The win: St. Louis City SC made history Sunday night, emerging victorious versus Tacoma Defiance with a score of two goals to one in the first ever MLS Next Pro Western Conference final. Fans in St. Louis were thrilled with the team’s two home playoff victories, which were the first for the gateway city’s soccer clubs since 2009. Immediately following, twitter came alive with celebrations and game time guesses for the final in order to plan an away day. Fans didn’t have to wait long. MLS Next Pro took to Twitter with the announcement at 10:08 PM following the game.
Changes: Unfortunately for STL fans, the league made another announcement two mornings later at 8:30 AM. The final would be changed from 5:30 PM ET to 1:30 PM ET. The first reaction from fans was disappointment at the difficulty, or for many impossibility, of making the 7 hour trip in time for the game. Then, fans began wondering why the time changed. One option was to avoid having a game at the same time as the 4PM (away) Ohio State football game on the same day. Another uglier option is that moving the game time allowed Columbus Crew players to make the MLS Next Pro Final and also play the MLS regular season game in Orlando the following day at 1:30 PM ET. Despite requests from Flyover Footy, the league remained silent on the reasons for the change.
Proof?: After much postulating, a breakthrough was made by Santiago Beltran of Lider Sports and Flyover Footy in media availability for St. Louis City SC. As you can hear in the video below, Coach Hackworth seems to confirm that the game time was changed in order to allow Columbus to use a couple of their top players in the Final, as well as travel with the first team to Orlando. He says, “In fact, you guys can figure it out. They moved the final time so that two of those guys can play on Saturday and play with the first team on Sunday.”
Defense: While this decision does affect the competitive advantage of the league final, it doesn’t change the team that got the Capys here. Jacen Russell-Rowe and Mohamed Farsi are the two players that will likely dress for the final and the Orlando City games. They have played 19 and 18 games respectively and more minutes than many St. Louis City 2 players of MLS quality and signing.
Opinion: Emotion, professionalism, and away day disappointment aside, this decision is a declaration of intent from the league. MLS Next Pro made some rules in the first season that were surprising for those thinking the league is meant to be merely for reservists and academy kids. Each team needs 24 pro players, only 5 MLS Next academy players can be on the field at once, and there is no age limit or salary cap. There have also been rumors of MLS Next Pro moving into cities that previously would have been expected to be claimed by the USL. In a recent interview on Flyover Footy with MLS Next Pro President, Charles Altchek, he declared intentions to have around 10 independent teams in the league by 2026 for the world cup.
MLS Next Pro choosing to accommodate the desires of an MLS team and their own self interests by ensuring their golden boot winner can play in the league final isn’t the sort of move that would make an independent team want to join the league. It sends a message that the league is biased or required to cater to its senior teams/league, and that independent teams, or in this case teams that don’t have an active senior MLS team, are second class. In other words, the league has deemed their final as less important than an MLS regular season game, which is fine if you’re a reserve league. -PG
Flyover Footy has been covering St. Louis soccer for 6 years. Subscribe to this feed to hear podcast episodes about Saint Louis FC, St. Louis City SC, college soccer, academy programs, and amateur/semi-pro soccer in the area. Be sure to follow the show on twitter @FlyoverFooty.
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