by West Coast Craig
Home Depot Center — Letâ€™s all take a breather now, shall we? Go on, in through the nose, hold it, now out through the mouth. Doesnâ€™t that feel better? That was a rather intense week of baseball just put in the rearview mirror, and nerves are sure to be a bit frayed. Fortunately there are only two games on the docket for today, neither of them all that enticing (viewing or wagering wise). The NBA Finals are over, and here in Los Angeles, as the prerecorded pleas from the Lakers stated (last nightâ€™s wasnâ€™t anywhere on the interwebs, but hereâ€™s one from a few years ago), we know how to â€œcelebrate with dignity.â€ Now we just have to brace ourselves for the self indulgent victory parade (hilariousâ€¦check out this Onion article from last week, then this LA Times one from just a few days later).
So in this lull I figured I might just discuss something thatâ€™s definitely virgin territory on this siteâ€¦soccer. Is that the sound of hundreds of browsers being clicked off right now? Anybody still reading this? Friend of www.MeetTheMatts.com (FOMTM), JG Clancy has been clamoring for more MLS talk on here, so I know heâ€™s still tuned in. I did, however, mention the MLS to Shorter Matt, and he incredulously spit back:
â€œWhatâ€™s that?! Soccer?! Frogginâ€™ soccer?! What the tile!?â€ – Shorter Matt
I imagine thatâ€™s the reaction of most Americansâ€¦ and itâ€™s too bad. Itâ€™s partly because somehow, even when nearly every kid in the country plays it on some early level, it gets slipped to the margins in adulthood. Hockey just went through its most exciting playoffs and a wonderful seven-game Stanley Cup Finals – and maybe 4% of the country watched. Itâ€™s too bad that the MLS would be happy to have that; games broadcast during prime time get about a .2 rating, or roughly 300,000 viewers. By comparison, YES Network reports that itâ€™s average rating so far this year is a 4.5. Which leads to this, featuring another FOMTMer.
Itâ€™s too bad, primarily because the MLS sucks. Yeah, that might not be fair, but itâ€™s true. League President Don Garber, who spent 16 years in the NFL front offices before switching to futbol, may have had the right idea at first by trying to instill the lockdown on salaries and the forced parity that keeps all teams mediocre in the hopes of keeping more across-the-board interest, but now itâ€™s reached a point of stagnation. Itâ€™s forced, systemic collusion, preventing the worldâ€™s top players and coaches from taking a chance.
Fading beauty David Beckham continues to insist heâ€™s committed to the MLSâ€¦but weâ€™ll have to wait and see it to believe it, and frankly nobody can blame him for wanting to jump ship like he did. I saw him play here at the relatively niceâ€”if a bit sterileâ€”Home Depot Center, and the guy played hard when he was healthy enough to get out on the pitch, but even with Landon Donovan out there with him he still didnâ€™t have much of a supporting cast (the blame for this must also fall on carrot topped former GM Alexi Lalas, who dismantled a young, fast team to bring in creaky old veterans thinking they might complement Beckhamâ€™s style, and set the team back years in the process). The fact is, with Beckham and his salary on board, the team canâ€™t get anybody else whoâ€™s any goodâ€”and Donovan will surely jump to Europe before longâ€”so the team will continue to stink even when heâ€™s here. Now how is that good for building soccer in this country? It only fuels the I-told-you-so gloating of stodgy old sportswriters who never understood the game in the first place and refuse to give it a chance.
The Galaxy should be the richest team in the league, and they should crush the likes of Real Salt Lake and the expansion Seattle Soundersâ€¦but they donâ€™t, and a bona fide coach like Bruce Arena is forced to deal with things like losing 18 players from last yearâ€™s squad. Eighteen! The Galaxy have two wins all year, as do the New York Red Bulls. How does that, the two biggest markets having the two lousiest teams, help the league build itself? So fearful of repeating the failure of the NASL thirty years ago, the MLS is preventing itself from becoming the Premier League of today. Iâ€™d love to advocate relegation like they do in Europe (the teams that stink get dropped out of the league, and the top teams from the lower division get brought up), but I understand thereâ€™s too much money at stake for owners to risk that…but that doesnâ€™t mean eliminate risk altogether! Every league needs dynasties, it needs the powerhouses, the teams that everyone else wants to beat. The way the MLS is set up now, that wonâ€™t happen, and despite the great potential that Beckham (watch this later) and so many others can see on these shores, the league wonâ€™t really take off until the shackles are first.