MLS Operating in a Vacuum

We want this league to succeed. For the future of the sport it must not only survive but thrive. However, as the European Championships heat up, Brazil is about to face Argentina in a critical COMNEBOL qualifier, the African nations spend over a month in World Cup qualifying, and the home nations of MLS begin qualifying next weekend, the league continues to operate each and every weekend as if nothing else is happening in the world of football, and as if nothing else matters. Not only does MLS play through World Cup qualifying and the European Championships, but it actually increases its schedule during this period.

MLS claims this is due to the availability of stadiums. But the reality is two factors come into play: one is clearing the midweek schedule for SUM promoted events including Superliga, and the second is the arrogance of a league which has never fully integrated in the world football community and whose schedule has in many ways turns off the very fans and commentators the league needs on its side to thrive.

Ivan Gazidis, a soccer man is now the deputy commissioner of MLS. Gazidis understands world football and must know the league hurts its credibility when matches take place at the very same time as a US National Team match. Some very recent examples:

  • MLS had a match a year ago scheduled to start while the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final was being played. That would be like the German Bundesliga playing a match at the same start time as the Euro Finals.
  • Four days later an MLS match was on ESPN 2 while the opening match of the US National Team’s Copa American campaign was relegated to GOL TV, and again the matches overlapped.
  • A DC United-New England match was played last year at the very same start time as the US-Brazil friendly on a FIFA Friendly date.
  • MLS Cup 2007 was held on a FIFA blackout weekend, and in fact the US played in South Africa and Coach Bob Bradley was not able to choose any players from the Houston Dynamo or New England Revolution.
  • In the last week the league champion Houston Dynamo have had three separate matches scheduled on the dates of US friendlies. In the case of the England match it was not a FIFA date so MLS cannot be faulted. But the cases of the Spain and Argentina matches make the situation unacceptable. Why do the Dynamo have so many matches this time of year? Simply because of Superliga next month. With Canada facing World Cup qualifying the next two weeks, will Pat Onstad and Dewayne DeRossario be under pressure to play for the national team and then rush back to play for the Dyanmo or vise versa? This pressure has seemingly been applied to American players as Frankie Hejduk and Brad Guzan have both crossed over 25 time zones in the past ten days to balance MLS and National Team commitments. What does this do to the human body, and to the very products MLS markets itself around?

This is only going to become a bigger and bigger problem as we go forward. MLS wants to attract high caliber internationals, but if you are a player’s agent why would you send your client stateside if his club is going to have games scheduled on the very same day as important international matches. Moreover, how does MLS build any credibility if as is the case the next two weeks games are scheduled at the exact same time the US and Canada are playing do or die World Cup qualifiers?

We need to support MLS, but it is difficult to take the league completely seriously until its scheduling practices change. With the number of internationals missing, it was difficult to discern properly in some cases between MLS matches and USL-1 matches this weekend. In some cases the USL-1 matches which I saw on broadband were not only more entertaining but had a higher skill level. Already the defenders in USL-1 are on any given week better than the defenders in MLS: but this week the entire package seemed better in USL-1 in many cases. Schambolic defending is something we’ve become accustomed to in MLS, but bad first touches and awful decisions on the ball while a staple of any MLS match were exaggerated this weekend with the number of missing players.
Some Other Weekend Thoughts:

  • I’ll admit MLS is not very high on my priority list while qualifying and the Euros take place. However an effort is still being made to watch and report on every match.
  • Chivas USA played a good match in New Jersey Thursday night with Jesse Marsch once again showing the leadership a fairly young side needed to be competitive.
  • Juan Pablo Angel scored a nice goal but whether or not he is really worth DP money is debatable: here is a player not good enough to play for his national team in WC qualifying, who doesn’t draw any new fans to the stadium and simply put isn’t scoring many goals any longer. That’s the risk of the DP rule: you give a player a long term contract when they only have one or maybe two good years left. Expect a similar drop off from Gallardo, Lopez and Beckham in the near future.
  • Columbus has now gone scoreless in almost 400 minutes and looks inept in the attack. What happens going forward is anyone’s guess but the Crew have issues with rowdy fans, poor play and a city that seems by and large these days disinterested in the team. That’s a farcry from the year Crew Stadium opened in 1999 when Columbus led the league in attendance.
  • San Jose is surviving without Kei Kamara and Ivan Guerrero which speaks very highly of the depth Frank Yallop and John Doyle developed for an expansion team. Honduras could be generous and let Guerrero come back to the Quakes given the 4-0 aggregate lead they hold on Puerto Rico in the CONCACAF qualifier, but why should they indulge the league and its scheduling habits?
  • Speaking of Puerto Rico, Marco Velez was sent off in the first leg against Honduras so he should be back with Toronto tonight for the match with the Dynamo.
  • DC United is a different team with Fred causing trouble down the left side. Even more interesting was the move to place Fred in the middle of the pitch and bring Marc Burch onto the left side after the sending off of Marcelo Gallardo. A very savvy tactical move by Tom Soehn which really helped DC grab the 3 points.
  • The Galaxy seem to be able to attack with the best even without Landon Donovan. Alvaro Pires is proving to be a smart buy and a critical linkup player. Edson Buddle has had a renaissance playing under Ruud Gullit which further proves my CSRN American Soccer Show co-host Dave Denholm’s point about American coaching: perhaps Greg Andrulis, Sigi Schmid, Bob Bradley and Mo Johnston had no clue how to use Buddle in a system when they had him on their squads.
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