With arrival of David Beckham, MLS has taken on a higher profile in world football. However in many ways this season has been one to forget thus far for the league as it tries to find its niche within the American sports landscape, and its place in world football.
MLS had counted on a competitive Los Angeles franchise welcoming David Beckham and making a strong push for the MLS Cup title. But quite honestly at this point in the season it is obvious that David Beckham will need to return to his Manchester United form circa 1999 for L.A, to even sniff the postseason. MLS also had two good chances to place a team in the finals of a major club competition for the first time since the league’s quality began to decline in the early part of this decade but both Houston and DC United fell just short losing dramatic semifinal matches in the CONCACAF Champions Cup to Mexican clubs. MLS has also this season accumulated a less than flattering record versus second and third division clubs from USL in the US Open Cup. At this rate, next year an MLS club will lose to a pub team in the competition.
Attendance is also a concern. Despite contracting two teams following the 2001 season, the league’s efforts at consistent crowd building seem to have fallen flat to this point. Sure Beckham will help, but will any bump in fan interest last? And if the fan interest wanes after a month or two of Beckham does the league have a plan B? League attendance now is no different than ten years ago, despite numerous efforts to cement MLS in the local sports landscape in each league market.
Despite these negatives, the quality of play in the league is higher than the past few seasons but still a ways off from the high quality period of 1998 thru 2000 which had me believing MLS could actually become a “major” league in world football. Some new additions to the league have made a positive impact. Columbian Juan Toja signed this year by FC Dallas, at the age of 21 has the potential to be one of best player to ever play in this league. A veteran of the Columbian U-20 team, FC Dallas somehow nabbed him before a big European club signed him. Luciano Emilio and Fred have been big impact Brazilians for DC United and the very well respected Guillermo Baros Schelotto has elected to end his career in MLS and has helped turn Columbus into a contender. In addition, the return to San Jose in 2008 and the start of Superliga are good signs for the future of the league.
My Midseason Awards:
Best Player: Juan Toja, FC Dallas
Best Coach: Dom Kinnear, Houston
Best Attacker: Luciano Emilio, DC United
Best “Beckham Rule” signing: Juan Pablo Angel, Red Bull NY
Worst “Beckham Rule” signing: Claudio Reyna, Red Bull NY
Overachievers: Kansas City Wizards
Underachievers: Chicago Fire
Best Fans: Toronto FC