It seems the debate about the standard of Major League Soccer is never ending and a huge gulf exists between those who believe MLS teams would be successful in Serie A or the Premier League and those who equate MLS teams to third or fourth division European teams. This debate may find itself shifted to new ground in the near future. It seems this season for the first time we have teams in MLS that play a clearly Latin style running circles around those stuck in MLS circa 2003 or are attempting to replicate European 4th division glory on North American soil. Only New England with their British style but superior domestic scouting network stand apart from this trend. Los Angeles with their hybrid of European flavor and American second and third division quality players (US-1 and USL-2 quality) has thrown off the early success latin footballers like Mauricio Cienfuegos brought the club and have embraced a style and quality of football that reflects poorly on MLS and US Soccer as a whole.
Toronto FC has achieved a breakthrough to supercede the arrogant Galaxy thanks to Mo Johnston’s renewed faith in Amado Guevara (this time Mo does not have to coach the great Honduran just had to make a deal to get him) and the lucky break of facing the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS’ worst team early in the season away from home. While TFC is still a bottom feeder, Guevara is so good he’ll inevitably make the Championship, SPL and League One washouts around him much better.
I have a problem which is why perhaps I’m not as cutting edge or truly honest with all our readers and listeners as I ought to be. Those who have read my work before the American Soccer Show know that despite my respect for Landon Donovan I think the rest of the Los Angeles Galaxy franchise is an embarrassment to the game in this country. Yet, time after time I make excuses publically for the Galaxy whether it is on this blogsite or on the air. I claim international call ups, injuries, scheduling, etc have created trouble. It’s not like I claim the Galaxy are any great shake, but I do articulate a “me too” position since so many in the soccer media keep making excuses and claiming the Galaxy has improved. I feel like I’ll look biased (since I have been accused often of anti-Galaxy bias) if I don’t “go along.” Well that is my fault, and isn’t the fault of anyone else. Obviously I never felt strongly enough about my own convictions to completely reject conventional wisdom on this particular subject even though I have been very outspoken on many other current issues in the sport.
Well now, let’s be brutally honest, and let me reconnect with my gut instinct and take off the politically correct glasses. Not only have the Galaxy not improved, but they are the worst team in MLS, by a long distance. Yet they have a payroll twice that of any other team in the league, save Chicago. But this isn’t simply the case of an isolated team making bad personnel decisions. This is a case of a team who thinks they are bigger than the league and sum of its other parts making bad decisions and reflecting poorly on the league as whole abroad. This is the case of a team that was super successful in the early days of the league believing that success somehow entitled the Galaxy brand to flourish above all others on the American soccer landscape. It is an arrogance that despite several color and uniform redesigns that changed the identity of the club, believes that simply being called the “Galaxy” translates into some sort of magical team resembling the galacticos of Real Madrid fame.
The franchise that brought David Beckham to MLS also has a collection of players beyond Beckham, Donovan, Carlos Ruiz and Abel Xavier worse than the average USL-1 side. In other words, the Galaxy’s talent level is a whole division lower than that of their opposition in Major League Soccer. The Galaxy continue to mismanage the salary cap and then complain about the rules of the league: as if the rules should not apply to them. But the rules are applied more or less uniformly throughout MLS, and the Galaxy are failing the very same tests that less glamorous and publicized franchises consistently pass.
We as soccer fans in the United States are all indebted in some form to AEG. But we’ve since repaid that debt. Now AEG is on a mission to take our little league that has done so much to grow the game in this country and make it a worldwide brand. Now while that may seem like a good thing, if it is done the wrong way the results and image developed can be disastrous. That is without a doubt what has happened now with the Galaxy. The team has been worn down by both post season and pre season globe trotting tours and now comes back to the only competition they compete in (while some other league teams restricted by the very same rules as far as squad size and salary are entered in over five competitions) and look thoroughly outclassed. Even poor David Beckham, the world class player he is, had to resort to hacking Jeff Cunningham (for which he was not booked) to slow down the tempo of a game moving way too fast for the Galaxy’s already dead tired legs.
The Galaxy provide the equivalent of League One or Serie C/1 football in a league whose best teams are pushing Premier League and Serie A levels. Yet this is a franchise who claims they somehow are the “gold standard” in North America. How pathetically laughable, but also how sorry and sick this whole episode is for the public image of Major League Soccer.