Red Bulls’ sputtering attack could have used Sacha Kljestan Saturday. (Keith Furman/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)

By Michael Lewis

Front Row Soccer Editor

HARRISON, N.J. — OK, I think the headline works well for the lede of this story:

Memo to MLS: be consistent with all teams.

In other words, when there is a FIFA international date, especially with World Cup qualifying at stake.

Well, Major League Soccer gave 16 teams off, but six had to play Saturday and some missed key players.

The Red Bulls were without their creative midfielder, Sacha Kljestan, who was with the United States for World Cup qualifying games against Honduras (Friday) and Panama (Tuesday), for Saturdays scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena. Likewise for RSL, which was without star goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Yes, the team survived with Matt VanOekel in the net, but that’s not the point.

Interim head coach Daryl Shore should have had the option of starting Rimando.

Of course, in a perfect world, there would have been no game on Saturday.

Hapless Minnesota United played the New England Revolution and suffered 5-2 drubbing as the expansion team played without Kevin Molino, who actually enjoyed a win this month as he proved to be the scoring hero of Trinidad & Tobago’s 1-0 qualifying victory over Panama Friday nigh (quite frankly, you have to remember that Molino is an attacking player and a defender, so his presence wasn’t going to stop Minnesota’s leaky defense).

In the third game, the Columbus Crew edged the Portland Timbers, 3-2.

Regardless of the scores, none of these six teams should have played.

No excuses.

This from a league that wants teams to be on equal footing as much as possible (ie. salary caps).

Looking ahead, there are more similar situations.

Three MLS games are scheduled during the June qualifying block.

During the Sept. 1-5 qualifying, MLS has four games scheduled, with the Red Bulls playing at FC Dallas on Sept. 1 and New York City FC performing at home on Sept. 6, a day after the last qualifier.

It’s too late to rectify this year’s schedule. But the league must find a way to avoid playing games on these dates in the future. Or you schedule all teams during that span. You can’t do things halfway by a league that promotes equality among teams.

If MLS wants to be considered to be among the great soccer leagues of the world, it has to act like one.

The English, Spanish, German and Italians First Divisions would never schedule games on such important international dates.

MLS should follow suit.