So we've reached the middle of what must be the longest week in the year for Toronto FC.
Last Saturday they fielded what was supposed to be their strongest lineup ever (Carlos Ruiz paired with Chad Barrett up front, Jim Brennan replacing Laurent Robert) against what was supposed to be a weakened Chivas team.
We all know how that worked out.
With this Saturday's home game against Chivas falling on the same date as World Cup qualifiers across the globe, TFC figures to enter that match with the weakest (on paper) lineup ever.
Just in case you've lost count, nine guys who dressed for TFC last week will miss this Saturday's game while playing with their national teams:
* Jim Brennan (Canada)
* Greg Sutton (Canada)
*Amado Guevara (Honduras)
* Marvell Wynne (USA)
* Julius James (Trinidad)
* Carl Robinson (Wales)
* Jarrod Smith (New Zealand)
* Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala)
* Tyrone Marshall (Jamaica)
The optimists among you will point out that it could be worse. If Maurice Edu hadn't headed to Rangers TFC would have 10 regulars missing.
Still, there's no getting around the fact that the team practised with just 13 players on Tuesday, and will probably have to sign a few CSL players to short term contracts just to fill out their bench.
Before we go on, we should remember that TFC isn't the only team losing key players this weekend. The L.A. Galaxy, sitting on 25 points and scrambling for a playoff spot, will face Real Salt Lake without Landon Donovan, Ante Jazic, Eddie Lewis and some other guy. And don't forget that most times Canada plays the Houston Dynamo they lose two stars in Dwayne De Rosario and Pat Onstad.
Still, while this round of qualifiers has dented several MLS lineups, it has gutted TFC's, and again raised questions about the league's policy of scheduling games on international match dates.
If I were running the league I'd be a little uneasy this weekend.
At the State of the League address earlier this summer MLS Commissioner Don Garber emphasized that rather than trying to siphon fans away from mainstream sports like baseball and football, the league was happy appealing to the Americans who already follow soccer.
But even those fans need a reason to keep paying attention, and the prospect of watching MLS teams devoid of their biggest stars isn't exactly appealing, especially when the weekend sports schedule presents so many other options. Baseball has begun its critical final month, the NFL kicks off Thursday and NCAA football is already underway, not to mention that anyone can digital cable can now access the Premiership, La Liga and any other European league on any give weekend. Only the hardest hardcore MLS fan chooses star free soccer over all that.
The rest will let their attention wander, and that's never a good thing for a league still finding its niche in the crowded North American sports marketplace.
TFC head coach John Carver has pointed out several times this season that this situation would never occur "back home" -- meaning England. Over there leagues postpone games when either team has more than about three guys gone for national team matches.
As Carver has learned in a number of ways since February, he's not in England anymore.
When Carver contacted the league to request that they postpone Saturday's game, MLS considered his proposal, then declined it.
MLS spokesperson Stephen Rodriguez says in this league, when schedules are determined nine months in advance, it's never as simple as just changing a game date.
Unlike English teams, few MLS clubs own their own stadiums, which means they have little control over stadium scheduling. Switching game dates at the last minute might mean trying to bump other tenants who might have the stadium rented, something that don't work well when you're sharing space with, say, the Jets and the Giants.
Teams at smaller stadium often encounter the same problem.
Rodriguez points out that the Home Depot Center -- home to both the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA -- is on the campus of Cal St. Dominguez Hills University, making it difficult to book midweek games there during the school year.
He also says the broadcast schedules are set out months in advances, and that MLS doesn't have the clout to switch game dates and TV slots on short notice.
"We're not the NFL and we're not the NBA," he says. "A lot of times we have to bend over for broadcasters, and not the other way around."
So will the league's scheduling policy change?
We won't have that answer until we get deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis on the phone, and he wasn't available for comment today.
But with World Cup qualifiers, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and FIFA Confederations Cup all happening in 2009, MLS will have to confront this issue again.
-- Morgan Campbell