Don Garber as always has been conducting a major charm offensive as MLS Cup approaches. But as someone who has watched the league since its inception I’ve become numb or even totally immune to the league’s propaganda. MLS the way I see it has problems and has not delivered the product promised to fans of football in North American upon its inception. However even I can be taken in by the Don at times and do find some of his suggestions for the future encouraging. Here are some thoughts:
Montreal withdraws from MLS expansion race
I fully expected this as Joey Saputo in the past has questioned the $40 million expansion fee asked by MLS considering his current USL side the Montreal Impact sells out its games and has advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League without spending $40 million. This decision leaves USL viable for the near future. I had publically stated that USL can afford to lose markets like Atlanta (which has now suspended operations), Miami, Portland and even Vancouver. But the league would be in serious jeopardy of collapsing if it lost Montreal which is many ways is the anchor franchise of the league and has increased the league’s prestige by performing so well in the CONCACAF Champions League. While MLS will still have two new teams in good markets, the unstated goal of MLS to put USL out of business has failed for this round. USL’s expansion to Tampa and Phoenix should completely erase any detrimental affects of losing weak franchises in Miami and Atlanta. Portland is a strong franchise in USL but with Montreal hanging around USL can absorb the blow of losing Portland as well.
No more reserve teams.
Again I don’t understand this decision. I thought the reserve leagues were a major step forward for MLS a few years ago. I agree that expanding the senior roster is critical. However without reserve team setups the league resembles more of a professional sports league in the US than a proper footballing league. It’s no wonder more and more young American players are seeking careers in Europe or even in more remote football leagues. MLS is not committed to player development in 2008 the way it was in 2001 or 2004.
Conference play will continue
I’m happy with this decision. The advocates of single table football do not seem to want to acknowledge the geographic difficulty of pulling this off in the US. The USL keeps a single table which leads to some very ugly scheduling and incredible fixture congestion. Scheduling in a region as large as North America must be based on geography and common sense and not on the desires of fans of European football.
Playoffs will continue
This is a no brainer as the playoffs provide the most excitement in what is an otherwise difficult football league to watch. However, the timing of the playoffs must be moved to not conflict with a congested period on the American sporting calendar head on.
No deal on Donovan yet
Contrary to reports in the German press, Landon Donovan has not been sold or loaned formally to FC Bayern yet. However MLS must sell Donovan, because he clearly is ready to move on and he among American footballers of his generation has stuck by MLS longer than any other player.