Defensive Posture Hurting MLS Playoffs
Must see TV has turned into a bore fest courtesy of Major League Soccer. The last several weeks of the regular season were high flying as many of the teams were going for broke thanks to MLS’ playoff system which unlike European Football gives teams the opportunity to save their season even after months of subpar play.
However this excitement has turned into dull, lifeless football in the playoffs. Kansas City were the worst offenders essentially parking a bus in front of goal Saturday Night to preserve a 1-0 aggregate victory over Chivas USA. New England and New York played a series which was lifeless, boring and sadly indicative of the type of football both teams play. I’m a fan of Steve Nicol (but not of his Liverpool roots) but I find myself rooting against his New England side this year unlike past years because it just seems like the team has gone having lots of energy and excitement to being an annoying hanger on. Perhaps that’s because Clint Dempsey is not around anymore, or perhaps because we are all tired of seeing the same core of players” Ralston, Twellman, Joseph, Heaps, Noonan, etc every season. Part of my thinking is I wanted Nicol to win a title and now that he has a US Open Cup, we don’t need to see the Revolution in the MLS Cup final for the fourth time in six seasons.
Chicago has injected some life in these playoffs. ESPN seems to be riding the Fire all the way thanks to the Blanco effect and simply because Chicago seems to be entertaining. Losing DC United from these playoffs early is blow to MLS: matching up Chicago and DC United two of three teams that could realistically win the title in the first round was a terrible blow, but at least it produced two very entertaining games on national TV. But Juan Carlos Osorio’s brand I am familiar with due to his time assisting Kevin Keagan and Stuart Pearce at Manchester City. Despite the thrills the matches against DC United provided, Osorio is simply a more tactically savvy version of Pearce, promoting the same negative, cynical football his boss at Eastlands did. (Hence the number of blown leads the Fire had late in the Regular Season when Osorio in Keagan/Pearce-esqe style decided to sit on a one goal lead, which of course in almost every case evaporated) Now that could very well be good enough to win an MLS title, but the football could once again suffer.
The English Premier League is the most popular non North American football league in terms of TV audience in the United States. (It is the third most popular in terms of TV viewers overall behind the Mexican League and MLS) What is unfortunate is that the product in the EPL has declined over the past several years as the tactics of coaches not named Arsene Wenger have gotten more negative and defensive. In the late 1990s’s no football league nor any sport on the globe produced the sheer thrills the EPL did. But as the league became richer and the stakes higher, the football became less entertaining. I unfortunately see that as MLS is becoming a more recognized brand abroad that the football and tactics seem to be getting more negative, and the play dirtier. (The way FC Dallas has played in Superliga and MLS Cup Playoffs with all the diving, gamesmanship and whining was shocking to someone like me who has embraced that club for the exciting soccer they have played since Jason Kries and Ariel Graziani were two of the most exciting players in the league in its early days)
The playoffs are meant to produce winner take all football where goals should be abundant. Sadly, this season that is not the case in the MLS, and let us hope it is not part of a developing trend.