MLS First Kick Thoughts

MLS’ season opened earlier this year than it has since the league dropped the schedule from 32 games down to 28 and then back up to 30. In typical MLS style however, the opening weekend seemed to coincide with other prominent events on the American sporting calender so “First Kick” became the exclusive province of hard core football fans in the country, which is never enough to support and sustain a professional first division. ( A teaser for an upcoming post about MLS this week)

In addition, poor weather conditions and some horrible field conditions whether it was football lines or a narrow pitch in what appeared to be a small town minor league baseball stadium made a few of the games almost totally unwatchable.

Here are some thoughts from Saturday Night’s games:

  • MLS wants to be taken seriously? How, after thirteen years in existence is the best stadium situation for an MLS club a minor league baseball stadium with an independent affiliate team?(in other words not a double A or triple A affiliate of a Major League Club) So basically, Kansas City has little fan base, no stadium, and yet has been thanks to having managers like Ron Newman, Bob Gansler and Curt Onolfo one of MLS’ better clubs throughout parts of its history.
  • Chicago played what I would call a perfect tactical match against Salt Lake. Essentially, Dennis Hamlet’s boys cogged up the middle on the ugly Rice Eccles Stadium field and after Bakary Soumare’s mistake putting Demo Kovolenko’s harmless cross past Jon Busch, Cuauhtemoc Blanco showed once again why he gets paid the big bucks.
  • DC United’s returning players are on a totally different page than Marcello Gallardo. My guess is that Pachuca, far superior to any MLS club can name their score versus United this week in the Champions Cup. DC will get it going but no anytime soon.
  • I wouldn’t read too much into the New England-Houston game knowing the Dynamo are focussed on Saprissa coming up this week in the Champions Cup. Unlike DC, who has looked totally out of sorts in the competition to this point, Houston looks focused and while a definitive underdog, could get sneak out a result in the two legs.
  • The Gambian duo for the Revs looked outstanding and let’s hope Taylor Twellman gets over what ever is ailing him physically or mentally.
  • Get well Steve Ralston. You are a true titan of this league and we all want to see you back and healthy as soon as possible.
  • Toronto FC demonstrates to us exactly how a League One or lower tier Championship side would do in MLS. I have a hard time taking Toronto seriously, and while I try and remain objective as an impartial observer of all fourteen teams in MLS, it’s difficult for someone with my background and world view not to root against TFC because their management seems to have made a determination that players in this hemisphere aren’t good enough to play top flight football, and that is something I simply cannot condone. I hope if Montreal enters the league soon, they have a different outlook towards North America and Latin America, than the euro-centric Toronto FC management has demonstrated in its first two MLS seasons. In fact I am sure if Montreal does join the league they will have a different approach, because they have done it right in USL for years.
  • One English import worthwhile in MLS is Terry Cooke. Unlike most Brits who come to MLS, Cooke figured out how we play in this part of the world and has made himself a nice career in the states. Cooke, whose game always seemed odd for an English player when he was with my favorite club, Manchester City and also with the England U-21s, seems to have developed a good understanding already with Christian Gomez, one of the MLS’ best.

David Beckham, on the other hand is in a messy situation. Once again it is obvious the Galaxy aren’t very good, and with Beckham in the squad they often revert to route one football when falling behind. I’m not advocating one style or another, but MLS’ tends to be much more Latin in its orientation and it is difficult to break down a defense in tis league by hurling long balls forward as I saw Becks and his mates start doing against the Rapids. That led, predictably to a complete collapse of the Galaxy’s defense, and countless scoring opportunities for the Rapids. Beckham loves America and has added so much interest and credibility to this league in the foreign press (if not consistently in the domestic media). The league must try and hang on to him, but at some point it must be asked if it is fair to him. Last year before the season I correctly predicted LA would be one of the worst teams in the league when Becks arrived. However, what I incorrectly predicted is that one player could turn them around. The Galaxy call themselves the Gold Standard of MLS and my predictions of early season doom were met by a legion of angry posters calling me among other things unfit to comment on the sport, and biased towards DC United and Chivas USA. In hindsight, I was if anything, too deferential to the Galaxy’s own PR spin and the comments on my blog from Galaxy faithful. I did not know Alexi Lalas would continuously strip the club of its best assets outside Beckham and Landon Donovan, and then have Tim Leiweke shoot off his mouth with these comments last November to Martin Rogers:

“I want everyone in the league to be envious of us, on and off the pitch,”
“I like the fact that the Galaxy is the most important team in Major League Soccer,”

“I like the fact that we lead the way. We are the ones trying to reinvent this sport and reinvent this league.”

“I like everyone shooting at us. I like everyone being pissed off at us.”

These comments are comical in the context of the Galaxy’s performances since 2006. The bottom line is when you watch the Galaxy play they look significantly worse than their opposition more often than not. The Galaxy’s own PR machine will not continue to sustain it through yet another season where an arrogant club with a sense of entitlement continues to be run over by teams with one one third the payroll. While Home Depot Center tenant Chivas USA builds a cosmopolitan winning side mixing young American talent, with good foreign role players and hard core MLS veterans like Jesse Marsch and Ante Razov, the Galaxy continue to make a mockery of what this league is about. Something has to give really soon in my humble opinion.

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