Sunday Morning MLS Review: USL Falling and Galacticos in LA

Major League Soccer has provided us with little relief to the usual summer doldrums. As happens most MLS seasons the combination of high temperatures, half full stadiums and international call ups hurt the quality of football and make MLS in many ways a laughingstock of world football.

MLS’ midweek performances against USL sides have sent off alarm bells in the halls of football support in this nation. But to me the surprise is that USL teams only won three of eight matches versus MLS sides. The reality is thanks to the salary cap and squad restrictions in MLS, the league is not up the standard of an average first division relative to the football talent on American soil. Thanks to those very same rules, USL is not as bad as an average second division relative to the football talent on American soil.

The gap between the average MLS club and USL-1 or even the top USL-2 clubs isn’t very large. A misconception has developed that MLS is like the English Premier League while USL is like the Conference, among some fans. In fact, the opposite is the case even though MLS is improving while USL is not.

I will state that last week’s results for MLS were in my book impressive. Three years ago had eight MLS sides played eight USL sides with their reserves, six or seven MLS sides would have lost. As it stands six MLS sides played less than their typical Starting XI and four of them won.

I stated in 2003 on Big Soccer that if MLS and the then A-League had relegation/promotion with the bottom two MLS teams going down (when the league had ten teams) and the top two A-league teams going up and not having to apply MLS squad and cap rules, the two USL sides would never go back down and eventually only the LA Galaxy, NE Revs, Chicago Fire and DC United would be joined by six USL teams in the top flight.

MLS has obviously improved dramatically since 2003 while USL-1 is at the same level if not slightly lower in fact. However, the appauling lack of respect paid towards second division sides by MLS fans and commentators smacks of either complete ignorance or arrogance. Rumors are abound that USL-1 will have more money than ever in the upcoming years and if the display of team billboards at the Barbados home qualifier against the US is any indication, those rumors may be at least partially true. It would be wise for MLS fans instead of whining after perceived poor results versus USL clubs to understand the professional soccer structure in this country a little better and understand why USL/A League clubs have had so much success over the past ten years against MLS clubs. But this sustained run of success for USL clubs against MLS is coming to an end unless substantial changes take place within USL as has been speculated. But those who support MLS clubs need to spend more time understanding that this league cannot exist in a vacuum in the American soccer or world football structure. This isn’t a typical professional sports league in the United States and factors exist that make it important to understand the game from a complete perspective, not simply an MLS centric perspective going forward.

  • MLS has been by just about any objective standard difficult to watch the last month. Not only the summer heat but the international call ups have stripped the league of much of its quality. The one side consistently worth watching is the Los Angeles Galaxy. First off David Beckham has shown in the past several matches that he has a skill, and a quality level that is possibly higher than any in the recent history of MLS. Also, wherever the Galaxy play, home or away an active vibrant crowd follows.
  • Columbus is also a spunky side after going scoreless for almost 400 minutes in late May and early June. The Crew can feel hard done that they did not get the bounces to come away with three points last night versus Chicago.
  • Was Tomasz Frankowski the worst MLS signing of the last transfer window? Sure some signings have theoretically been less effective, but what other MLS signing has actually signed a goal at Old Traftord. Perhaps Frankowski is being kept past the July 1st deadline simply to wangle in the eyes of the euro-centric Toronto FC management (A management team that has recently brought Paul Dickov and Darren Huckerby to BMO Field to discuss a move to MLS for both former Manchester City attacking players)
  • Kenny Deuchar the much touted refugee from Gretna hasn’t been half the player for Real Salt Lake than Colorado’s Tam MacManus, a much less heralded SPL defector to MLS has been. The two are completely different types of players, and MacManus has fit his new club better.
  • Real Salt Lake has left more points “on the table” than any other team in MLS and perhaps more than every other team combined. Every RSL match seems to fit the same script. Real’s talented, technical midfield dominates the match, Nat Borchers anchors a solid backline which controls the match until late when Nick Rimando either has to play Superman or Salt Lake either misses an easy chance or a questionable officiating call goes against them. Salt Lake should be based on their quality on the pitch and their squad one of the top teams in MLS. When I watch RSL they almost always appear to be better than their opposition, yet they sit in a position where they may miss the MLS Cup playoffs yet again.
  • Chivas USA is currently tied with the LA Galaxy atop the Western Conference. But does anyone believe that without Maykel Galindo, the goats are in the same class as the Galaxy or even RSL? I have enjoyed watching Chivas the last two weeks and take some pride in the network as CSRN is now the exclusive worldwide English language carrier for Chivas home matches. Peter Brown and Graham Bell my CSRN collegues have been nothing short of outstanding on the call of the matches. The improvement in their quality from week one tow week two calling matches was striking as is the style which both bring. Peter’s intense knowledge of San Jose helped last night’s call, and as we’ve said before if it happens in American Soccer, we cover it from all perspectives at CSRN.
  • Juan Carlos Osorio is in the process of making over the New York squad. It cannot come soon enough and Red Bull must be patient. When you’ve been a losing side for the better part of the league’s history, despite having some high profile managers like Carlos Queiroz and Carlos Alberto Parriera it’s time to start from square one. My hope is that new York fans and Red Bull management have the patience to see Osorio through on this mission without pulling a quick trigger.

16 thoughts on “Sunday Morning MLS Review: USL Falling and Galacticos in LA”

  1. I’m not thrilled with the tone of this blog although I find it difficult to argue with some of the specific points vis a vis the relationship between MLS and USL.

    How many matches have the so-called Galacticos won the past three weekends?

    Your point about Deuchar is well taken. He hasn’t shown much of anything to this point.

    The CSRN calls of the Chivas matches have been as you pointed out outstanding. Bell & Brown show a knowledge of the sport most American commentators lack and give a real insight into what players are thinking. Doling a daily a radio show helps, but Brown is very good match play by play also.




  3. Kartik,

    I completely disagree on your thoughts on MLS visa v USL in regards to promotion relegation.

    What evidence is there that USL teams could survive an entire MLS campain and stay in MLS?

    Can USL teams win the occasional Open Cup match vs an MLS team? Sure they can.

    But to say they can survive an entire season is ludicrous. They don’t have either the talent or the depth to do so.

    Yes, three MLS teams went by the wayside this week in the Open Cup. All three of those teams put in mostly reserve sides because of fixture congestion. In some cases (United vs Rochester), the MLS team was clearly the better side even though Soehn made 7 changes to his team from the game against the Galaxy two days earlier. On top of that, two of his four substitutes were reserve players as well.

    At the end of the day, the talent gap that you suggest is getting smaller and smaller between MLS and USL-1 simply isn’t true. Four or five years ago that might have been the case, but not today. All the proof you need is to look at the recent MLS Superdrafts and count the number of players that make meaningful everyday contributions to their teams lineups. Not too many. The reason being is that the depth of MLS teams are increasing as the DP rule, the salary cap (slowly but surely) and most importantly the foreign player spots get larger.

    by the way, what happened to the SuperLiga episode from Friday on the American Soccer Show?

  4. Chop,

    I suggest you re-read my post before commenting. I stated that in 2003 USL teams would survive and in 2008 they would not. I state in my piece that the gap between MLS and USL-1 is larger than ever. You obviously didn’t repeat the piece. I also state winning 5 of 8 matches for MLS is major accomplishment. Please re-read the piece. I’m complimenting MLS and saying very clearly that USL has slipped in the last five years.

    Regarding Friday’s episode it aired on the stream and have gotten numerous complaints that it is not on Itunes or the on demand player. I will check into the reasoning for that.

  5. I would have to agree that MLS has fallen flat once the summer started. Between Euro 08 and International call ups the players minds seem elsewhere.

    The cream has risen to the top so to speak with NE, DC, and LA all playing better after a slow start. Chicago and Columbus have cooled off, and in Chicago’s case locker room problems seem to be a real issue. I know Kartik thinks New York is going in the right direction, but I think NY is without a rudder and simply drifting. After LA,does anyone in the West impress?

    The Superliga and international friendlies are on the horizon for the MLS and hopefully the teams will respond with better play. MLS can not afford another summer like this!

  6. Agreed on the game calls.

    Peter Brown in particular is outstanding. Is Divers and Cheats ever coming back?

    Good piece today. Some of your pieces can be dry and cynical but this was a good sunday morning review. fair and balanced, heh heh.

  7. If Chivas is not in the same class as the Galaxy… then we need to get rid of the conferences, have everyone play home and away with each other, and just allow the East to DOMINATE like they’ve been doing this year.

  8. Peter was very good on the play by play. May I suggest that Graham’s talent lends itself to studio expert and pre/post game host. The online broadcast is a real plus for CSRN. Hope they can expand to other teams, there is no English broadcast for the Fire btw.

  9. Peter Brown was outstanding no doubt. He’d be a major improvement over the clowns we have doing most MLS matches.

    Maybe ESPN will hire him for the World Cup?

    Bell was alright also. Obviously the duo has lots of practice and good chemistry.

    Philip, the single table idea does not work in MLS. The country is too big and especially with the cost of fuel it is illogical to play a team 3,500 miles away as many times as a team that shares a stadium with you.

  10. I concur on the commentary about the Gs. The game calls have been outstanding, a real treat for someone so accustomed to the low standard of American soccer commentary.

    Kartik, I have a bone to pick with you. Last year when you appeared on Around the League before you were with the network you correctly pegged J.C. Osorio’s tactics as losing ones and you said he had picked it up from his time at Man City.

    Now fast forward a year. You have a twice weekly show on CSRN and this blog. You never say anything negative about Osorio and I have to believe it is because of his Man City ties. You defend him to no end on the show and on this site. The fact that he has made New York worse than last year is cause for him to be given time to see the ship righted. Yet I am sure you felt Arena should be sacked after back to back playoff appearances.

    Otherwise this is a good blog and your show very outstanding. But your bias towards all things City disgusts me. So did that post about Joey Barton a while back. I’m sure you’ll be lobbying for an MLS team to sign him soon.

  11. Osorio plays each and every game for a draw. He will never get MLS/American players to buy that system. I was upset when he left Chicago, but now I am happy NY can watch him play for the draw.

  12. Fair points about Osorio, but can you like at the New York squad and really say “this team should be winning more?” Osorio as Lou mentioned plays for 0-0 and 1-1 draws. That’s what Stuart Pearce did at Man City which was smart when the goal was to avoid relegation. Stuart Pearce was a terribly under appreciated manager. The board made less transfer money available to him than any other PL club, and while Pearce was the manager the club spent less on players and sold more top players than just about anyone else in the Premier League.

  13. Just wondering, what is the salary structure in USL-1? Obviously, on the upper end they are below MLS, but as you move to the bench are USL players paid better or worse then MLS players. If this is the case and USL can get some more money behind it, why can’t they scoop up the # of developmental players that are under the poverty line in MLS, and could get a chance to show off their talent. Is there much history behind USL 1 players finding opportunities to play elsewhere, i.e. moving up to MLS or move to other leagues? IF the league could pick off some players and place there teams in city centers, I could envision a scenario where they could compete, or at least be a thorn in MLS side. There are many sizable markets in the US, that a team near a city center, could draw well as a good form of entertainment. Look at the success of Portland

  14. Great piece as always Kartik. USL-1 is under rated and MLS is improving. Peter and Graham rock on the Chivas games. Hopefully they can do general national team/MLS games on the radio. Peter will be the best play by play guy around with some seasoning!

    Did you hear the big news about Beckham?

    Miami 2011?

    Must make you happy being a fellow south floridian!

  15. NJ,

    I believe the bench players in USL make less than MLS bench players. However, they make more than the players under development contracts in MLS. That’s why you find very few really young players in USL. The talented young players go to MLS, and USL focuses on veteran players who don’t make much money.

    USL players have actually done pretty well moving overseas to smaller leagues in Europe and most recently the Australian A-League. Also at one time USL-1 (then known as the A-League not to be confused with the Australian league)was in many cases able to sign better foreign players than MLS because the teams actually owned the player contract as opposed to MLS where the league owns all player contracts. As time went on though the A-League/USL-1 teams weren’t able to spend as much money on players.

    Agreed on Portland, NJ and the reality is USL-1 with the addition of Tampa will have five teams in the southeast and MLS none. Now despite what has been written in some places, Miami is likely to get an MLS team again at some point. Whether it is sooner or later. The bottom line is as MLS becomes more respectable for Latin fans Miami becomes a market that is a can’t miss. The first go round the football was so poor and so British in its look that it totally turned the Latin fans off. (I didn;’t mind the football but most Latin fans checked out a few matches and then checked out on the team) But what could happen is if MLS doesn’t move on Miami, and let’s say a Vancouver, Portland or Montreal, the USL sides with Nike’s cash infusion could be so strong that some sort of merger may have to be considered.

    MLS will not want this but they have certain markets sitting in USL now that are clearly potentially much stronger for soccer than some markets that MLS are currently in. The question is whether USL gets the $$$$$ to really leverage this situation. Stay tuned!

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