Tomorrow’s Union match (5pm, PPL Park) is not a league game, but what’s known as an “International Friendly”, which may require a little explanation for those of you new to the MLS soccer. Like basketball, baseball and ice hockey, the Union’s regular season is interrupted by an all-star game (which was actually played at PPL Park last season). But since soccer is such a world-wide sporting phenomena, there is a close relationship within the international soccer establishment that occasionally inserts other breaks into the Union’s regular season in the form of exhibition matches. Before we go into that, though, more on that special relationship within the general soccer realm, which takes two forms.
First, player contracts are sometimes moved between a league like the MLS and a player’s national team, or another league. Players themselves sometimes jump from league to league, depending on their skill level, geographical desires or national heritage.
The second aspect of this relationship involves the interplay between teams and leagues. There are multiple opportunities for clubs from different parts of the world to interact, often through championship tournaments, but also through so-called “friendly” matches, which don’t count toward any league standing or tournament trophy, but serve as tune-ups for the teams and a chance to pit squads against unfamiliar players and coaching tactics.
For the MLS, it’s also a way to add wider appeal by drawing fans of international “football” who may not be yet following the MLS. The upside is that once these fans of, say, the English Premiere League get a look at the MLS they often find the level of play appealing and come back for more. The downside is that the visiting international teams are usually in their training period prior to the start of their actual professional seasons and so their best players may only part if any of the contest.
Saturday’s match-up with Mexico City’s Pumas club is perhaps a little less sexy than, say, Liverpool or Manchester United, but Pumas has traditionally been a great development center for players who eventually graduate to some of the best teams in the world, so the quality of soccer has a chance to be pretty good.
Then, it’s back to league play and games that count in the MLS standings the following weekend.