A few years ago, when I was writing for another site, I wrote a harpy-esque screed on the evils of mid-season international friendlies for MLS teams.
It has been a few years since then and I still think they tend to be more trouble than they're worth, especially for the coach of the MLS team that is hosting. However, I've come around a bit as well, and it's worth discussing how an international friendly benefits our teams in MLS. Since FC Dallas is about to host an EPL team, let's talk about this one.
Resting Starters Keeps Them Healthy....
The downsides of hosting Stoke City during a well-earned "break" are easy to point out.
FC Dallas is struggling with health issues. Players keep getting injured or are just now recovering, and throwing them to the wolves against a team known for their physicality seems like a terrible idea. The obvious solution to the concern of players like David Ferreira and George John getting reinjured is simple: Rest them.
Don't play them in a match that has zero bearing on our league standing. It's pointless to trot them out to put more minutes on their legs, when they are only now recovering from a tough part of the schedule. Do any of us want to see Matt Hedges or Walker Zimmerman or anyone else pick up a knock because the Potters are incapable of separating kung-fu from soccer? Even the act of running around and sprinting carries risks with it.
... But Hampers Fan Recruitment.
The problem with resting a major portion of our starters is that, if you're trying to attract new fans with these events, filling the roster out with rookie canon-fodder is a recipe for failure. Whatever your opinion is about Stoke, I have trouble believing our reserves could take them. Against our starters in solid form, I believe FCD could put up a good fight, but if half the starting XI is filled with reserves or rookies, it could get ugly and quick. The best case scenario is FCD plays a very unsightly draw.
This seems a small price to pay to keep our stars out of the line of fire, but a side effect of these friendlies is to build interest in the team from those that are interested in MLS, but have never been to a game. If you put out an ugly product on the field, or one that gets shredded by experienced foreigners, what incentive is there for the new fans to come back? The atmosphere is a big (very big) selling point, but there are many people who primarily want quality on the pitch. While MLS won't reach EPL levels anytime soon, giving Stoke a run for their money would go a long ways to convince a few people to give FCD a chance.
Dallas is a city of fair-weather fans (except for the Cowboys) and most people tend to flock to teams that win. Looking ugly against Stoke could do quite a bit of damage to the casual soccer fan's perception of FCD.
As purely anecdotal evidence, I have two cousins who moved from Ecuador, and they wanted to see an MLS game. Being huge soccer fans of their home league, La Liga and Serie A, they were a bit skeptical about MLS quality. They had heard the facilities were nice, but other than that they mostly wanted to see competent soccer. It didn't have to be earth shattering, but their were hoping to see a bit of skill mixed in with all the physicality.
It just so happens that around that time, Inter Milan came to play against FCD, and they were thrilled. Inter came, played a good game, and FCD drew level in front of a raucous crowd. Everyone had a good time and FCD won over two new fans. There are more people like them out there just waiting to be plucked. It's not often a European club plays at FC Dallas Stadium, so it's best to take advantage of it when you can.
A Relaxed Night
You know what though? I believe I'm overthinking this. It's a friendly. Who cares who starts? Have a beer, relax and talk with some friends, and enjoy watching your favorite team play in a pressure-free game for perhaps the boasting rights of beating an EPL team. If you win, great! If you lose, who cares? It's a friendly.
Nights like these are made to be with your friends and take in the unique atmosphere of an MLS game. That's the primary factor behind my change of heart regarding these kinds of matches. Stressing about anything seems to run counter to the point of having them. I've heard that Kellyn Acosta might start the game. It would certainly be a perfect time to get the kids a few minutes against solid competition to whet their appetite and have them train harder. Trial by fire, if you will.
Have fun on Saturday! Relax, drink beer/coke/apple juice and be thankful that our league has come this far in such a short time.
What are your thoughts on friendlies in midseason?