Monday, April 14, 2008

MLS Review: Weekend Three

Ah another Saturday of MLS action is in the books and interest already seems to be at midseason form: that is to say people are losing interest as evidenced by the attendance. Perhaps it was DC’s midweek loss that rendered the best in MLS for another year inferior to an upper mid table Mexican side? (although to be fair DC looked over two legs to be better than Pachuca. Houston however, looked vastly inferior to Saprissa the Costa Rican champions who have for years had a special talent to make MLS sides look bad) Or was it that simply put it is a long season and a buzz hasn’t developed yet this season?

  • I do not know what special circumstances existed this week in the Bay Area, but for all the hullabaloo about losing the Quakes, it didn’t seem like the East bay area is ready to embrace a San Jose team despite the presence of Blanco in the debut.
  • San Jose could be the best expansion team since MLS expanded in 1998 (when Chicago won the MLS Cup and Miami made the playoffs). I liked Kei Kamara’s runs and Ramiro Corrales’ quality on the ball. The backline was solid and held its shape giving Joe Cannon little to do. The little Cannon did have to do he botched up. But if the Quakes don’t have the fan base we thought they did, why are they back in existence without a stadium?
  • I don’t have much to say about Chicago other than they absorbed pressure well and got three points.
  • Peter Nowak made some bonehead moves as we discussed on the American Soccer Show prior to the US U-23 qualifying campaign. Two moves in particular we mentioned were the dropping of Robbie Rogers and Arturo Alvarez. The US’ poor qualifying campaign could have been a lot easier if the two explosive wingers had been around: evidence each ones play in the first three MLS matches.
  • New England showed its limitations with Steve Ralston leading them on versus the Rapids. But the Revs will be fine in the long run.
  • No excuses for the 8k and change in Foxboro, despite Brad Feldman’s (whom I like a great deal as a play by play guy) spin on this past Thursday’s 2Gs show and the rainy weather last night. For years the Revs used gimmicks like putting fans on one side of the stadium ( a technique perfected by former crowd builder extraordinaire Lynne Metreparel who so impressed the Kraft’s she was given the GM job in San Jose for a time) and by scheduling doubleheaders to raise the overall season average attendance. Then their was always the simple padding of numbers. I understand Foxboro is out there, the boondocks literally. But don’t make excuses: New England has a crowd problem. I recall several Sunday afternoon Spanish language TV games in the late 1990s where you could literally count the fans at the old Foxboro Stadium and then you’d see a reported attendance of 10,000.
  • Chivas USA has problems at the back and I am officially an old man as of last night because I distinctly recall watching Keith Savage’s father Bruce Savage one of the only Americans who played in 1982 and 1983 for my hometown Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL. The elder Savage played along such luminaries as Nene Cubillias, Ray Hudson, Brian Kidd, Ellias Figeruoa and Thomas Rongen.
  • Columbus has some woeful finishers even though they did score four goals. The number of chances Columbus created should have netted them at least six or seven goals.
  • Funny how dumping Ned Grabavoy makes Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers look more efficient and comfortable in the attack.
  • I love Sacha Kljestan’s game but I have seen him several times get too emotional in matches and get dumb fouls or worse yet like last night be sent off. He could be one of the best Americans in MLS but must mature in adverse situations.
  • What exactly did Preki see in Chris Pozniak that made him give up the depth and young legs that John Cuncliffe could give his team?
  • At this rate Brad Guzan will face more shots before the transfer window opens and he presumably is sold to a European club than he did the previous two seasons. Brad, does your backline remind you of year one for Chivas at all?
  • Chivas is putting too much pressure on Galindo and Kljestan to provide goals galore. The funny thing is half the time they can probably outscore their opponents, ala FC Dallas last season.
  • Chivas has looked poor in all three games this season. I’ve kept them high in my power rankings based on names on a piece of paper. This week they take the drop for sure.
  • Memo to Bob Bradley: Kenny Cooper is healthy and looks more dangerous than ever with great touch and an improved pace. Drop Eddie Johnson for good and bring Cooper in for another look.
  • FC Dallas should have nine points right now but instead have just five. Honestly, I am not sure anyone has better players than the Hoops but as we discussed earlier this week on the site, some teams are simply cursed and can’t stand prosperity. Until something clearly changes that, Steve Morrow’s bunch cannot be taken seriously as a title contender.
  • Kansas City’s attendance across the river in Kansas at Community America Ballpark is certainly much better than it was at Arrowhead.
  • Gretna refugee Tony Caig had a nightmare against Saprissa in the Champions Cup, but he came back with a solid game against the Wizards.
  • Santino Quaranta, once the golden child of US Soccer appears to finally be growing into a good player.
  • I like Real Salt Lake’s team this season as our readers and listeners know. However, I took nothing from the 4-0 drubbing of DC. Not only did United field a reserve type side that was emotionally drained after the controversial defeat at the hands of Pachuca in the Champions Cup midweek, but RSL has actually become what Bolton has been to Arsenal the last few years. A bogey team. Thus, I encourage everyone to not read too much into the result.
  • Part of the reason I am so high on RSL is their depth. Robbie Findley, for example comes off the bench to add scoring punch. Were he still with the Galaxy he’d be forced to go 90 minutes each and every night.
The plight of the LA Galaxy after Sunday's "performance" is discussed below. Clearly Toronto FC despite making poor choices about players from Europe got a high class #10 type player in Amado Guevara and it showed Sunday.

It seems the debate about the standard of Major League Soccer is never ending and a huge gulf exists between those who believe MLS teams would be successful in Serie A or the Premier League and those who equate MLS teams to third or fourth division European teams. This debate may find itself shifted to new ground in the near future. It seems this season for the first time we have teams in MLS that play a clearly Latin style running circles around those stuck in MLS circa 2003 or are attempting to replicate European 4th division glory on North American soil. Only New England with their British style but superior domestic scouting network stand apart from this trend. Los Angeles with their hybrid of European flavor and American second and third division quality players (US-1 and USL-2 quality) has thrown off the early success latin footballers like Mauricio Cienfuegos brought the club and have embraced a style and quality of football that reflects poorly on MLS and US Soccer as a whole.

Toronto FC has achieved a breakthrough to supercede the arrogant Galaxy thanks to Mo Johnston’s renewed faith in Amado Guevara (this time Mo does not have to coach the great Honduran just had to make a deal to get him) and the lucky break of facing the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS’ worst team early in the season away from home. While TFC is still a bottom feeder, Guevara is so good he’ll inevitably make the Championship, SPL and League One washouts around him much better.

I have a problem which is why perhaps I’m not as cutting edge or truly honest with all our readers and listeners as I ought to be. Those who have read my work before the American Soccer Show know that despite my respect for Landon Donovan I think the rest of the Los Angeles Galaxy franchise is an embarrassment to the game in this country. Yet, time after time I make excuses publically for the Galaxy whether it is on this blogsite or on the air. I claim international call ups, injuries, scheduling, etc have created trouble. It’s not like I claim the Galaxy are any great shake, but I do articulate a “me too” position since so many in the soccer media keep making excuses and claiming the Galaxy has improved. I feel like I’ll look biased (since I have been accused often of anti-Galaxy bias) if I don’t “go along.” Well that is my fault, and isn’t the fault of anyone else. Obviously I never felt strongly enough about my own convictions to completely reject conventional wisdom on this particular subject even though I have been very outspoken on many other current issues in the sport.

Well now, let’s be brutally honest, and let me reconnect with my gut instinct and take off the politically correct glasses. Not only have the Galaxy not improved, but they are the worst team in MLS, by a long distance. Yet they have a payroll twice that of any other team in the league, save Chicago. But this isn’t simply the case of an isolated team making bad personnel decisions. This is a case of a team who thinks they are bigger than the league and sum of its other parts making bad decisions and reflecting poorly on the league as whole abroad. This is the case of a team that was super successful in the early days of the league believing that success somehow entitled the Galaxy brand to flourish above all others on the American soccer landscape. It is an arrogance that despite several color and uniform redesigns that changed the identity of the club, believes that simply being called the “Galaxy” translates into some sort of magical team resembling the galacticos of Real Madrid fame.

The franchise that brought David Beckham to MLS also has a collection of players beyond Beckham, Donovan, Carlos Ruiz and Abel Xavier worse than the average USL-1 side. In other words, the Galaxy’s talent level is a whole division lower than that of their opposition in Major League Soccer. The Galaxy continue to mismanage the salary cap and then complain about the rules of the league: as if the rules should not apply to them. But the rules are applied more or less uniformly throughout MLS, and the Galaxy are failing the very same tests that less glamorous and publicized franchises consistently pass.

We as soccer fans in the United States are all indebted in some form to AEG. But we’ve since repaid that debt. Now AEG is on a mission to take our little league that has done so much to grow the game in this country and make it a worldwide brand. Now while that may seem like a good thing, if it is done the wrong way the results and image developed can be disastrous. That is without a doubt what has happened now with the Galaxy. The team has been worn down by both post season and pre season globe trotting tours and now comes back to the only competition they compete in (while some other league teams restricted by the very same rules as far as squad size and salary are entered in over five competitions) and look thoroughly outclassed. Even poor David Beckham, the world class player he is, had to resort to hacking Jeff Cunningham (for which he was not booked) to slow down the tempo of a game moving way too fast for the Galaxy’s already dead tired legs.

The Galaxy provide the equivalent of League One or Serie C/1 football in a league whose best teams are pushing Premier League and Serie A levels. Yet this is a franchise who claims they somehow are the “gold standard” in North America. How pathetically laughable, but also how sorry and sick this whole episode is for the public image of Major League Soccer.