends to 18 days before Christmas, that plan won't cut it.
Luckily for the league and fans of MLS, the final wasn't at Rio Tinto Stadium on Dec. 7, when a massive storm socked northern Utah, delivering dumps of snow.
Several resolutions are applicable with fixing this scenario, including assuring the cup final be held in early November, or renting out the sunny StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., which will be an ideal playing surface 97 percent of the time.
Anything to avoid another Ice Cup.