MLS, USL, WPS Review: Seeing Red


Happy Easter to everyone and thanks to today’s Holiday we’re combining all three reviews into one this week largely because all the matches were played on Saturday this week. Attendance bounced back this week in MLS in the biggest possible way with large crowds in Houston, Los Angeles, and Seattle, and respectable crowds in Salt Lake City and San Jose.

I will concede that the crowd in LA did not pass the eyeball test I discussed last week, and the number looked clearly inflated, but it’s better than the first two attendances the Galaxy had at home which were the lowest back to back crowds since moving to the Home Depot Center in 2003.

But the real theme of the night in MLS and USL was poor officiating. WPS saw an absence of bad officiating and also was absent of the lackluster almost reckless tackling and hacking which put referees in an uncomfortable position in our top two men’s leagues. In fact referees make mistakes in MLS and USL often because some of the play has turned into borderline violence.

I have an English friend who told me he won’t watch MLS not because of the quality of play, which he concedes is below standard, but because he considers it a “hackers” league, where defensive deficiencies and attacking flair lead to a combination of violent play, bad tackling, reckless fouling, and excessive diving. USSF certified referees who work MLS and USL matches often times don’t know how to deal with these circumstances.

In nine MLS and USL matches last night, eight red cards were shown, several simply because of the referee had lost control of the game. This was most obvious in Superclassico where Tim Weyland lost control of the match in the first five minutes and thus subsequently sent three players off, issued ten yellow cards and was consistently seen lecturing players after fouls.

MLS has issues with its quality of play, salary cap, dilution of talent thanks to expansion and USL, etc. But the biggest issue MLS faces and by extension USL is poor officiating: Last year’s table would have looked completely different if the officials had not missed so many critical calls. (For example Toronto FC almost certainly would have made the playoffs: I counted ten lost points on strange calls last season for the Reds). The credibility of both leagues and patience of fans is tested when the officials make so many mistakes in games and cannot reign in violent play and diving with anything other than the constant issuing of cards and by sending players off.

Other Thoughts:

  • Davy Arnaud’s recent play has been remarkable. But has it impressed Bob Bradley enough? Arnaud’s only previous call up was a 10 minute cup of coffee against Brazil in a game I attended. I actually believed Arnaud added more to the US attack than Landon Donovan did that day.
  • Jimmy Conrad hasn’t been called in since Copa America. Now Conrad is arguably the best American Central Defender not named Oguchi Onyewu. You have to wonder about Bob Bradley’s alleged euro snoberry when the likes of Danny Califf and Jay DeMerit get consistent call ins but the best defenders in MLS, Conrad and Michael Parkhurst (now playing in Europe) were consistently passed over.
  • Conor Casey, as I have been editorializing for two years in previous columns deserves a call up. I’ve written so much on the subject that I don’t want to rehash my arguments other than to say if you are truly interested in why I believe he’s a different and more mature player than he was when he was at Mainz at got several call ups look at the archives.
  • Speaking of potential call ups, the US goalkeeper pool is shallower than any point since the late 1980s, and with Bill Gaudette playing so well in several hostile road games in Central America and Mexico during the Islanders CONCACAF run, he really deserves a call up, even just to look at him in camp. For example, Gaudette did not lose a ball costing his team a chance to advance the way Bradley favorite Troy Perkins did two years ago at Jalisco, but instead got his otherwise underwhelming side past several superior Central American teams with spectacular and timely saves.
  • Much like last season, Chicago is getting points on the road. Give Dennis Hamlet credit: his team never seems intimidated or ready to wilt. When you have veterans that have played in much more hostile atmospheres than MLS provides, it’s critical to have the right attitude and the Fire almost always does.
  • USL Live is a decent product for the price which is free. However, last year when USL charged for the service the video quality was slightly better. Nonetheless, the league will get more exposure this year not simply because of the free access to games but because of the success of Montreal and Puerto Rico in CONCACAF. That did more to build USL’s credibility than any amount of advertising and free giveaways could have.
  • Carolina Railhawks under Martin Rennie, who I consider one of the best tactical coaches on American soil (I interviewed him for both CSRN and MLS Talk last year and was blown away by his tactical acumen compared to most other American based coaches I have talked to) had his club flying, but poor finishing kept a ten man Minnesota Thunder in the game. Nic Platter had a great game for the Thunder in goal, but reserve Gavin Glinton finally finished the game Thunder off with a nice header shortly after entering the match.
  • This game leaves a sour taste in my mouth as the referee ended the match with the Thunder about to take a corner kick.
  • Carolina’s new owners must not understand the time honored USL tradition of doubling your actual attendance into reported attendance. The 2,900 + at Wake Med was an accurate accounting of the crowd. Some other USL clubs would have reported 5,800 + in the same circumstances.
  • It’s early in the MLS Season and the only team I consider to be completely uncompetitive is the Houston Dynamo, who have set the standard for the league over the past three seasons. Last night, Juan Carlos Osorio dealing with injuries, and eventually a red card out foxed Dom Kinnear.  Again, I don’t think the importance of Dwayne DeRosario can be over emphasized. For years he’s made the likes of Brad Davis and Brian Mullan look like MLS Best XI or USMNT caliber players. Without him the team looks completely dysfunctional. Kinnear seems to have no answers with his current group of players. So Oliver Luck, one MLS’ best GMs has to make a move to bring in a real central midfielder, not a wide player pushed inside to mask deficiencies.
  • TFC so dominated the match at BMO Field yesterday yet left with a draw. It was a home match against the Hoops (or whatever their new nickname is) last season that broke the Reds back and hopefully the same doesn’t happen this year. That match last year was decided by the officials and at least this was decided by the Reds inability to turn their superiority into a victory.
  • Lindsay Tarpley’s goal yesterday for the Red Stars was outstanding, but Brianna Scurry who was once world class looks more and more lost after a few weeks of WPS.
  • Abby Wambach’s finishing was suspect yesterday. She looks lively and the combination play on Washington is really something special, but the finishing is poor, and now Chicago has secured four points away from home in its first two matches: not bad.
  • Cory Gibbs looks healthy and ready to step back up to the International level for the US. Gibbs untimely injury was one of the things that derailed the US in 2006.
  • Columbus reported attendance of 7,465 was clearly inflated. Crew Stadium looked to have at most 3,500 people last night on a cold night with depressing football. For a club that win last year’s double, once led the league in attendance and set the standard stadium wise, the continued trouble building crowds has to monitored closely and discussed honestly if the trend continues.
  • The late matches between LA-Chivas, and Vancouver-Charleston were both difficult to watch and other than the officiating and some spectacular saves by Donovan Ricketts, Zach Thornton and Dusty Huddock really nothing noteworthy to discuss came from the matches.

23 thoughts on “MLS, USL, WPS Review: Seeing Red”

  1. The MLS attendance was significantly higher this week on average. But Columbus’ attendance was worrisome. A combination of a recession and poor play has been very bad for Columbus I think.

    San Jose and Salt Lake showed excellent attendance, and i think this is a tribute to the play of those teams.

    I was impressed with Kansas City’s win, but Davy Arnaud remains the most underrated player in the league. He is the heart and soul of Kansas and he’s demonstrated this against both TFC with “two world class strikes” to quote John Carver, and now again against Seattle.

    De Rosario had his first goal for TFC and his first home goal for TFC yesterday afternoon. I was in a Chilean restaurant watching it on a HD TV. Thankfully nobody was in at that time other than the owner, because I shouted GOOOOOOOOOOOL!

  2. You set a standard early in the game. Often times, Refs will just talk to the players and tell them not to do that again. They need to start giving yellows earlier, rather than later. The later in the game you set a standard, the more likely it will result in violent behaviour. It’s the same thing in hockey. You give out penalties earlier to set boundries.

  3. The Crew attendence is a issue for MLS but you may think the fans know that this year is not there year. Word out of Seattle is that they may open up more seats for the home games. Wow. How soon is Portland coming into the league. Think that game can pack the house.

    Good insight into the Fire Kartik. McBride, Blanco, Busch and company have seen it all and all over the world. Yet yesterday the Fire were lucky to pull out a tie. Defensive line was a mess with Conde out. Blanco and Rolfe(best MLS player you never here about) didn’t come in until the 2nd half. Defense had Conde out and they looked BAD without him. Bad call really influenced the game. A late red card on SJ really helped the Fire get the draw. 3 out of 4 on the road for the Fire and undefeated not bad. Hamlett maybe a better coach then we give him credit for.

    Is the USL video service on-demand as well as live?

  4. Kartik, the new owners of the Railhawks really know what they want to do. They’ve cut out the random blasting of music and sound effects during gameplay. They’ve started a local charity organization, brought in a class manager, brought in several good players, and are taking this club in the right direction. They brought up Olimpia for a friendly a few weeks ago, and are going to do a home and home with the USL2 Wilmington franchise. I think the railhawks will be a surprise challenge for the USL title.

  5. That LA ref was out of his element. The game was just hard to watch once everyone stopped playing soccer and started going at people’s ankles.

    TFC can dominate games all they want, until they find a forwards worth a damn they’ll continue to play to draws and hope to squeak out wins. O’Brian White can’t get healthy soon enough.

  6. I had a Barros Lucos sandwich while drinking local Canadian microbrewery Organic beer by the name of Beau’s.

    Normally I have Sopapillas, beer and an empanada at the end.

  7. Gaudette’s play for the Islanders was remarkable the whole tournament. Recall they would not have even gotten out of the qualifying stage prior to the groups without his amazing work.

    The Conor Casey thing is an old tired argument from you. Look MLS is not of sufficient quality to translate to the international game. We’ve already learned that with Roy Lassiter, Jason Kreis and Taylor Twellman all of whom scored for fun in MLS but had zero impact on the international level.

    Bradley is not a “eurosnob” but faces pressure in the job and either takes players who have played in tough atmospheres with real training day in and day out or takes chances on guys who may or may not work out. What would you do if you were the coach, Kartik? Drop Clint Dempsey for Davy Arnaud?



  9. Carolina has spent lots of $$$$ on the team. USL has no cap or limit on foriegn players so while the small venues of the league and such limit spending in a way theoritcally an owner can come in and buy a title. It appears the Railhawks mean business having loaded the team up in a short time.

    It may not happen this year, but with Vancouver and Portland soon leaving and perhaps Montreal also, Carolina could establish themselves as a USL-1 power and US Open Cup threat each and every year. Based on the Islanders CCL run, the Railhawks can avoid the b/s with MLS and expansion fees and use their money wisely to build a power in USL that is capable of reaching CONCACAF.

  10. I would take Arnaud. He’s a performer. He puts in a strong effort and, as witnessed by the Seattle game, he can perform in a hostile stadium. Yeah, Seattle has nothing on EPL or La Liga, but most americans overseas in those leagues sit on the bench and don’t get to perform in those places. I would have a steady Arnaud over a benchwarmer from Europe anyday.

  11. The attendance for the Crew could be explained by the BlueJackets season home finale. I hold tickets to both, but made the Crew game, selling my BlueJackets tickets. This is the first time in franchise history for the Jackets to make the playoffs. So a lot of people were there instead of the Crew game.

  12. The Wizards staff has correctly pointed out to me that Arnaud was called in for the meaningless US qualifier against Guatemala last year. The US had already clinched passage and that is also the one qualifier that Bradley played Kenny Cooper in.

  13. What I find most interesting is the fact that the Railhawks have in short order given a good name to the cities of Raleigh/Cary, NC. A very quick turnaround for a professional team, which would make team management and owners salivate at the opportunity to have such a team on the field.

    It was odd that SAS, the largest privately held software company, decided to forgo naming rights on the field. It is a very decent playing surface, especially given the fact that numerous college, high school, and other athletic events happen there (soccer, cross country, lacrosse, et cetera). Good timing for the new naming partner, WakeMed Health and Hospitals with the advent of NC’s resurrection from league obscurity.

    It will be interesting to see the results of the season, and to see where the RailHawks end up.

  14. Whining about attendance based on the small parts of the stadium you see on TV is so 2004. Get with the program and come up with a new way to pillory the league just because you feel superior to it.

  15. Carolina is going to be very good. They may win USL-1 which makes them one of the four or five best teams in the country. Don’t simply assume because a team plays in MLS it is automatically better than a USL team.

  16. The over emphasis on MLS and under emphasis on everything else in the American soccer media bothers me. Kartik at least makes an attempt to cover it all even when he’s making lame excuses for MLS attendance.

    As for the Crew, don’t give me a hockey game excuse. If MLS cannot compete in the marketplace with Hockey of all things, the league is staying nowhere. Oh and the eyeball test is never passed for MLS. 23 k in LA looked more like 15 k. The entire upper deck was empty at the HDC.

  17. I love satire. You have an English friend who won’t watch MLS because it is “a hackers league, where defensive deficiencies and attacking flair lead to a combination of violent play, bad tackling, reckless fouling and excessive diving.” The exact definition of the EPL.

  18. Helped along by frequent mentions on the hit TV show Sex and the City, his first name has become a household word for luxurious, fabulous, fantastical Manolo Blahnik shoes. Wearing your Manolos is a badge of pride for any glamour girl.

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