Houston Dynamo fans against the Philadelphia Union
David Beckham reported back to preseason training yesterday for LA Galaxy, while star strikers Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane were absent as they continue to play in the EPL for Everton and Aston Villa respectively. With the 2012 Major League Soccer season scheduled to start in March and interest in the sport continuing to grow here at home, things look rosy for all U. S soccer fans.
J.D Krug wrote a fascinating piece in yesterday’s Bleacher Report titled 10 Things Europeans Don’t Know About American Soccer and Juan Carlos Salas recently did a feature on MLS: 10 Things It Does Better Than the Premier League, which highlight just how far the MLS has come. So is it fair to start thinking about the soccer in America being the equal to its European counterparts or perhaps even better? Is the MLS now one of the best soccer leagues in the world?
While I’m all for supporting the MLS and encouraging the growth of soccer across the nation, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. European soccer fans probably don’t know a lot more than 10 things about the MLS.
While they may be missing out on a lot of good things happening in the game here, they have very little interest apart from reading about their favorite old boys such as Thierry Henry or Torsten Frings. As for 10 things the MLS does better than the English Premiership...well that’s like saying Van Halen with Sammy Hagar was better than the lineup with Dave Lee Roth.
The MLS isn't that bad, though, and with a few changes, I believe soccer fans across the planet will soon know everything there is about American Soccer. Here is my list of 10 changes that will put the MLS up there with the EPL and La Liga.
New York Red Bulls v Los Angeles Galaxy
Summer is for going to the beach, baseball games and ice hockey's Stanley Cup. Summer is also for World Cups and the NBA finals. Not a full domestic soccer league program.
All the major European leagues, such as the Bundesliga, the ELP, La Liga and Serie A, kick off the season at the end of summer/early fall. If you want to create interest across Europe, play the same time as the Europeans do. The argument that it would clash with the NFL and no one would be interested is lost when you compare it to all the sports it already has to go up head-to-head against and continues to gather ground on all of them.
Even FIFA has criticized Major League Soccer for its out of step calendar.
Toronto FC v Philadelphia Union
Why do we need two conferences? Why not have one league of 19 or 20 teams who play against each other only twice per season? Once at home and once away? Again, this is how they do it in Europe. It would seem a better template for an interesting season than going to watch the same two teams play against each other half a dozen times a season. Save that for baseball.
One league of 19 or 20 teams would also make the MLS more competitive. After each team has played 36 or 38 games for the season, the champions are crowned. MLS commissioner Don Garber is aware of the criticism regarding the format, though as yet, nothing has been done.
Seattle Sounders FC v Chivas USA
Another thing that would make the MLS more competitive is introducing relegation. Going to watch a team who has nothing to play for all season long is a real passion killer, unless you just fancy a day out and some cotton candy on a stick.
While fans of the Redskins, Nationals and Wizards (sorry to pick on you Washington) may be happy that their team will still be around for another season, how much fun is it to invest your time, pay your money and then have to sit there and suffer as your team loses again? The only thing some fans have to look forward to the whole season is hoping they get a good draft pick next season (more on the draft later). Relegation would force teams to compete and give the fans something to care about.
FC Dallas v San Jose Earthquakes
Playoffs? Don't talk to me about the playoffs!
Seriously, don’t. Get rid of them.
They are fun when it comes to the NFL but in soccer, they do not work. They drag the season out and the quality is usually second rate. Save the penalty shootouts for games that really matter, like the World Cup Finals!
Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders
“Okay,” I hear you say. You like the idea of one league and relegation, replacing two teams a season with expansion teams or something like that, but, “What about all those teams in the middle of the league who can’t win the title and are safe from the drop?”
Apply to join the Copa Libertadores. Reward the top three teams with places in the South American Champions League. This would not only bring the best South American teams to these shores but would bring them here to play competitive games. The one game of the season that some MLS fans enjoy the most is seeing a second-string Manchester United stroll around in the sun, against their boys, during a meaningless friendly. Which Manchester United ultimately go on to win 6 -0. Nonsense.
Good meaty tackles and goals of value are what we want. While we are here, why not leave CONCACAF all together and join South America? Playing against Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina for a qualifying place in the World Cup would be a better test and spectacle that routinely beating Jamaica, Costa Rica and Canada. (No disrespect intended but we are talking about the possibility of playing countries currently ranked 4th, 6th and 10th by FIFA on a regular basis, as opposed to playing teams ranked 52nd, 62nd and 74th. U.S are currently ranked 33rd)
More meaningful games at both the domestic and international level can only be good for the game across the States.
Portland Timbers v D.C. United
No Games when the National Team is playing
Fielding a weakened team due to injury is one thing, but putting out an eleven that is missing star players because they are on international duty is another. Stop it.
When the national team is playing, no domestic games should be played. Again, if we look to Europe, this is how they do it. How would Barcelona look with its staring XI missing because they were all playing somewhere else? Not too bad, actually, but playing games with so many players missing in the MLS is not good for the MLS as a competition.
It also divides fans: do they want to go and watch the National Team and cheer on their favorite players representing their country, or do they want to go and see their local team and cheer on the replacements?
New England Revolution v Toronto FC
Stop Signing Fading Stars
Have you ever been to one of those reunion tour concerts where your favorite rock band from 20 years ago get back together again and play all their old hits? It seems like a great chance to go and see them rock out, but it's at some huge venue with terrible acoustics and parking. The beer is super expensive, the line to the bathroom is ridiculous and the place is full of kids who don’t really understand what the music is truly about. The band does play all the songs you know but somehow it’s just not the same. They don’t have the energy or drive to perform like they did back in the day. It’s not bad and you’re glad you went but as you sit for 45 minutes in the parking lot waiting for the traffic to move you think how great it would have been to see them in their prime and how you wish someone new would come along and excited you like never before. A local band, one that has emerging talent and can electrify a whole stadium.
Now, that is something you feel you’d much rather go and see, if only management would invest their money and take a chance rather that importing another old has-been.
Columbus Crew v Colorado Rapids
Scrap the Draft
Why not let teams sign who they want? Or if they have a great squad, not sign anyone at all? Why not let teams develop their own academies or schools of excellent? Teams could recruit the best of the local talent and nurture them, the way Barcelona or Manchester United do.
Eliminating the draft would also stop teams playing for the draft. The draft seems to force teams into making picks and spending vast amounts of dollars on players who don’t always work out (we only have to look at the NFL for a number of bad examples). This money would be better spent at the local grassroots level.
Chicago Fire v Los Angeles Gala
Drop the Cap
Can you imagine Chelsea, Manchester City or Real Madrid being told that they can’t have all the top players they want because they are restricted on what they are allowed to pay them? That the cap on wages is done to make the game a bit fairer for everyone else.
These teams with rich chairmen don’t want other teams to be as good as them; they want to be the best. It’s their money, let them spend it. If an oil tycoon wanted to come in and buy an MLS team, with the promise of spending money on bringing in the best players from around the world to the U.S, would it be good for the game to tell him or her that they couldn’t because we have a salary cap?
And if the MLS is dominated by one team for a few seasons, is that really such a bad thing? Most chairmen and women have massive egos; if one chairperson was at the top all the time it wouldn’t be long before another gets upset about it and tries to upstage that person. Dropping the cap can only be a good thing.
Colorado Rapids v Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Bayern Munich may not be everyone’s favorite teams but people have heard of them because they are winners. Across Europe, sports fans know the Yankees, the Lakers and the Bulls because they are or have been winners.
Until the MLS starts producing teams that can compete with the rest of the world and go aboard and beat them, Major League Soccer will continue to fly under the radar for even the most enthusiastic soccer fan, both here and in Europe.
Los Angeles Galaxy v Houston Dynamo
Major League Soccer is here to stay but now it’s all about how it moves forward. Does it really want to be up there with the best or does it just want to settle for hanging around? Does it want to rock the soccer world and turn the volume up to 11 or does it just want to release another re-issued, re-mastered, greatest hits package?
If we want to play with the best, then we need to compete against the best. Developing the game from the grassroots up and the breaking of restrictive practices will help the MLS turn things around. The MLS produces good players but they want to compete it Europe and play with and against the best.
Soccer is the greatest game in the world and we should play a bigger part in it. Hopefully soon the world will know more than 10 things about the MLS, maybe soon the world will recognize the MLS as being one of the best.