It takes a lot of stamina and skill to play professional soccer. The game itself requires excellent endurance, as players must often run, sprint, walk, jump, and kick for a full 90 minutes during the course of a match. To get to an elite level of play, these athletes must possess determination, talent, and a competitive edge.
But just because these professional players have endurance on the field doesn’t mean they always have it in the air.
The Major Soccer League’s premier franchise, the LA Galaxy, recently spoke out about how exhausting air travel affects their playing ability. The team has stated that flight delays, uncomfortable seating, baggage issues, and crowded planes have had a negative impact on both their flying experience and their subsequent game play.
The grievances from the Galaxy highlight a bigger issue that can be traced back to the parent organization, the Major Soccer League. Within the U.S., MSL is the only professional sports league whose teams do not habitually charter planes for team travel.
Bruce Arena, coach and general manager of the Galaxy, stated that “it’s time for our league to get into the modern days of professional sports.” He further stressed that the numbers show that “travel impacts the competition.” Seeing as road teams won only 19% of MLS games this season, Arena may have a valid point.
While the Galaxy will be required to fly more than 38,000 miles this year alone, MLS teams are limited to only four charter flights per year. To put it in perspective, that 38,000 mile mark is farther than 22 Major League Baseball teams traveled this year — and they did all of their flying via charter.
The MLS has a reason for the limitation: they fear that franchises with access to more money or airline sponsorship deals would be given an unfair advantage. Not only is the league trying to keep a level playing field, but it is trying to avoid extra costs. If MLS was responsible for shouldering the financial burden of chartered flights, in addition to the hotel rooms and buses it already pays for, its annual travel budget could grow by more than $20 million.
But it’s about more than cost and mere inconvenience, according to the players. Not only can flying on a commercial flight be a detriment to the team’s image, but the teams often lose valuable training days as a result. Unlike chartered flights, which can be based on the team’s schedule, commercial flights often cause the team to wait an extra day for their flight. These days can have a big impact on physical recovery and competitive performance.
Both players and managers are embarrassed by the current state of their travel accommodations. While teams on the NHL get chartered first-class flights catered by Whole Foods, the Galaxy is stuck flying on Southwest.
Coach Arena has even asked players to avoid wearing any identifying gear to the airport. Arena says, “I’m embarrassed that we travel that way… I try to keep it as quiet as possible.” Players, for their part, try to keep a low profile on flights, often making up stories about their identities in order to stay off the radar.
While anonymity has become a factor in their air travel, the players are even more concerned about the physical toll flying commercial takes. Numerous stories of injuries resulting from or being exacerbated by long flights back up concerns about overall health and subsequent quality of play.
But until MLS makes a much-needed change to travel rules, the Galaxy’s players will have to continue to daydream of chartered flights.