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.