2010 is upon us, which means that it’s the time of year when we journalists, pundits, analysts, and/or columnists take stock of the year that has passed and provide you with our lists of the past years highlights and lowlights. So, to start things of for me, here is my take on the lowlights of the year that was in American soccer, in no particular order:
The Continued Presence of Plastic Pitches:
Nothing irks me more than watching a professional sport that is being played on a plastic pitch or field. Astroturf, Field Turf, or whatever other product that is out there for teams to waste money on are utter crap, in my opinion. Not only do they look bad on television, but when it comes to football, such surfaces often exert an unnatural force on the ball. While progress is being made in Toronto and New York/New Jersey as the MLS teams there move away from plastic pitches to natural grass, the introduction of Seattle Sounders FC at the turf covered Qwest Field and the news that Portland’s stadium will sport the green plastic carpet unfortunately means that MLS will not be rid of turf anytime soon. If the Green Bay Packers can play on a natural grass field, there is no reason to have the plastic carpets in MLS.
The 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final:
On July 26, 2009, the United States faced off against Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. After 90 minutes plus stoppage time, Mexico walked away with a 5-0 victory over the host country. This was one of the worst losses to Mexico on US soil in years. This victory also signaled the fact that Mexico, under the guidance of Javier Aguirre, has returned to a place of prominence in CONCACAF. While some fans have tried to dismiss this loss by claiming the match featured a Mexico A/B squad against a USMNT B/C squad, the reality is that both of these squads featured many players who were not regulars on their national teams. In the end, the biggest lesson of this match was the when it comes to depth, the United States has work to do and Mexico is one of the deepest, if not the deepest team in CONCACAF.
The USL/TOA-NASL Situation:
In August, word came out that Nike, which had unknowingly bought United Soccer Leagues when it acquired UMBRO, sold USL to NuRock Soccer Holdings, LLC, despite prior representations to the owners of USL clubs that the league was being sold to Jeff Cooper of St. Louis. Several of the owners of the USL-1 clubs, which made up the second division of professional football in North America, broke away from USL to team up with Jeff Cooper to create a new North American Soccer League, which applied to USSF for second division status. Today USSF decided not to recognize, at this time, either USL or NASL as the second division and gave both entities 7 days to work out some kind of resolution. This saga, which has been thoroughly covered here and at our sister sites, is unfortunate and has had numerous disappointing twists and turns, which, in the end, could adversely affect the long term development of football in the United States if it does not reach a quick, but proper resolution.
Real Salt Lake are Eastern Conference Champions:
For the second season in a row the MLS playoffs have resulted in a team winning a conference championship even though it is not a member of said conference. In 2008 RedBull New York won the Western Conference Championship, and in 2009 Real Salt Lake won the Eastern Conference Championship. There’s numerous complaints about the playoff system in MLS, but I don’t have any problem with the number of teams that make the playoffs, look at the NBA; the fact that a team with a poor regular season record can make a deep run in the playoffs, look at Mexico or the NFL; or that the playoffs even exist, playoffs are a tradition in the United States and playoffs exist in other first division leagues around the world. What I do have a problem with is that the playoffs are structured in such a way that a team from the Eastern Conference can win the Western Conference Championship and that a team from the Western Conference can win the Eastern Conference Championship. As the league grows, I expect MLS to redress this issue so that these kinds of results cannot happen in the future.
The Continued Poor State of Officiating in MLS:
I know MLS does not control the officials who work at MLS matches, that said officials are controlled by USSF, but since MLS is the first division league it should put pressure on USSF to overhaul the training of officials and improve their ability to officiate a match without taking complete control of the match. I hope MLS and USSF will work on this in 2010, but I’m not holding my breath.
Those are my lowlights from the year that was in American football, look for my highlights over the holiday weekend.