What is MLS Thinking?

March 18, 2009

seattle

MLS is already a niche league. As much as I’d love to see a viable American soccer league, MLS has it’s fans and really doesn’t have much more room to grow in terms of a fan base. And they certainly aren’t going to do themselves any favors with their idiotic season opener tomorrow night.

Major League Soccer will be kicking off its fourteenth season tomorrow night at 9 in a match between New York Red Bull and the Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? New club opening their inaugural season with a prime time game against the club from the league’s biggest market. Sure, that makes perfect sense. The problem is that the game will run against the NCAA TOURNAMENT. The game will be on ESPN2 (not even regular ESPN, which will probably be an all-day Sports Center covering the NCAA’s) and will literally be directly competing with the late games of the first day of the NCAA tournament.

I know ESPN has to run something against the NCAA’s since they’ll be on CBS but this sounds like a disaster. Why aren’t they starting the season tonight in the void just before the tournament starts? Sports fans will be looking for anything to watch on tv as baseball hasn’t reached regular season yet, there’s not that much interest in the World Baseball Classic and the tournament will be just a day away. That seems like the perfect opportunity to get a nice rating for the opening game of a league that could really use the increased viewership. But no, MLS is going to compete with the NCAA tournament. The only thing they could do that would be dumber than that would be to open on Super Bowl Sunday.

Granted, MLS is getting incrementally better each season. There are still major points of improvement that could be made (see Trey’s column last year, and one of mine that drew quite a few angry responses) but on the whole, the league is establishing itself as a relatively viable product. But decisions like the opening game date/time are what will confine it to secondary or tertiary status in the minds of American sports fans. Wake up MLS, present your product in a way that makes sense. It’s not like MLS is NHL, mired on a network that no one knows where it is or if they even have it. The matches are on ESPN2. Use that to your advantage, not the opposite.

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MLS Blow it Again

February 14, 2009

beckhamOnce again, MLS have wasted a chance to improve their league by holding on to a player and turning down a nice European offer. David Beckham’s purpose in MLS has now passed. The main reason for bringing him to the US in the first place was to generate media attention, attract other European players and improve the overall quality of play in the league. Now, the only media attention on Beckham will be about how much he doesn’t want to be here, his use as an advert for the benefits of US soccer is over with his clearly stated desire to stay in Milan and the chances that he actually plays with 100% effort when he returns is not very high.

In some way, Beckham’s odyssey to America for soccer has already been a bit of a waste. He arrived in 2007 on a team that was third-worst in MLS. Last year the Galaxy were tied for the worst in the league. He spends about as much time traveling back and forth to England for national team responsibilities (as he should) as he does in Los Angeles and he’s been injured. While he has had some really nice games and developed a nice one-two with Landon Donovan, the hoped for results simply have not been there.

So why wouldn’t the Galaxy let him have an extended loan even, or flat out sell him to AC Milan? If they think he has better years ahead they’re sorely mistaken. Beckham is not young and each year it’s going to be harder and harder for him to compete at an elite level. Yes, he’s played exceptionally well for Milan but that doesn’t mean he can come back and do the same in LA. As I’ve mentioned before, when you don’t have top talent around you, it’s difficult to produce the exceptional results he’s done in Milan or did in Madrid or Manchester in the past.

MLS should be happy with any money they can get for any of their players. They have wasted opportunities with players in the past like Clint Dempsey. Dempsey had an offer of $1.5 million from Charlton Athletic (when they were still in the Premiership) in August 2006 that MLS refused because it was not a high enough number. That rejection led Dempsey to declare he would leave for Europe at season’s end (his contract with MLS was to be up) regardless of the money. Four months later Fulham ended up giving him a $4 million offer which was accepted by MLS but the earlier rejection pushed Dempsey to a point where he will probably never play in MLS again, even when he’s past his prime.

That is a the biggest issue I have with MLS. They cannot keep trying to act like the league is the end-all-be-all for Ameircan (or other) players. It’s just not. If a guy gets a decent contract to go play in Europe, even if it’s in Norway or the English first division, they’re usually going to go for it. And they should. MLS is a decent league and is improving over all, but it still does not compare with playing in Europe. If there is interest in an MLS player, the league should almost always allow them to go because it will give the players a good memory of MLS. They’ll remember that the league was willing to give them that chance to fulfill their dream and play in Europe. That would in turn lead those players to recommend MLS to other players, younger players, etc. Instead, MLS pushes players away, reducing the talent pool and for those that they refuse an exit, reduces their interest in playing well.

Anyway, all this is to say that MLS is making a huge mistake in forcing Beckham back to Los Angeles for the start of this season. At the very least they should’ve extended his loan. It’s not like there’s not a payment with a loan. And if money is all MLS is worried about at this point, they’re going to go downhill, not up.


The Beckham Question

February 5, 2009

beckhamWith news flying in from Europe and LA that David Beckham is trying to make his short-term loan to AC Milan a permanent move, I’m reminded of a column I wrote on a short-lived blog I did about two years ago. Here is the link to my thoughts on January 11, 2007.

The question is, was Beckham a complete bust/waste in Major League Soccer? I would say no, but not by much. Between being hurt and playing for a bad team, Beckham didn’t really contribute much on the pitch. He did score a number of times and developed a nice on-field relationship with Landon Donovan, often assisting on Donovan’s Galaxy goals. But he didn’t really do much to change the game in this country.

One of the major issues has been that apart from Donovan there haven’t been many top-level talents around him. In very short time, Beckham was contributed heavily to AC Milan. There are obviously other players of his caliber on the pitch and that really does make a difference.

Another issue was that there was so much hype surrounding his arrival that he could never have lived up to it. The demands were scoring every match, at least once, and making the Galaxy the best team in North America. Well of course that wasn’t going to happen but since the American press, even the American soccer press, is so naive they just exaggerated exactly how much of an impact he would have. Beckham was good for the Galaxy but he’s a midfielder so his impact is only going to appear for those who are paying attention. He was never going to fill the scoresheet every game.

The league did all it could to promote his matches and promote the club and his jersey sales. Beckham himself did nice job of recreating the image of the Galaxy from this to this. But better looking uniforms and 3/4 filled stadia instead of half-filled just isn’t enough to start a revolution.

Ultimately, who knows if his contract will allow him to stay at Milan. If a deal can be worked out, it’s possible that this move could be a boon for MLS in terms of receiving nice compensation for parting ways with Beckham. But if he does go back to LA, everyone will know his heart is not in it and it will be effectively the end of whatever impact he might have ever had. He can’t attract other stars to the league if they all know he doesn’t want to be there.


Landon Donovan Goes Back to Germany

November 20, 2008

American forward Landon Donovan will be taken out on loan from LA Galaxy to Bayern Munich starting January 1. Donovan has spent time in Germany before as a member of Bayer Leverkusen. He made only seven appearances with the senior club and never scored in the four years at the club. Though he was on loan to the San Jose Earthquakes for several of those years.

Donovan, who says he is a much more mature and complete player than he was when he left Leverkusen in 2005, can do himself quite a few favors if he performs well in the short stint in the Bundesliga. His manager will be J├╝rgen Klinsmann, the manager of the 2006 German World Cup squad as well as a German international hero of his own right. Klinsmann lives in the United States and is very familiar with Donovan and his abilities.

Again, I’m hoping the mainstream American sports press don’t get all hot and bothered by stars of an American league going out on loan during their off-season like they did with David Beckham. Donovan does not have a clause that guarantees his immediate return to Los Angeles but chances are, this is not a permanent move. Either way, it’s good for the profile of MLS as well as Donovan personally.


Loan Ignorance

October 30, 2008

becksCan someone please inform the mainstream sports media that loans in soccer happen all the time? Please? From PTI to blogs and websites all over the internet, American sports pundits have decried the LA Galaxy’s loan of David Beckham to AC Milan. They’ve questioned whether he’ll ever come back or labeled it a “loan” inferring that it’s just a sale.

Here’s the deal, clubs loan players out all the time. Often times bigger clubs with too much talent will loan players out to smaller clubs. Sometimes it’s between two big clubs. A good example is Fernando Morientes who was loaned from Real Madrid to Monaco in 2003. After starring for Monaco in the Champions League (and French Ligue Un), Morientes returned to Real and sat on the bench. Eventually he was sent to Liverpool. Anyway, it would not be unusual if Beckham performed exceptionally well for Milan for the Galaxy to demand his return at the end of the loan period (as yet unnamed).

In the meantime, MLS makes a large amount of money from the loan and loses a player during its off-season. Pretty tough to argue with those scenarios. Plus, Beckham will stay in shape and play against much tougher competition than he would here in the States.

So please, stop acting like this is some big deal. This is common, we just don’t hear about it here very often because there aren’t often high profile players who are desired enough for a big time European club to take one out on loan.


Toja to Steaua

August 4, 2008

After several weeks of speculation, Juan Toja has signed a transfer to the Bucharest club. Toja was only in MLS for about a year, having come over from River Plate in early 2007. He was an MLS All-Star both years he was in Dallas and should make a nice addition for Steaua. The Bucharest side has not won Lige I in two years, ceding the title to Dinamo two years ago and CFR Cluj last year, the first non-Bucharest club to win the league since 1991. Steaua has been the runner-up each of the past two years.

Steaua played in Champions League in 2007 but took only one point from the group stage in a late November draw with Slavia Prague. Sevilla and Arsenal went through Group H into the knockout stages.


Cooper to Cardiff City?

July 28, 2008

After spending a lot of time talking about how Kenny Cooper was going to be signing with Rosenborg of the Norwegian first division during the MLS All-Star v. West Ham game, it’s now looking like Cooper might be headed to Cardiff City. Cardiff City plays in the Championship in England and made it to the FA Cup Final this spring, only to fall to Portsmouth.

This is interesting news for Cooper as it means he’d be playing against teams in England and would have a chance at promotion to the EPL, if the Bluebirds did well enough. That’s not a certainty at all though, as Cardiff City finished 12th in the Championship last season. Still though, you’d have to imagine going to a country where you speak the language (sort of, Welsh is pretty odd) and would play well known English sides like Charlton, Reading, Swansea City, Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday would improve his chances of ultimately returning to the Premiership.

It does seem weird that FC Dallas would be trying so hard to keep Cooper in MLS. I understand the league wants as many good players as possible in the league, but wouldn’t it also be good for the league to be sending players to Europe. Wouldn’t that increase the visibility and profile of the league?