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Is Portsmouth better than the Chicago Fire?…and the current status of American Soccer

Soccer purists tend to exaggerate the reality of the state of American Soccer.  They tend to emphasize the negative when referencing U.S. Soccer and they don’t want to accept the fact that of the world’s greatest Soccer leagues, it is only the upper-eschelon teams that are truly great.  In the EPL, there are probably 5 great teams and the rest of them are very good, good and average.  MLS teams would be competitive with all of the bottom 15 teams of EPL.

The purists want to influence popular opinion by granting God-like status to European Soccer, but the truth is that there are only so many great teams.  This standard also applies to the Spanish, German, French and Italian leagues.  MLS teams would battle most of the teams well (the bottom 75%), winning and losing close games.  The top teams would give a whipping to MLS teams. 

In terms of the Mexican, Central American and South American leagues, MLS would be competitive with all of these teams with the exception of the top tier two or three teams of Brazil and Argentina. 

It could be that MLS teams have traditionally not played well in CONCACAF because of scheduling or that its relevance was low on the totem pole for general managers, owners and fans.  This seems to be changing. There has been a lot more press regarding CONCACAF play this year. 

The newest CONCACAF schedule was released yesterday.  Look for MLS teams to give a good showing.

The truth is that the world’s Soccer leagues play just like MLS does.  There is a lot of boring Soccer out there.  There are maybe 20 great teams in the world that play with consistent innovation and determination. 

The average Soccer league teams play an exciting game only every third or fourth game.  It is the rules of Soccer that hinder teams and make their games so dull and lifeless. 

The great teams can get around the lack of drama from which the rules stifle average and good teams because the talent is so much more superb.  For these teams, the matches achieve a higher level of skill and action.

Don’t fool yourself and don’t believe the hype! 

Check out the empty stadiums all around the world.  These are the homes to average teams who play average.  Relegation and promotion doen’t change anything, it only proves the point further.  Teams fight to stave off relegation and fight to gain promotion, but the stands still remain half-full or even worse than half-full, regardless.

The U.S. team will make next year’s World Cup and has a decent chance to make it through to the second round.   The second round would mean that the U.S. is one of the top 16 countries in the world.  With a big upset, the U.S. could make the quarter-finals.  This is awesome that the U.S. has a chance to make it so far into the World Cup, most countries would die for the opportunity just to qualify.

So where does the U.S. rank in Soccer?  It’s doing well.  The national team is solid and its leagues, MLS and USL are improving.  But if MLS fails, and it very well could in the next 3-5 years, the U.S. Soccer world will turn upside down.

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  1. ranndino

    August 4, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    @ Jack

    What school of debating did you attend? Copying and pasting someone’s points and then replying in all caps while mostly yelling things like NO, OMG, YOU’RE AN IDIOT is not even remotely convincing and actually makes you look like a complete tool. You haven’t made one convincing argument. Instead you came off as an emotional moron who just can’t believe that someone can possibly have an opinion that differs from his own.

    Same goes for some of the others who disagreed with the author’s post. Your opinions are not facts. Get used to that. Yelling that someone is an idiot while not even attempting to make any logical arguments might be convincing only to your drunken pub mates, not anyone with an actual brain.

    Overall, I would say that debating which league is better is pointless because it’s a matter of subjective opinion until the teams from different leagues are actually involved in a competition against each other. Even then most people won’t change their mind because most people aren’t reasonable and have no regard for facts. They just stick to their viewpoints regardless of the evidence.

    Magin made a great point above. South Americans always thought that Mexican clubs are inferior. Once the Mexican clubs were invited to their tournaments and proved that they can not only compete, but succeed… well… nothing changed. South Americans still think their clubs are superior (see my point above), but to anyone who judges based on facts the Mexicans have proven that their clubs are every bit as good as some of the top teams in South America.

    As for MLS the only thing we can currently judge them on are these pre-season friendlies against Euro clubs. Admittedly, it’s tough to judge because MLS clubs are in mid season form while Euro clubs are in pre-season, but going on anything other than results is subjective. And the results have not been bad. MLS teams do not get played off the pitch even by the very best Euro clubs, as some of you suggest they would. They look OK, and sometimes even outplay their opponents in these games (and even win).

    I watch the EPL all the time. The league comes with incredible hype and the English are incensed when anyone says that it’s not the best in the world, but the truth is that the author of the article is right. The caliber of play outside the top 5-6 teams leaves a lot to be desired. I can hardly stay awake watching 2 average EPL teams play these days. They can barely string 3 passes together.

    The English national team has been playing horrendous football for years now despite being full of EPL stars (and I’m saying it as a fan of it who has watched almost every game in the last 5 years at least). It is quite obvious to everyone, but the brainwashed Brits that foreign stars are what makes the top EPL teams so good.

    Spanish La Liga is a better league top to bottom with far more individual talent than the EPL and a much better overall style of play. When a club like Barcelona play a team from the lower end they still get a game and often the unheralded side displays some impressive football of their own. Yes, often that leads to them getting waxed, but at least they go down playing real football, not parking the bus in front of their net like almost every lower end EPL club does against the top 5.

    Like a few have pointed out MLS clubs lack depth to compete over a long season due to cap restrictions, but based just on the starting XI’s they’re not nearly as bad as the British would have us believe.

    Chelsea was outplayed by Seattle this summer and only lost due to lack of good finishers. Everton was played off the pitch by MLS All Stars, not even a real club team, but a bunch of guys who had one practice together, and only survived due to outstanding goalkeeping by Tim Howard, who is ironically American. LA Galaxy looked quite all right vs. AC Milan and Barcelona. I’m looking forward to more games between MLS and Euro clubs this week. And before someone jumps on me for giving so much significance to pre-season games, like I said above, objectively that’s all we have to really go on right now. Everything else is just subjective opinion.

    Finally, Real Madrid got killed by Barcelona in the 2nd Superclassico this past season, 6-2 (and Barca could have easily had 10) and yet I didn’t hear anyone blather about how Real is a crap team that would be relegated from the English Championship. Now imagine this happened to an MLS team. We wouldn’t hear the end of how that’s proof that MLS sucks.

  2. radionoise

    June 14, 2009 at 4:36 am

    you. are. a. fucking. moran.

  3. Jack

    June 13, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Thomas Skull SERIOUSLY. try to move outside the “i’m an american I need to make myself as big an idiot as possible” stereotype. Obviously American’s are not idiots at all, just the moron’s like yourself who push your little dumb ignorant opinions forward. Let’s have a look at your post.

    think most MLS teams would easily avoid relegation in England (AVOID RELEGATION FROM BLUE SQUARE PREMIER LEAGUE SOUTH… MAYBE) . Does anyone on this blog seriously not think Hull City who stayed up by the way would beat Chicago or Houston? (YES, PROBABLY MOST SANE PEOPLE WHO REALISE HULL ARE A STRONG TEAM WHO ONLY APPEAR WEAK DUE TO THE UN-DISBUTABLE TALENT THEY FACE EACH WEEK) In fact I think Houston especially would push for a UEFA Cup or now Europa league spot. ( ARE YOU MAD?!?! HOUSTON BETTER THAN VILLA? NO. SPURS? NO. WEST HAM? NO. MAN CITY? NO. FULHAM? NO. DON’T MAKE ME GO ON.)

    While depth is an issue, most MLS teams have more quality players that simply aren’t hyped by the local media than the bottom 5-7 teams in the English league. (BULLSHIT. CONGRATULATIONS FOR RELYING ON THE AGE OLD DEADOUT EXCUSE OF THE EVERYTHING BEING THE MEDIA’S FAULT.)

    Saying MLS teams would struggle in the Championship is an insult (NO. JUST NO) . Every single MLS team has international caliber players (LOL LOL LOL ETC) that are better than the best championship players and every single team would win automatic promotion. (EBAINKS BLAKE? JASON SCOTLAND? ALL OF THE BLOODY BURNLEY TEAM? AUTOMATIC PROMOTION MY ASS MATE. )


    I actually think the top USL teams like Vancouver and Puerto Rico would be strong in the Championship also.(ON YOUR BIKE SON. ON YOUR BIKE)

    So all in all, Thomas Skull is some POOMPLEX DERKHEAD who clearly has no knowledge of football.

  4. Jack

    June 13, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    WHAT THE HELL. What idiot actually wrote this? assuming it’s serious.

    Chicago Fire vs Everton (EPL WIN)
    Chicago Fire vs Aston Villa (EPL WIN)
    Chicago Fire vs West Ham (EPL WIN)
    Chicago Fire vs SUNDERLAND (EPL WIN)
    Chicago Fire vs HULL (EPL WIN)
    Chicago Fire vs Portsmouth you MUG OF COURSE EPL WOULD WIN.

    OH MY GOSH. I could continue well into the championship with this. Reading would be champions of mls.
    ffs. this makes me mad reading this.

    what goon’s idea was this.

  5. 30f

    June 13, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Couldn’t disagree more with the thrust of this post. Maybe that makes me a ‘purist’ or ‘eurosnob’ – but I doubt it.

    The MLS is several big, big steps below the top leagues – and not just the Champions League sides.

    Maybe the Galaxy could play in Ligue 1 – the French seem to love the draws.

  6. Magin Argueta

    June 13, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I believe the MLS has enough to compete with most of the clubs in Europe excempt the teams that qualify for The Champions League and a few in UEFA cup (Europe League). The top European teams spend too much money in players that it would be a shame were they at the same level. This comparison reminds me of South Americans saying that CONCACAF was not able to compete with them. They made the mistake of inviting Mexico to their competitions and that proved how wrong they were. Mexico went to finals of their tournaments, The USA and Honduras made it to semi-finals, etc. To this date they still think they are far superior (with Brazil and Argentina in mind), just like the Europeans feel in this forum.

  7. LI Matt

    June 13, 2009 at 5:22 am

    I wish there was a law to keep you idiots away from our sport.

    Ha! No chance. Sepp likes our money too much.

  8. It's called football

    June 13, 2009 at 3:27 am

    Typical yank ignorance. You idiots actually think your league is worth much more than it actually is. What a bunch of retards. This is why we would rather you clowns just stay the hell away from the sport of football. I wish there was a law to keep you idiots away from our sport.

  9. Jesse

    June 12, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    Come on, man.
    This kind of punditry is deliberately incendiary and grossly irresponsible. You couldn’t possibly genuinely believe that Tottenham and Aston Villa would be ‘competitive’ amidst MLS calibre teams. That’s absolute nonsense. It’s probably not unreasonable to suggest that there are less than five or thereabouts players in the entire league who would make one of the 23 man squads of these two particular teams. I am a dedicated fan of North American football and committed to the development of the game in this area of the world. This kind of commentary does violence to our ultimate goal if we’re aiming to advance the standing of our teams and leagues in world football; North American soccer will never be taken seriously if the international understanding of it is coloured by opinions like this one. MLS is a better league than it’s given credit for being (recognize that it’s given credit for being, at best, probably a ‘top 25’ league in the world game) and I enjoy watching it, but it’s absolutely farcical to make the sort of claims that would suggest MLS teams would be competitive with Europa League calibre Premiership teams. It’s delusional behaviour,does nothing positive, and only invites mockery and encourages a general dismissal of the MLS product. You are part of the problem. Christ, man. That’s just a preposterous thing to say.

  10. Larry

    June 12, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Thanks Mitch for a good laugh. It’s been a long week.

  11. Thomas Skull

    June 12, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    I think most MLS teams would easily avoid relegation in England. Does anyone on this blog seriously not think Hull City who stayed up by the way would beat Chicago or Houston? In fact I think Houston especially would push for a UEFA Cup or now Europa league spot.

    While depth is an issue, most MLS teams have more quality players that simply aren’t hyped by the local media than the bottom 5-7 teams in the English league.

    Saying MLS teams would struggle in the Championship is an insult. Every single MLS team has international caliber players that are better than the best championship players and every single team would win automatic promotion.

    As far as Mexico, the English teams with their poor conditioning, pie runs and pub culture would pass out after 30 minutes at Jalisco or Azteca. Club America would beat Hull by an embarrassing scoreline.

    I actually think the top USL teams like Vancouver and Puerto Rico would be strong in the Championship also.

  12. Ted Westervelt

    June 12, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Wow – this is an awesome conversation. I’m with Kartik on this one – but of course I take it a step further.

    We’re at an important crossroads here. By applying the franchise model, and enforcing parity from the top via salary caps and squad size limits, MLS has locked itself into gambling that the free-market open model that brought club soccer to global pro-sport dominance just can’t work here in the land of the free market.

    Independent autonomous clubs and promotion/relegation are an important part of dumbfounding global success of this game, and they separate it at their own risk. Say what you want about super clubs, uncontrolled costs, etc. I’ll take them any day over the painful slow motion dive into a domesticated exhibition league that we’re currently watching. Nothing against the players – but forcing the square peg of the American franchise model in the round hole of global soccer is just not working.

    The other great argument for opening the leagues: Nobody will OWN any division of US club soccer. Therefore, it can’t fold. If we just got together, we could take it back……

  13. kyle

    June 12, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    MLS is not even the best league in North America

  14. Vnice

    June 12, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Wait…exactly why would MLS be close to folding?

  15. JustSoccerJerseys

    June 12, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I’m a Major League Soccer fan, but I can’t see more than 2 or 3 teams being competitive in the English Premier League.

  16. Robert

    June 12, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    As an MLS season ticket holder, and frequent viewer of EPL games on TV, I don’t think it is fair to make such generalizations about where one league fits competitively with another. MLS is a unique league, in that the salary restrictions create a parity across the league’s teams. EPL squads can carry a full squad of players where each one is capable of being in the Starting XI on any given Saturday. MLS rosters have a sharp decline in quality past the top 12-15 players. In fact, one or two injuries to those top players can take a team way down the standings (see: Huckerby and Hernandez in SJ.) This puts so much of the onus on the coaching staffs and front offices in MLS to make the right choices every time in roster selections. It is a special situation these teams deal with. Now, those coaches and GMs that figure it out (e.g. Schmid, Nicol, Kinnear, Preki) find success in MLS.

    Perhaps in the future, if the MLS salary cap were greatly increased, you might imagine our clubs being more competitive in the bigger Euro leagues. Until then, over the course of a full season, I’ll take Portsmouth over any MLS club.

    Play Up Pompey!

  17. Brian

    June 12, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Jeremy hit the nail on the head, due to the constraints that MLS teams operate under, they cannot develop the depth necessary to survive in EPL, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc. Just imagine what kind of an American focused squad a Sigi Schmid, Dominic Kinnear, or Preki could put together if they had the payroll budget of a top-flight European team.

  18. Jeremy Black

    June 12, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I don’t disagree with the premise that outside of the teams qualifying for Champions League and “Europa Cup”, there are not a lot of teams that are dominant out there and that there are a lot of teams in the “best leagues” that regularly play in front of a lot of empty seats, but I agree with a lot of the commenters who dispute whether you’re overstating the case. 75% is a very high bar – that’s basically saying that ManU, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are the only EPL teams in a class above MLS, when there are a number of other teams that could join that list – Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Man City, etc. I wouldn’t put the Chicago Fire in the same class as those. Winning a game here and there is different from being consistently competitive over the course of a 38-game regular season, plus other competitions.

    The real question is, if you put a hypothetical “top MLS side” in the English Championship next year, would they be able to win promotion? I think it’s an interesting mental exercise, but it’s always an apples-to-oranges comparison. Teams in other leagues aren’t constrained by a salary cap and roster regulations like MLS squads. Free of that constraint, how would the Fire put together their roster?

  19. CleartheBall

    June 12, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Kartik, great post. I agree that the talent in MLS is getting better, but coaching and officiating have a long way to go. I love MLS and hold season tickets, but I don’t see them competing well in the top European Leagues. I’ve argued this before(unsuccessfully according to your other readers), but I still think you give Mexican leagues too much credit. Financially, there is no question the FMF is more successful. On the pitch, I’m not so sure. Several qualities make great football teams. Technical ability is important, as is goalkeeping and physicality, among others. The FMF is ahead of MLS in technical ability on the ball. I believe MLS is ahead of the FMF in terms of physical presence and goalkeeper quality. Overall, I might agree that the FMF is ahead of MLS overall, but slightly, not by a wide margin.

  20. Mr. Baker

    June 12, 2009 at 10:41 am

    “MLS teams would be competitive with all of the bottom 15 teams of EPL.”

    Uh, no. Maybe all but the bottom 15 teams of the Coca Cola Championship or whatever it’s called these days. Look at the rosters for some of those “bottom 15” clubs. They are stocked with international players, most of them in their prime of their careers. Now look at MLS club rosters. They are made up of a few (well) past-their-prime international players, many of whom weren’t that good to begin with, some promising U.S. players under age 25 and lots and lots of mediocre players who could never get a job in the EPL.

  21. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 12, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Many valid points in this article. Firstly that a huge drop off occurs in England. The bottom 15 teams in the EPL are not better than the bottom 15 teams in the Bundesliga or La Liga. Their is no doubt that some MLS sides could compete at a decent level in a one off against English opposition.


    the truth is MLS teams don’t have the depth, tactical sense or the technical ability to even compete in most European second divisions over a long season. The thing that holds MLS back more than anything else is the ppor standard of coaching. The tactics and coaching are actually more evolved in USL than MLS which is an embarrassment that a nation’s second division attract more accomplished managers than the top flight. (Martin Rennie for example is the youngest coach to ever attain a UEFA “A” license, Adrian Heath and Teitur Thordarson both have extensive head coaching experience in Europe whereas no MLS coach has comparable experience to either man or comparable UEFA training to Rennie.

    Also, I believe the most MLS teams would get slaughtered in the Mexican League. The technical ability of most players in the FMF is better than 90% of MLS. The league likes to compare itself to Mexico partly because of the financial investment thanks to SUM (which is why MLS execs are probably sweaty right now about Mexican world cup qualification- they need Mexico to be relevant to keep the gravy train going) but the leagues are not even close in quality.

    Many Mexican teams would have success against European ones. England would be tough because of the narrow pitch sizes and weather, but I doubt English teams would have much success traveling to the heat and altitude of Mexico.

  22. jean-guy pepper

    June 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Sorry but you’ve got your head in the sand. Let me start by saying, i am a big fan of MLS, but MLS clubs would struggle in the English Championship. The level of play in MLS is still poor overall. Watch any game in the French League 1 or Bundesliga, or even the Dutch league and you will see far more skill and technical ability. The bottom line is talent cost money and Euro leagues have the cash to pay for it, not MLS. Until they increase the cap substantially, MLS fans will have to make do with high English League 1-low Championship quality football.

  23. Blockhead

    June 12, 2009 at 10:07 am

    I’m afraid Mitch you are just plain wrong. I am an MLS season ticket holder and have also had the opportunity to watch a number of English Championship and EPL games over the last few years. European football is at a higher standard because the best players play there. I love the MLS – it gives me the opportunity to see live soccer on a regular basis and the standard is good enough to be entertaining. In fact I think it is often more entertaining than a lot of European games. However, I don’t delude myself into thinking that the standard compares to the top division of any of the major European leagues. A team made up of the best players in the MLS might survive in the English Championship and that’s as far as I would be prepared to go.

  24. eplnfl

    June 12, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Well done Mitch. Keep up the good work. This will burn up the eurosnobs out there. Because it’s true!

  25. Ryan

    June 12, 2009 at 9:45 am

    “But if MLS fails, and it very well could in the next 3-5 years, the U.S. Soccer world will turn upside down.”

    Really? You can see MLS failing in the next 3 to 5 years?

    Failing in terms of significantly improving the product, maybe. But there is a 0% chance that the league will fold as it’s the only way to bring a World Cup back to the US and the MLS owners have too much invested in SUM to allow that cash cow to disappear.

  26. thedoc

    June 12, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Mcbride is the only player on the fire that will play in EPL in his career. thats it. the fire wouldnt be able to play vs 2nd teir english teams. MLS is improving greatly from where it was, but no where near what your trying to say.

    But on the brighter side, i think they could compete against some of the Hyundai A-League teams.

  27. Tessa

    June 12, 2009 at 8:51 am


    We have just added your latest post “Is Portsmouth better than the Chicago Fire?…and the current status of American Soccer” to our Directory of Sports. You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory and get a huge base of visitors to your website.

    Warm Regards Team

  28. Jesse

    June 12, 2009 at 8:29 am

    This post is all just empty conjecture. I don’t really understand how you come to the conclusion, because you provide no substantial argument. You think that simply stating something as fact, makes it so. You just through names of teams out there, without bringing any real discussion to the table.

    How about looking at the actual teams. Looking at the starting XI’s. Looking at the squad depth. Looking at the managers. Looking at the training. In almost every aspect, it is hard to definitively say that the Fire (or whatever other MLS team) is better or equal to a team like Portsmouth. I’ll take Diarra, Traore, James, Distain, Crouch, Diop, Kranjcar, Glen Johnson, Heireoassen, Davis, Beladj etc… over everyone on Chicago not named Blanco. I’m not saying Chicago is a bad team, but if you think John Thorrington and Chris Rolfe are going to play any minutes for a Portsmouth team that finished in the bottom third of the Premier league, then you are crazy.

    Then you start talking about other leagues, especially South American leagues like Brazil and Argentina. From what you have written, you clearly haven’t even watched or followed either of those leagues. Neither of those leagues are dominated by one team or another. In fact a team like Boca Juniors, although aging, is having a hard time competing in Argentina right now. They would wipe the floor with Chicago.

    I’m not sure what the point of this post was, other than just trying to make something stick against a wall.

  29. wheezl

    June 12, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Whatever you are smoking, it has to be illegal 🙂

    As somone who watches MLS and Serie B all year I can tell you there are only a handful of MLS teams with even a small chance of surviving relegation in a season of Serie B. When you are watching the Premier League bottom feeders playing it may *seem* like they are playing at the quality of the MLS because they are playing unattractive football against another Premiership club. Rest assured that if they were playing an MLS side it would be quite a different story.

    However given the MLS salary cap, it isn’t really fair to compare them and the MLS will get there one day. Hopefully next year will see a significant expansion of the salary cap with an expansion to the DP rule (or something similar).

    MLS is somewhere between Serie C and Serie B in quality right now. With a little patientce and a much higher salary cap, we’ll get to the quality of the Bundesliga.

    Keep going to the games; the more Stadiums that are full like Toronto and Seattle the sooner the MLS will shine.

  30. anonymous

    June 12, 2009 at 4:18 am

    what the hell is this crap? I just wasted two minutes of my life reading this drivel..

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