Few Canadian-based sports stars are as worldly as Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley.
Bookended by stops in North America, his career has taken him to the Netherlands, Germany, England and Italy.
In each new country, Bradley made major efforts to acclimate to the local culture. He now speaks five languages (including the Spanish he learned at school). Despite currently working so near his native country, he is a year-round resident of Toronto.
He brings to mind the way in which a colleague once described the unusual cosmopolitanism of a mutual acquaintance: "He's the only American sportswriter I know who doesn't get off a plane and go looking for the nearest McDonald's."
Michael Bradley: not a McDonald's person.
So when Bradley thinks there's something wrong with the way they do soccer in this corner of the globe, it's worth thinking about.
For instance, Major League Soccer's North American-style playoff system. He's not a fan.
Bradley's not alone in that. Just about everyone agrees the current system is unwieldy, takes far too long and could use (another) overhaul.
But Bradley isn't talking about tweaks. He's talking about burning the whole thing down.
"In my perfect world, there wouldn't be playoffs," Bradley said this week. "For me, we need to get things in line with the rest of the world and have a single table, play everybody twice and at the end of the year, the team with the most points is the champion. That's how everybody else does it and I think it's the best way."
That would be a seismic alteration, but MLS has had a few of those already.
Since its birth a quarter-century ago, the league has been the odd child of world soccer. Around the outset, it put a clumsy American spin on the game in the hopes of winning over a soccer-agnostic public – ending all tied games in shootouts, running a game clock that counted down instead of up, establishing a unique spring-to-winter schedule, giving teams Disney-fied names such as the Kansas City Wiz.
The league's carnival approach made it a punchline around the world. Nobody wanted to watch what often seemed like Battle of the Network Stars, featuring people you'd never heard of.
So MLS began hauling itself back toward global norms.
It harmonized the rules, insisted everyone build soccer-specific stadiums and changed club names to sound more European. MLS even offered to adopt the same summer-to-spring schedule as everyone else if the United States was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup.
The pace of progress has slowed recently as MLS focuses on expansion.
But Bradley's right – it's time to begin thinking more about how you play than where you play. We often call sports seasons 'campaigns'. MLS's would be Napoleon's retreat from Russia – an interminable trudge.
Camps open in January. The first game is played in March. The final goes off in December. They only bring the shutters down for a collective-agreement-mandated six-week holiday over Christmas.
Soccer is good for you. But like any diet, media consumption requires all the major food groups. You can't just eat soccer all year long. Nonetheless, MLS keeps jamming a spoon in your mouth.
The postseason is the most egregious example of this sprawl. It goes on for nearly two months, during which very little happens.
If Toronto advances on Wednesday to the final, the team will have played only five playoff games over that time. The gap between the end of its second knockout round and the beginning of the third was 16 days. Sixteen! Baseball can wedge two seven-game series into that span.
When they do manage to stage a game, it's often mid-week so as not to step on the broadcast toes of the NFL and NCAA football. Everything about this arrangement screams second tier.
Usually, this issue is framed in terms of the players and how they adapt to so much downtime. But that's not the problem. The problem is a system purpose-designed to divert the attention of casual fans away from your league. If people wanted to watch something that never ends, German opera would be more popular.
Everybody's got a suggestion about how to improve this, so the league tries to pretend it's listening.
Last year's final was held on Dec. 10. They avoided an epic Toronto snowstorm by only a few hours. Chastened, MLS resolved to finish up earlier. This year, the final will be played on Dec. 9.
At this rate, they'll have it back to a reasonable date by the turn of the next century, when the weather won't matter since all sports will be played in underground bunkers.
This sort of fiddling is pointless. It's past time for MLS to finally leave its awkward teenage American phase and become an adult citizen of global soccer. Per Bradley's suggestion, it needs to dump the playoffs altogether.
It will cost owners money in the short term, but it will provide in the long term what many leagues have lost sight of – the value of scarcity.
There's a reason people stop what they're doing for the World Cup or Wimbledon or the Masters. It's because there aren't many of them going around. They're special, limited-time offers. That creates a mystique, which in turn drives interest and revenue.
(The NFL used to understand this, but, in its greed, has forgotten. The result is football being played nearly every night of the week to a steadily eroding audience.)
As it stands, nothing about MLS is special and so relatively few people are willing to pay a premium in time and/or money to get some.
You'll find the league in the bargain bin of sports – overstocked, out of touch with the market and always available at a discounted price.