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Africa Cup of Nations shift to June/July a potential challenge for MLS

A change that will allow English Premier League and other European soccer managers to breathe a sigh of relief could create a challenge for MLS coaches.

The Confederation of African Football announced Thursday a decision to move the Africa Cup of Nations to the summer starting in 2019 and to expand the tournament’s field from 16 to 24 teams.

The 2017 iteration of the tournament ran Jan. 14 through Feb. 5.

Under the old format, MLS managers didn’t have to do much in-season to accommodate for the absence of Africa Cup of Nations competitors.

Crew defenders Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah, for example, missed nearly all of the Crew’s preseason representing Ghana at the 2017 tournament (Ghana finished fourth) but were in the starting lineup opening day against the Chicago Fire.

”That wouldn’t be ideal,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. ”I guess they do it in years they don’t have the World Cup, but it’s not ideal.”

Crew SC has three players — Afful, Mensah and midfielder Mohammed Abu — who have seen at least some action for Ghana this year.

A fourth, rookie Lalas Abubakar, certainly would like to get on the Ghanaian national team’s radar in the future, and Thursday was at least a start.

Ghana national team coach James Kwesi Appiah was in attendance at Crew SC practice.

A June-July schedule means some of the expected absence of AFCON participants from MLS would take place during the Gold Cup break, providing some relief but creating interesting roster management scenarios for MLS coaches.

”I think it’s gonna help a lot (in general) but with our club it’s not gonna help because we still play during the summer and it’s going to be tough for the team, for the country because it’s going to come up to a decision,” Mensah said.

”Although the date is going to favor a majority of the people, I don’t really think it’s gonna help the MLS. Looking at Columbus Crew, let’s say we go three or four Ghanaians and if they were to call up all of us, it’s gonna be tough. As I said, it would come back to decision-making and we’ll see how it goes.”

By Andrew Erickson (The Columbus Dispatch)

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