Rather than grouse about fixture congestion, some MLS managers say they are viewing midseason friendlies against European teams in a positive light.FRISCO, Texas — MLS teams playing friendlies against European teams in the midst of the season is nothing new, and the games won't cease anytime soon.
Though the North American clubs are in the middle of a season - and sometimes facing fixture congestion with a number of competitions underway - games against European opposition touring the United States for preseason are too lucrative to pass up.
Fans want to lay eyes on the Premier League stars they watch on television Saturday mornings, marketing divisions want to show a MLS game-day experience to fans who only watch European teams, and club executives want to increase revenue.
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But it forces MLS managers to get creative. After FC Dallas' 2-0 win against New England on Saturday, coach Oscar Pareja's men turn their attention to a midweek friendly against Aston Villa. Then it's another MLS contest Sunday in Vancouver. It's a quick run of three matches for a team that in addition to being hard-hit by injuries during the season is also still alive in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a trophy with added meaning to a club still owned by the family of the late American soccer pioneer.
The manager must weigh putting out a good product out on the field against getting players rest ahead of a crucial stretch.
"We already have a plan for the game," Pareja said of the friendly. "We want some players to have some minutes. We take this with a lot of responsibility since it is a very high-character team that is coming to our town. Our fans, we want them to come and enjoy the game, be proud about our club. So, the approach for that game is professional.
"I think we can do it. We have a game on Sunday, so that buys us a little bit more time to recover, but the standards that these players have put in for themselves are high. They’re now thinking about Wednesday, and I like that."
While Pareja may want some players to recuperate after Saturday's match, many expressed an eager attitude toward playing English opposition.
"Playing against an EPL team is a great experience for all of us. Everybody grew up watching the EPL, so it’s cool to get a chance to play against those guys," said rookie FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele, who scored the second goal and was named Man of the Match in Saturday's triumph.
Fellow goalscorer Andres Escobar echoed his enthusiam. "The game Wednesday is very important also," Escobar said. "It’s a very difficult opponent, but we have to go out to the field and do things well."
It was the same story in Seattle, where the Sounders drew with Tottenham by a 3-3 scoreline Saturday. Manager Sigi Schmid was able to use the match both to get playing time for strikers Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, whose time together has been limited by international and injury absences, but also to give some of the squad's depth players an opportunity to play in a match with a big-game vibe.
"Everything was about preparation. We wanted to make sure we got minutes and our rhythm, and we kept playing. It was good for Oba and Clint [Dempsey] to get some time together in the first half. We got the minutes we needed from the starters and the fitness," Schmid said in his post-match news conference.
And though it was a friendly, Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin said the team will still be able to learn and improve from the experience.
"Any game you can learn from," he told reporters. "We take the mistakes we learn from this game to help for the next game. We also take the mistakes from this game and build on them. Any game is a learning opportunity, whether it is a friendly or regular game. You just have to build on your weaknesses and keep building on your strengths."
With the Sounders atop the Western Conference, and FC Dallas a spot behind, Schmid and Pareja will hope their respective sides' rhythms are enhanced rather than upset by the experience. It's really the only option they have, because the friendly matches are here to stay.