Friday, October 30, 2009

Everyone's Hopped Up on Goofballs

...and I like it!

Following my weird and wacky vision for a new kind of MLS, which garnered some suprisingly positive reactions, the Canadian Stretford End is pushing the idea for an interim Canadian Soccer League (no, not that CSL) now that Vancouver and Montreal, the two USL-1 finalists, are homeless.

The fact is, localized Canadian leagues have normally operated without a hell of a lot clubs in the past, so notching one or two extra Canadian entrants would probably be enough to sustain MTL and VAN until they restructure in time for entry into MLS proper. And maybe once those clubs leave, you could merge the survivors into the existing CSL, and make it a better shitty league than the shitty league it is now.

These are all ideas, and crazy ones considering where we've come from, but intriguing nonetheless.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What is MLS? Apparently Not Open to Criticism

I've written that Garber keeps his ideological cards close to his chest, but in fining DCU Prez Kevin Payne $5000 today for calling a spade a spade—that the onfield product in MLS is not good enough and won't draw in more fans until it is—means that the guy isn't hearing what needs to be heard.

This is really not good, especially in light of the fact Payne didn't even mention bringing better players with more money, everyone's favourite MLS bugbear. Payne instead said the league needs to move away from stiff formations, and slow, defensive play. This is at least in part what I've been trying to push lately—that tactically, MLS should be taking advantage of the current egalitarian set-up to experiment with more open, attacking football.

The gist of my frustration, and part of what Payne speaks to, is that if the league can't bring in the players, nor threaten teams with relegation, and include half the league in a knockout competition for the one trophy worth winning in the league, then bloody hell, why not open things up, why not bring in coaching staff worthy of bringing fitness levels up, dropping median ages so we can move away from league play that makes Serie A look like Space Invaders?

Whether it was for specifically calling out other clubs or not (we're all in this together everybody, even though we're different football clubs in direct competition in the league!), Payne is out of pocket for 5 Gs, and lord knows the rest of league isn't going to pipe up anytime soon. We can safely say Garber isn't on board with promoting these sorts of changes. But beyond that, managers throughout the world call out other clubs for parking the bus or not attacking enough; why should MLS be any different?

I dunno about this league.

Phil Brown claims Hull's players are behind him 'one million per cent'


Guardian Headline: Phil Brown has insisted that his players are "a million per cent" behind him despite speculation mounting that his job as Hull City's manager is under threat.

Yes, of course the players are a million percent behind me; even though the media wants to drop an H-Bomb right over Kingston-upon-Hull, my players know that I am the greatest manager who has ever lived. If you want to put that into perspective, that's Alf Ramsey times Jock Stein to the power of about a hundred thousand Sir Alex Fergusons. That sort of managerial prowess can move whole worlds out of orbit, like shifting from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, I think.

Anyway, with Paul Duffen out of the way, who has taken responsibility for Hull's losses (and I'm not about to doubt my chairman, now am I? I mean those are his words, right?), expect to see us score about a billion goals this season, and for us to win one hundred million trophies. Our attendances will skip just past the five hundred thousand mark, which should solve this club's financial problems for all time.

And we will eventually move out of the Premier League altogether, into some sort of invisible league even further up, and if not that, world—no, scratch that—galactic government. No thanks, no questions, I have lives to go save, and as a side project, the finest football team the world has ever seen to manage, like the bloody mega-super-genius I am.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Enough of this "Sophisticated Soccer-Base" Nonsense

Ever since Toronto FC debuted back in April 2007, its supporters have been referred to by local media as a "sophisticated soccer base." It's patronizing that adult MLS fans with a committed stake in the outcome of matches and a working knowledge of the league table are suddenly pipe-carrying, elbow patched Lobanovskyi's ready with our doctoral theses on the coming of 4-6-0.

Anyway, the notion goes, most recently articulated by Paul James the Globe and Mail, that barring significant changes at the managerial level, the "sophisticated" fans in the south stand at BMO Field will empty out until Mo Johnston leaves and is replaced by MLSE brass with a competent manager capable of working the MLS player market and transforming the club into a winning venture.

Maybe, but these "sophisticated fans" supposedly schooled in Euro soccer history have already had to overcome the hump of supporting what is essentially a expansion franchise in a centrally administered, egalitarian soccer league based in the USA, owned by an extraordinarily wealthy corporation that owns a hockey club that is the best supported in the world and has failed to win the Stanley Cup since 1967. These are supporters whose little tidbits of fan culture have been appropriated as marketing tools, luring "unsophisticated" fans in with the prospect of authentic "atmosphere" to go along with the eight dollar chip buttys. Hell, the scarves raised in two thirds of the stadium are corporate give aways.

And we're now on year three of no playoffs, and no significant progression, and more importantly, no concrete improvement on the quality of play. But we'll still show up because Toronto FC is all we have; it exists to fill a club football sized hole in the centre of the city. Don't think MLSE you've done anything truly special yet other than getting the club here. "Sophisticated" fans that we are, we know it's the only show in town. All we can do is ask that, as we continue to aid your marketing strategy with our songs and banners and the rest, you give back a little by making some hard decisions about how this club is run.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chris Cummins Gone

So, there, Cummins is gone. Duane Rollins thinks his leaving won't account for much, following his convincing argument the other day for Trader Mo's dismissal as sporting director.

Fine Cummins out, so can we stop the ex-lower level Luton/Newcastle parade now? These are the last of clubs in a long line of Graham Taylor-Watford-Wimbledon eighties style Charles Reep football, and follows a "we need this part to fit in this cog" line of thinking to work properly—you have to have two centerbacks and they both have to be big, you need a poacher near goal with a runner in behind him, and you need a classic lined up midfield to grease that 4-4-2. This would have worked, maybe, had Mo Johnston been a little more adept at playing the transfer market. But he wasn't, and one wonders if that's is why both Carver and Cummins have left under such hasty terms.

So, while it won't happen, perhaps it would be nice to get a coach able to deal with what he's given. Perhaps something like a more attacking, less traditional 4-5-1, with a quick, muscular striker able to move at pace [insert name here, cuz he ain't at TFC yet], Barrett as a winger and the midfield supported enough with some good defenders and De Guzman properly holding with Robinson gone so they can push forward and attack. But an English coach from the old system isn't gonna produce that for you...time to look elsewhere.

What is MLS? Here is My Bizarre Fantasy Version

Let me present a very simplistic formulation. Let's assume that in order for MLS to receive higher television revenues, it must draw in more supporters. Let it also be resolved that, for those fans to show up at MLS games and commit wholesale to the league, the quality of the on-pitch product must get better. And let's assert that the only way the on-field product will get better is if the league spends more money to buy better players. Finally, be it resolved that the only way MLS can afford to buy better players is to generate higher revenues.

Assuming you agree with the above assertions, MLS seems stuck in a vicious cycle, right? It might also be the reason for so much blogger-on-blogger violence in the MLS sphere. So let's see if there is any way out of this conundrum.

Let's say that for now, the issue of the soft cap and designated players is immovable. How do you generate a better on-field product in order to entice more fans to the league?

This might put me on the business end of a very detailed flaming post, but why doesn't MLS consider a radical move: a wholesale ideological change in direction away from purchasing "ready-made" talent, either overseas or within the league, and toward investment in superb managerial and coaching staff? The move would be coupled with player development above and beyond the current academy and Generation Adidas college draft scheme, like strengthening administrative ties with USSF development academy clubs, as well as restarting the reserve league (Canada's player development set-up is so outmoded it requires its own post. In the mean time, listen to ICF's interview with CIS coach Pat Nearing and the SAAC's Gary Miller).

In other words, why not take MLS to the wild extreme of its original mandate? Why not lower the current salary cap across the board while increasing rookie wages, as Ben Knight once suggested, and allow owners to invest not in DPs but top line managerial and coaching talent, at the league and academy levels? Why not kill off the draft system altogether, and allow managers to compete with one another in negotiating with college and USSF academy players directly?

Sure, we might lose a lot of very good players in search of higher wages elsewhere. Good on the league; it might raise its overseas profile beyond the borders of Craven Cottage. Let's transform MLS into a European farm league, hell let's even encourage a European/MLS partnership, investment in player development in return for first rights to players when they reach a certain age.

My fantasy would be to have a league of up-and-coming eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year-olds, selected from a healthy and interconnected youth academy system, in administrative tandem with both a (reformed) CSA and USSF, coached by young, top level managers wanting a move away from the South American or European spotlight, free to experiment with formations and training techniques without the traditional repercussions of a top-heavy relegation/promotion system. Free, attacking football, young, mistake-prone, yes, but also open, new, and equal. A league where North American soccer fans can go to spot global talent in its infancy before hopefully striking out for Europe or elsewhere. A league where young managers can prove themselves before making a bigger move down the line.

Since we're likely to keep supporting our clubs no matter what, what is there to lose? It won't ever happen, and no one will go for it, and it the owners would likely balk at the prospect, but I think it would be kinda cool, even if it would mean bye-bye TFC as we know it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some Post Season Thoughts on Toronto FC

It's rumoured that Chris Cummins may be leaving Toronto FC, although he denied it yesterday to the CBC. Fine, we'll see. But while I was previously opposed to a managerial shift, I'm starting to change my mind.

Jason de Vos' column puts down TFC's failure to qualify for the playoffs this season to too much individualism in the dressing room, and an unprofessional attitude on the part of the club's lesser lights. "Tactics are meaningless if the players who walk over that white line won’t fight for each other."

I agree, but the best tacticians also tend to be the best man managers. Think Arrigo Sacchi at AC Milan. The problem with the tactical set-up at TFC now is that it doesn't demand enough individually from the players. Key team members get slotted into pre-existing positions, and failure to perform means they don't get first team football. In other words, you're creating a first team and making the players go to it, rather than building players capable of forming a first team.

Right now, Toronto FC has arguably the best midfield in the league, but suffers huge deficiencies at the front and back. Tele Santana's '82 Brazil, while obviously not in the same solar system as our three year-old MLS team, had a similar "problem." They overcame it with intelligent, narrow, possession football.

Toronto FC has two designated players in midfield position, De Rosario and De Guzman. De Rosario is normally afforded a lot of freedom, and rightly so; he's good holding up the ball, moving it into space. De Guzman on the other hand was trained under the Dutch system that prizes ability on the ball above all else, and made his name playing in league where success and failure is determined by ability to hold the ball. His position as holding midfielder meant it was his job at Depo to win the ball back deep and intelligently direct play moving forward.

TFC are still playing under an English system perfectly suited to BMO Field's terrible plastic pitch, with long balls sent up to a big centre forward hoping to take advantage of a bad bounce or two. The problem is, that centre forward has retired, grass is on its way, and Toronto FC has been left with a midfield packed with individual talent. Going for a big central defender and a fox-in-the-box striker may get you into the playoffs, but it's not going to win you an MLS Cup, nor will it produce particularly memorable soccer.

Possession football is difficult. It requires tactical acuity, high fitness level and excellent technique on and off the ball. You need a manager capable of imposing a high individual standard and team spirit, and if de Vos is to be believed, Chris Cummins is not that man. Wouldn't it be cheaper in the long term to invest in a standard of play to reflect TFC's sweet new flat top and Rolls Royce engine? Why doesn't Mo try breaking the bank instead on a manager capable of bringing a show worthy of our Canadian content midfield to Toronto?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

How Fabio Capello draws on rugby and ice Hockey in World Cup pursuit

Meet England's new Assistant Head Coach

Guardian Headline: Fabio Capello has revealed that the coaching style he hopes will inspire England to win the World Cup in South Africa next summer draws heavily from techniques he has picked up from interest in volleyball, baseball, rugby union and ice hockey.

"...ice hockey is crazy because it's a mix between boxing and other sports. The referee has to stop the game all the time because each incident leads to a boxing match."


Fabio Capello: Okay, John Terry, when the opposing forward gets too close and, como se dice, slashes you with a low stick near, your ah, the ah, loose parts, you will throw off your gloves and skate up to him, and stop, and spray him with ice. Expect him to throw off his gloves also.

JT: Sorry Mr. Capello, but what do you mean by "stick"? And I never wear gloves so how can I throw them off? Is that a metaphor for like, throwing off my own ego?

FC: Yes, John Terry, yes. So when he starts ah, punching—

JT: Sorry what?

FB: —make sure you pull his jersey right over his face and start, ah, how you say, working the body with his fists. Do not worry, the referees will not intervene until one of you falls down, and you will both receive penalties. These are new coaching aspects from other games. I am Capello, I follow all sports. Football is a gigantic universal Hoover vacuum with all sports inside, and you all live inside this vacuum too with the other sports commingling like specs of dust in the empty cosmos. You understand?

JT: Uh I don't really un—

FB: Okay, now we will learn what Bridge can teach us about defending from set plays. You see, Bridge is a crazy sport because it involves aspects from poker, where everyone sits at a table playing cards, and mathematics, because of adding up points and such...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Downside of Europe: Maurice Edu Edition

Could you imagine Marvel Wynne or O'Brien White getting racially abused in the BMO parking lot by a Toronto FC supporter? Not that I'm of the whole "there's no racism here, we live under Pierre Trudeau's beautiful multicultural rainbow where nothing ever goes wrong" school of Canadian self back-slappery, but let's just say if it happened, I suspect you would get headlines in every single national daily, weeks of op-eds about how racism persists in Canada, and anti-racist tifos in the south end that would make Dichio's tribute look like a bit of tissue paper.

That is to say, you'd get more than a Guardian side story segueing about halfway in to this: "On the field, Rangers have been rocked by the news that another midfielder, Pedro Mendes, will be absent for at least two months because of a knee injury."

It's an encouraging sign though that Rangers are going to some effort to find this asshole.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Play Devil's Advocate on Yesterday's Champions League Topsy-turvy

Russian champions Rubin Kazan beat Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou. Liverpool lose 1-2 to Lyon at Anfield. Arsenal concede a late equalizer against AZ Alkmaar, 1-1. Dynamo Kiev (who's ever heard of them? Or right, one of the most important clubs in the development of modern football) draw 2-2 with Inter Milan. Rangers get hammered at home 1-4 to FC Unirea (which is bound to get us more than one urination gags on this Thursday's Football Weekly).

Ergo, every single major English daily is following various threads on just what this will mean for Rafa's future at Liverpool (yesterday was his fourth defeat in a row! We'll never keep our farm from mean old Mr. McGuire now!), or that Walter Smith must be smashed and boiled and eaten by dogs, and that Arsenal are just a bunch of suckling babes in mens-sized white and red shirts compared with the Giants of Yore, which means the Arsenal of 2004 I think.

But let's remember how UEFA has helpfully organized this competition. As Glendenning so often points out, you could lose just about a million games in the Fall and still walk out with Ol' Big Ears. So, let's have a little look at the tables shall we?


Just in case it's too small, Liverpool three points off the next round, Barcelona, top on goal difference, Inter one point off the top, Rangers three points off the the next round, Arsenal top by one point. There's a reason the Nou Camp was half empty last night. I understand papers need selling and fans need goading and bosses need pressure, but you're not going to fool me, or apparently many others, that anything of any importance ever happens to anyone in October in Europe in the sport of soccer. Although it sure was nice for the little kids to beat up on the big kids for once, even though those big kids will come back later with semi-automatic rifles and Teflon vests.

Fake Sigi ou—I mean, have a nice day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chelsea's Training Ground Inquest as Led by Deputy Commisioner Rawls


From the Guardian: Michael Ballack has revealed how Chelsea's players held a training-ground inquest into the set-piece errors which are threatening to disrupt their season.

Okay, quit hamming around back there. We've got a major investigation on our hands and I don't want any mistakes. Word on the pitch is that we're letting in goals on set-pieces at an alarming rate. The press is already all over it, and if we don't get this investigation right, I've got to interrupt my lunch break to tell yet another poor player's agent that they suffered a point blank own-goal on the cusp of a major player transfer deal. I've been charged to getting down the set-piece goal rate to ten a year, direct from the manager's office and I expect results.

Right, Detective Terry, any leads on what's causing all this? The inability to stop the ball from bouncing into the net? Is that your poor fucking excuse for a joke, detective? What about my defensive wall? Where are my players on the posts? Where are my shot blockers? Do you have any reason why I shouldn't bump you down to the reserves right now you sniveling bastard?

Wait, are you crying, detective? Because this inquest has barely begun and the last thing I need is some sniveling man-boy who's got no case, no leads, no motive, nothing but some trumped up baby tears. You are relieved sir. Leave the podium. I said leave the goddamn podium. Officer Drogba, yes you, detective, you're taking his place.

Now officer, what exactly have you come up with? You're a striker so you don't really have any clue? Jesus H. Christ, you are one handsome man, but you're about as dumb as a cheese sandwich. But you're all I got for now, but even so, if you can't tell me why I have goals getting headed in on corners RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY GODDAMN GOALKEEPER in my own fuckin' unit, I will put you on marine duty so fuckin' fast you'll wonder if you forgot your balls in the centre circle.

Now all of you, if I don't have some goddamn answers before this unit heads out against Atletico Madrid tomorrow, I will replace you with personnel capable of giving me those answers, you understand me?

Dismissed.

An Ode to Goals Scored by Beach Balls


As a Toronto FC season ticket holder, I have seen my fair share of junk chucked onto the field. I will even claim responsibility for contributing to it at least once, when Danny Dichio scored that goal and I thought I'd rather be a part of history than some guy with a novelty seat warmer.

But I've never chucked a streamer at a corner-taker, nor have I thrown my half-empty ten dollar beer cup at an opposing forward running along the touch-line to celebrate a goal with no one in particular. And I was one of many fans eager to see who ever chucked a flair onto the plastic pitch awhile back get cuffed and charged.

That said, there is something about the messiness of pitch-level garbage I appreciate. When you flip on the TV or an illegal internet feed (heaven forfend) to watch a Premier League game, the first shot you get is of a pristine green pitch, mowed in mesmerizing patterns with white lines as crisp as cake icing. When the action begins, it's almost surreally perfect, players in clear formation, fans standing and sitting and waving their flags just like their autonomic video game doppelgangers.

In FIFA 09 however, all decisions are perfect, every offside call just right, ever foul and penalty decision clear as day, and you will never, ever see a boy's novelty beach ball wind up unobstructed in the middle of the six yard box. Not so in MLS; if a video game featured pitches faint grid-iron hash marks, or players celebrating while dodging beer cans, or streamers tossed ad hoc on opposing corner takers, you'd be much closer to the North American game. Messy, unclear, imperfect. Just like real life. Something European football has striven to remove erase.

Perhaps it's because I follow MLS that I don't see the beach ball incident as one of those ignoble refereeing whoppers to be forever immortalized on YouTube. I see it as the detritus of real life encroaching on the illusion of a hyperreal Premier League, as an homage to football's messy roots years removed from today's sanitized world of mathematical formations and electronic hoarding signs. It's the football of Hans van der Meer (recently profiled in brilliant fashion by football iconoclast Fredorrarci), open to the expanses of the world and all the little errors that make incarnated life so messy, so imperfect, so fleshy.

Like football on a godawful, frozen pitch in the early eighties, key internationals played in fog, or the White Horse final, it's history now, and perhaps, depending on how the Premier League narrative plays out, it will be among the only things anyone remembers from "just another season in the PL." This is not to say I advocate throwing things onto the field, and certainly referees should strive to make the correct call about objects obstructing play. But Saturday was a reminder that beach balls will still end up where they don't belong and referees will fail to disallow goals and bad penalties will be given and balls will cross the white line with no goal given, or not cross them and be given. In other words, God laughs at men's plans.

It's also worth remembering that in the end the beach ball didn't defeat Liverpool—Sunderland did. There were eighty minutes for Liverpool to equalize and they couldn't break the defense for all their hard work. Good football clubs win because they overcome all systems and they correct for "shit happens." Rafa has often undermined himself with pinpoint player rotations and overly cautious formations, only to be undone by the wildness of the willful world crashing down around him. Like a beach ball swatted into the Liverpool goal mouth by some kid.

And sitting there in the box, an instrument of brand marketing and club merchandise sales, one tiny link in the circuit of financial exchange in the "New" Premier League; it went rogue, an affront to the game of suited tacticians and made-for-television fixtures. Because try as you might, you will never completely erase the inherent dirtiness of the world from the Modern Game. Like the streamered corner kick taker at BMO Field who sends in a perfect, headed in cross to win the game, football itself is all that can transcend it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hyperbolic Guardian Sub-Header Watch

I can't get a screen capture on my work computer, but take my word for it or go see it right now.

"Premier League: Bobby Zamora and Diomansy Kamara scored to give Fulham victory and leave Hull in relegation trouble"

Written on this, the 19th of October 2009, in the 2009-2010 Premier League season.

MLS: for Adults Only

Just picked this article up from USSoccerPlayers.com from the pitchinvasion.net twitter feed, and it's an interesting read. The opening line certainly corroborates what I've been sensing in my recent foray into the cultural side of North America's professional league:

"In August, Major League Soccer ticket sales dipped over 4% overall and dropped double digits up to 34% for six franchises while nationwide sales for international matches skyrocketed. That should be enough of an indication that MLS needs to rethink what marketing to adults means."

The author, L.E. Eisenmenger, recommends among other things that MLS make league operations and transfer deals more transparent, signalling to supporters exactly how the league intends to make the on-field product more palatable for seasoned fans, or "adults" as she puts it.

For fans to commit to MLS, Eisenmenger argues the league must "convin[e] people that they’re putting money into the product by spending on talent." I absolutely agree, but following what Eisenmenger suggests gets you right square in the face with those godawful but oh-so important issues like the soft cap and second designated player allotments. And that requires financial risk on the part of franchise investors, and then we get into MLS' and North American soccer's inherent conservatism and ---

will the circle be unbroken?

MLS Playoff Race Helpfully Explained


Here also is how a typical gas furnace works

Many MLS followers are having a hard time figuring out just what needs to happen in MLS' final week of fixtures in order for their team to qualify, so AMSL will helpfully explain it to you in clear language that you can understand.

You see, it's not as complicated as you might think. Toronto FC needs to beat the New York Red Bulls this week, and FC Dallas and DC United would also need to win or something too. But if New England wins, that would mean the end of Colorado's season, unless Colorado were to score four goals, which would mean DC United would make it into the playoffs, but not Toronto FC. You with me?

So, in order for Toronto FC to go through, Colorado would have to lose and Dallas draw, unless of course Toronto FC scores less than two goals which would mean New England would qualify at their expense. Now, in the off chance FC Dallas and DC United both win, the decision on which team will qualify will come down to the dreaded four-way tie breaker game.

You've heard a lot about this tie-breaker scenario, and yes, it's as bad as you think. If the tie-breakers end in draws, only New England and Toronto FC go through, unless DC United get two yellow cards and Dallas one red card. If that happens, there will be extra time. MLS clearly states the games cannot go to penalties, so a second ball will be introduced and an entire extra ninety minutes must be played with the entire teams plus subs and reserves on the pitch. The first team to score seven goals will qualify, and Toronto FC will go out unless they also score seven goals, which would mean New England automatically win the MLS Cup.

Now, if no team manages to score seven goals, Don Garber is required by MLS rules to consult a wizard. Not a Kansas City Wizard silly! No, this wizard must be well versed in druidical rites and procedures, must not live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States due to the proximity of the Rocky Mountains which are considered a mystical influence, and have a driver's license. If the wizard decides Dallas and New England go through, Toronto FC must now leave MLS to play in the Canadian Soccer League, and Colorado must eat nothing but oatmeal for seven days.

If the anyone on the Colorado team falls ill due to oatmeal consumption, Toronto FC will be allowed to play a one off game of Laser Tag against the Columbus Crew for a final chance at qualification (although they are still banished to the CSL commencing the following season, unless of course the Serbia White Eagles win the title, in which case the world explodes). And that's how babies are ma—er, how your team will qualify for the MLS playoffs. Good night. Please leave any questions and I will try to answer them to the best of my knowledge.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Toronto FC Can't Learn from Aston Villa

The great thing about following two football clubs is just as one is making you want to rip out your own insides from all the wasted chances, awful defending and lack of attacking spirit, the other comes from a goal down to Chelsea to win it 2-1 completely and utterly against the run of play thus throwing the Premier league intelligentsia (if you can call it that etc. etc.) into yet another tizzy about big fish getting eaten by little fish.

Villa did the deed, defending deep at the closing minutes with Heskey lumbering around like the donkey he is, off to collect the thumping clearances from, perhaps not coincidentally the goals-scorers, Richard Dunne and Jimmy Collins.

Note that Toronto, you have Nana Attakora but then you also have Nick Garcia. Apparently RSL is all crazy good on the wings or something so maybe your fullbacks can take care of that, I don't know. But don't do that. Don't defend deep and try to score on the break. Just pack that goddamn midfield and run at them like you're Avon and they're Marlo. This is no time to play Stringer Bell out there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wenger Dismisses Defeats as "Accidents"


Arsene Wenger said today in regard to Arsenal's losses to Manchester City and United, "I think this year, more than ever, those two defeats were an accident.'' Now, before you go thinking I'm going to do some send up of all those "on purpose" defeats Arsenal has endured over the years, I think we should explore this idea a little further, don't you?

My own view is that Wenger is a classical Platonist, and his approach to football over the past few years exemplifies (heh heh) Plato's views on the nature of being. You see for Wenger, each Arsenal match participates in the perfect form of "Arsenal Match" (Arsenal 4 Everton 0 comes close), and what separates the particular game from the universal form is the 'accidental' features of the game.

So what Wenger meant to say was, "I think this year, more than ever, more than ever, those two defeats were accidents distinguishing those games the universal substance or 'Form' of 'Football Match.'"

Sorted. And no this is not an excuse to link to philosophy football. *cough*

Thursday, October 15, 2009

While Soccer's Plastics Sleep

Poring through the results of the closing stages of World Cup qualifying this past week, I'm almost agog at this cauldron of footballing fury, the extreme highs and crushing lows in the fight for the last few places destined for South Africa. And we haven't even reached Sepp Blatter's Official David and Goliath Playoff Round© yet.

All this while the "oh is the World Cup on? I should go launder my polyester Brazil flag before heading down to whatever party'll be going on at College and Ossington" crowd sleeps. Oh, they'll be awake this summer, asking if Ronaldinno, you know, the guy with the horse face, is still taking names at AC Barcelona, but for now they really are missing the best part. If South Africa features games of the likes of Ireland v. Italy, USA v. Honduras, Argentina v. Uruguay or Peru, Russia v. Germany alone you'd get a whole Chapters-Indigo Soccer shelf stacked with World Cup commemorative memoirs, photo spreads, coffee table books.

But for now the average soccer schmoe wouldn't know tickety boo about any of this unless he'd noticed his little brother surfing Soccernet as he walked by to get a juice box from the fridge. "Woah! That announcer must really care about whatever just happened!"

What Did you Expect? Quotes from King Lear?


This has got to be one of the most Guardian-y sentences I've read in a long time, from an otherwise astute Argentina v. Uruguay post op: "Grotesque and undignified, Maradona then grabbed his genitals with both hands, signalling some sort of manly insult to the TV cameras in the tunnel outside the dressing room."

Granted, it's not exactly the Rinus Michels school of management, but the "some sort of manly insult" line I'm not buying Marcela. Surely you've watched an episode of the Sopranos before? Or the Wire for that matter? Or an American rap video from the last twenty-five years? Yes, he's the manager, yes, he's acting like a low level dealer sprung on bail, no, Argentina are not poised to win the World Cup. But the expression was not "some sort" of anything. It was the expression of a man who forgot the attending press wasn't in fact a gang of Bloods from around the way.

In other words, it was Maradona. I think we should count ourselves lucky he didn't have an air rifle.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Toronto FC in the Playoffs: Then What?

Many Canadian soccer blogs are ruminating on the mathematical jiggery that must take place for Toronto FC to inch their way to a playoff spot, but little has been written about what it would actually mean for Toronto to make it into the post-season. Is stretching the season out a little bit a victory in and of itself?

There is of course the romance of a thoroughly undeserved playoff run, but most TFC fans know this isn't a likely scenario. Then there's the argument that making the playoffs would help provide evidence the club is steadily improving every year, forming a graph line that can be extrapolated upward to the MLS Cup in 2012, the CONCACAF Champions League in 2014 and the World Club Cup in 2018. Because that's how football works, right?

No, we all want Toronto FC to make the playoffs because that's about the last thing they could do of any note this season. Duh.

But just to keep the hardcore heads on on straight, missing out on the playoffs by ever-so-slight a margin in a league with this sort of parity isn't worth firing Chris Cummins. Let me put it this way: if Toronto FC gets in the playoffs only to get immediately killed off (the most likely scenario), this means Toronto FC will have finished the 2009 MLS season just above mid-table. So, you know, West Ham rather than Wigan.

Yippee?

Some Brief Thoughts on Uruguay v. Argentina


I will sadly have to miss this game, which promises to be a counter to those who consider South American World Cup qualifying to be somewhat of an overly-long, almost ceremonial event. Normally, that's exactly what it is, but now we have Uruguay, the football historian's wet dream side, in a do or die River Plate encounter. Elsewhere I'm sure you will read much on la garra charĂșa and how it is almost certain to destroy Argentina's chances tonight, headed as they are by a clueless Maradona, but for now I will mention two things in relation to my book of the month, Jonathan Wilson's imperious Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics.

In relation to the 1930 inaugural World Cup final which saw Uruguay beat Argentina 4-2 in Montevideo (Fredorrarci has helpfully posted up highlights of that match today), Wilson theorizes that Argentina's individual creativity could not completely make up for their lack of defensive shape. The irony of course is that today it almost the opposite; Maradona's defensive paranoia, exhibited in particular against Peru when he felt it necessary to sub off Higuain just as soon as he'd scored to shore up the defense, is part of what is holding back this Argentina side. Perhaps Diego is well-aware Argentina has a dearth of solid defenders and is desperate to paper over the cracks, but maybe, as often happens with former players-turned-managers, he is simply overcompensating for lack of personal experience.

Either/or, but tonight—if we want to be hyperbolic about it, and this being a blog and not a Guardian op-ed, we do—could see a brief re-alignment of South American footballing power, or business as usual, with a triumphant Maradona leaving the job with his reputation, and Argentina's World Cup aspirations intact. I hope you enjoy the game. I'll be singing Brahms Requiem, which might be a fitting musical choice should you watch it on mute.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What is MLS? Getting to Know Garber


There is a delicious sense of the absurd in the way Don Garber has gone about his MLS business in the last few days, almost like a Steven Colbert satirizing the moronic "ideas" market of the Blatter/Warner contingent in order to expose football's upper echelon time-wasters for what they are.

First, we had Garber telling European clubs that MLS could be a model for wage sharing on the continent, the equivalent of asking the Germans to slow down on the Autobahn or the French to "clean up those unions so everything can run better in the country and there'd be less strikes and stuff." For anyone who saw this as a serious recommendation and not as a sly knock on debt-plagued European clubs' historical condescension toward America, look again.

Then Garber responded to Blatter's typically ignorant call for MLS integration with the European calendar by all-but eliminating the possibility, unless "we...start thinking about roofed stadiums at some point." An obvious bluff, it was enough to send respected soccer-following newspapers like USA Today into a tizzy of half-arsed wheezings on Garber's throwaway half-sentence. Yet as Match Fit USA deftly points out, this was Garber's way of saying it would never happen (although I think it has more to do with scaring MLS fans out of supporting the idea with the prospect of a infrastructural and cultural step backward than anything else).

I caught a bit of this conniving flavour when Garber hinted back and forth on when exactly Montreal would get their MLS entry, but this week has made it clear: Garber is one clever, if not shifty, guy when it comes to giving quotes to the press.

Weekend Notes


Toronto FC

Everyone's had their two cents on TFC's woes this season, but the 24thminute makes things nice and stark for us: the last fifteen minutes of games are a death trap for this club. Chris Cummins wildly complained that his players dropped back in the final minutes against San Jose on Saturday against his wishes, presumably hoping to absorb as much attacking pressure from their opponents as possible. What he doesn't mention is that Toronto would be less inclined loiter in the final third, waiting for impotent clubs like San Jose to have at them in a playoff race, if they had proper forwards confident of putting away their chances.

If players feel they need to drop back, it means they know they're not scoring another one in a balanced formation. It means they hope to draw in the opposing team to defend the goal and hope for a counter-attack, a strategy that players like De Rosario looked to favour on Saturday. And this approach might be necessary simply because, even with our packed midfield, the fact Chad Barrett is a starter a good indicator Toronto has a striking problem. I mean, Nana Attakora scored the only goal. I would be all for this defensive approach, maybe even slotting in Gerba and permanently benching Barrett for a 4-5-1 of some sort, if Nick Garcia was not currently our go-to centre-back. But he is.

Sorry kids, no playoffs this year.

WCQs
Nobody save hardcore Maradona romantics are trying to revision Argentina v. Peru as Diego's saving grace. His stint as manager has been near-catastrophic, and anytime you overhear an announcer declare that a national result which prevents one of the most storied sides in World Cup history from missing out on said tournament is "salvation for the manager," you are looking at a team in serious trouble. Argentina is one of those sides in which the manager is supposed to go almost unnoticed unless you're Cesar Luis Menotti, and Maradona's Slip 'n Slide routine was embarrassingly noticeable. Argentina is not means to redemption; it is a national team more than worthy of playing in 2010.

Speaking of teams being greater than the individuals comprising them, from whence cometh the "how will Capello manage to deal with Wayne Rooney's absence" meme?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Two Teams

Two teams who are in a must-win situation heading down a final stretch of games to progress to the next stage. Two teams that score massive goals in the second half giving hope to their home fans, cheering them on in the cold, or, in the rain. Two teams that suffer crushing late equalizers, which seem to put progress forever out their reach in the dying minutes of an unforgiven game, littered with wasted chances.

But only one team scores a winner in the sodden rain, letting them fight another day. And it wasn't my team.

Football. Bloody hell.

Hard-Hitting Interview with Stefan Frei

So TFC's mlsnet site features an interview with starting keeper Stefan Frei. We learn important tidbits of information like how Frei doesn't "...like spiders at all. Spiders, snakes and sharks." Right. Opposing clubs take note. Oh, there's also some stuff in there about how moving away from home made him homesick. So, you know, stop the presses.

Does anyone a) find these pitiful little profiles a complete waste of space and b) can't wait for mlsnet to get this revamp done and over with?

Russia v. Germany: an Orgy of Tactics

Richard Farley loves Russian football, a lot, and even though the match is on right now, you should read his tactical breakdown during half time.

FIFA Sows the Seeds of Profit

Ian King takes on FIFA's decision to seed the WCQ group stage playoffs with his usual even-handedness:

This issue, however, isn’t really the issue that grates with the decision to seed the UEFA play-offs for the 2010 World Cup finals. It is the timing of it that has caused all of this criticism. It is not unreasonable to expect to know the exact rules of the competition are going to be before it starts, and anything less than that is selling countries that have entered these tournaments short. No-one can say for certain whether FIFA deliberately took a decision to change the rules as soon as it looked possible that some of the “bigger” (and therefore televisually more attractive) countries might struggle to qualify, but the fact that the decision was made at the end of September when some of the “bigger” (and therefore televisually more attractive) countries are struggling to qualify leaves them prone to this criticism, even if it is unfounded.
Read the whole post here. I agree with King that it's the arbitrariness that grates...but as with all things FIFA/UEFA, what are we to do but raise our hands to the sky and cry out, "why"? If they smell money, the best thing to do is just get out of the way.

Let's Play Find the Most Boring European WCQ!

This is tricky because there are so many fixtures you'd think would be boring to watch until you consider one or two auxiliary factors.

Let's take for example Liechtenstein v. Azerbaijan. Who's gonna watch this hopeless run around? Well, let's say someone told you this was the only game you would ever be allowed to watch again for the rest of your life. Your brain would force you to consider some of the more interesting angles to this fixture, it being your last game ever for eternity. For example, you have the joy of watching little Liechtenstein score a goal, or the intellectual satisfaction of comparing the meager skills on display to some of the more top notch international sides, or the novelty of taking in stadiums you've never seen before, as well as marveling at new and exciting fan cultures.

Neither can you pick something like France v. Faroe Islands, because blowouts feature lots of goals which are fun to watch even if they're rolled in training session style. And if there's no blow out at all, well then fair play to the extreme underdogs!

The teams also shouldn't have anything to play for; qualification, pride, showcasing some young up and coming footballing talent; nothing. So my pick would have to be Montenegro v. Georgia, as I've seen competitive matches featuring both countries (nothing new to learn), it's a practically meaningless fixture for all concerned and it's juxtaposed against the Italy v. Ireland game. What's yours?

More Writing at AMSL

It has come to my attention that some of you (not naming names here but you know who you are, you conniving bastards) want me to write a hell of a lot more before you'll take me seriously. I've been afraid of this approach in the past because, let's face it, quality trumps quantity on this here ol' t'internets, unless of course you are Andrew Sullivan.

So I'm going to up the post rate, but I have enjoyed reading the emails on my recent naval-gazing whirlwind tour through MLS so much that hell, if you want to read some of your stuff on this site, please send it to me. I'm not going to be all New Yorker about it, so all's I ask is that you a) write about soccer b) don't put me at risk of libel and c) at least attempt to adhere to the basic rules of grammar.

Anyway, if this new, constantly updated AMSL starts to read terribly, I think we'll all know it, and I will return to putting out weird missives about Sir Alex Ferguson's alien player transfer rumours every other week.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What is MLS? It's Ours


Reading through the submissions these past two weeks, stories of waiting for years for a club to arrive in your hometown a decade too late, seeing your club switch stadiums only for the supporter culture to die off, wondering what Don Garber has up his sleeve regarding the league's growth in the next five to ten to twenty years; you get the impression that, ultimately, the future of MLS is out of our control. We're mere supporters; the investors and MLS front office hold all the cards.

As has been written elsewhere, what is the soft-cap debate among bloggers other than a simulation of upcoming collective bargaining among the league and team owners? Who are we to clamour for more money for better players, less arbitrary team expansion, better marketing? It's out of the control of ticket-buying fans, like it is in the rest of the world.

This morning I woke up and read Tom Dunmore's open letter to the Chicago Fire ownership. Tom is heavily involved with the Fire front office, and like many of us in MLS, he is deeply committed to the well-being of his club. Many of us here in Toronto take for granted the way that MLSE, specifically by way of Paul Beirne, have co-operated with fans since opening day. The notion of fighting front office on key issues of importance to the team seems distant now, but this could change in a heartbeat (need I mention the Argos?). Dunmore is fighting the sort of fight MLS club supporters may find themselves involved with as the years progress.

And this is a fight worth fighting, because MLS is at a point in its life cycle where the invested supporters have more power than they might realize. Section 8 is the heart of the Chicago home support. As Tom points out, you rip that heart out and you end up with FC Dallas. No, this isn't Europe, no, thirty thousand supporters aren't going to show up no matter what front office decides to do to the team. So supporters do have more leverage to change things for the better than in other comparable leagues.

Of course, it is theoretically possible to build a soccer club in a city without dedicated supporters, with decisions made over and above the people who buy season tickets, and yield a modest profit, but what would be the point? What is the point exactly of MLS, or any sporting enterprise for that matter, if it's stocked with dead clubs with fly-by-night fans? I think we all know there are far, far easier ways to make money than build soccer teams in America. Why get involved if you don't give a shit about bringing in dedicated supporters who love the sport through and through?

It's for that reason I believe while we might not always agree on what sort of league we want in North America, acquiescing in the status quo merely because it happens to be in the hands of private interests is a cop out. What is MLS? It's the Red Patch Boys, it's Section 8, and yes, it's the Nordecke, (feel free to tell Mark McCullers to fuck off for me). And it's the moms and pops and kids league too. Major League Soccer may frustrate the hell out of us, growing at a snail's pace, slow to take advantage of a strong North American soccer-loving base, making very bad decisions about investment and finance, perpetually shaking in its boots lest it resemble dear old granddad NASL too much.

But it's ours, if not in the dollars and cents department, then certainly in heart and soul. And yes, we do have a say in its future.

Thanks to you too for having your say over the past couple of weeks. This conversation will go on and on I'm sure, so expect to see it crop up again round these parts...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What is MLS? The Top of a Pyramid that Doesn't Exist


The first few comments I received when I kicked off this little experiment immediately went into the relegation/promotion question. It goes without saying that structurally, R/P is a non-starter for Major League Soccer; private investors spent a lot of time and money insuring the necessary infrastructure had been put in place before securing their MLS club, with the agreement said club would always play at the highest professional level. It's hard for that reason alone to imagine club owners would ever agree to a R/P system, never mind MLS' fragile average attendances and the nature of the salary cap system.

There is MLS, and there is USL, and never the twain shall meet. Or as Fakesigi put it, commenting on Wikipedia's entry on MLS: "there's no such thing as the North American soccer pyramid." And it will likely stay that way for some time; witness the turmoil currently surrounding everyone's great hope for a true MLS second tier, USL-1.

But R/P is not really the point; the point is how do you grow a league like MLS? Everything in this series thus far has touched on it; packed stadiums with passionate fans, greater media involvement, creating a unique, and competitive, North American league. What should MLS do to foster growth in a responsible way? Your answer to this question will depend on whether you think North America will embrace soccer if the product on offer is on par with the best leagues in the world. For some a soft salary cap approach coupled with a second designated player allocation, while hardly ideal, represents a good first step in improving on field quality, and therefore drawing in some of the more middle of the road, Champions League watching half-footie fans.

For others, this approach is unproven (or perhaps even disproven if one considers the financially irresponsible growth of the NASL). Better to maintain an equitable single-entity league, take a more conservative approach to league expansion, and hope that slow and steady will eventually lodge MLS into the mainstream sporting psyche. The league, after all, is only thirteen years old. Why try to emulate Europe by risking player inflation, possibly putting smaller clubs out of business and wrecking everything the league has helped build in the past decade?

For some, MLS will always be a tepid cauldron, a mickey mouse league where Premier League stars come to die. For others it's all we have and all we might ever have, and worth protecting at all costs in its present form. In both case I think this issue of growth is central to the discussion, and tomorrow I will tie it in to the underlying question of this two-week series: What is MLS?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What is MLS? A Boon for Local Sports Journalism


Colin Smith's (author of keepie-uppie.blogspot.com) email about the opportunity Toronto FC gave him as an aspiring sports journalist speaks mostly for itself, so I've included it in full below. I would only add that, while I'm proud of what I've done here on AMSL, I was struck reading Mark Bowden's piece in the most recent Atlantic in which he describes newspaper columnists who sit at their desk writing columns about whatever news lands on it instead of going out and finding the story, "thumbsuckers."

The football blogosphere is packed with us "thumbsuckers," often by simple case of necessity; we can't all get press accreditation and get in a minivan to follow the team bus to Dallas. But I think about what some independent football writers have been able to do (see Inside Minnesota Soccer's work on the recent USL-1, Team Owner's Association dispute), and I think of how Big Paper-Neglected Major League Soccer lit the fire under other writers like Smith to go out and get their first real story, or even me once long ago, to do some digging around Toronto's soccer history, and I feel good about the future. Anyway, here's Colin:


I was just starting a job as a copy editor at the National Post when top-level professional soccer returned to Toronto in the form of Toronto FC. On a personal level I was absolutely chuffed that I was going to be able to watch and support a professional soccer team alongside a number of other passionate soccer fans in the city I have come to love (I'm originally from Calgary, C'mon Calgary Kickers). On a professional level I saw Toronto FC as an opportunity to work—albeit mostly on my own time and for very little monetary gain—as a proper soccer journalist. You know, not a soccer blogger (no offense!). I was sent to cover Toronto FC games by the National Post sports editor and on my own volition borrowed/stole The Guardian's minute-by-minute format and began live blogging games from the pressbox at BMO Field. Few people read them, no body commented on them, but I didn't care. I always had a great time doing it. And I apologize for sounding a bit like your great uncle telling you that he invented gravity but... to my knowledge I was one of the first reporters at any major media outlet in Canada to live-blog a sporting event.

In Toronto FC's first year I remember one media scrum with then-coach Mo Johnston specifically. It was the start of the 2007 season and standing in front of a group of reporters at BMO Field Johnston tried to quickly gloss over the fact that Ronnie O'Brien had hurt himself during training and would miss the first four games. Laying into an easy target I asked Johnston if his injury had anything to do with the turf (which was a huge issue from Day 1) and Johnston immediately defended the surface to keep his bosses happy before pausing and saying, "Ronnie did something silly in training. He lashed out and kicked one of his teammates and he hurt his knee doing it. I've talked to him and he's been punished." I felt a little buzz that every journalist feels when they get a bit closer to the truth and watched as all the other reporters around me perked up and began scribbling in their notebooks as a result of my question. Good old fashioned reporting.

As I spent more time at TFC matches and followed the Nats more closely I began writing for Soccer360, Canada's only half-decent soccer magazine (new issue out now at Chapters/Indigo!!!). I have since written for the FourFourTwo web site and The Glasgow Herald and I'm now working on a documentary on soccer in Rhodesia during the 1970s. All of this work focused on the sport I have always loved would likely never have come my way had it not been for Major League Soccer's expansion to Toronto. The soccer media landscape is, like MLS, only going to grow and hopefully improve.

So I suppose MLS, specifically Toronto FC, has helped build a respectable community of professional and amateur soccer journalists in Canada and I'm glad I am a part of it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Tepid Cauldron


Guest post time! In keeping with AMSL's series on MLS, Elliot, author of the fantastic futfanatico.com, tells the story of how the fan culture irrevocably changed after the Wizards moved from MO to KS. Enjoy!

When you hear the word cauldron, a host of cool words come to mind. Sizzle. Burn. Fry. Heat. You associate the cauldron with warmth, with red hot metal. Yet the Cauldron at Community America Ballpark, home of the Kansas City Wizards, lacks the above. This cauldron is not a cooking contraption. It is a place. A cold, cold place.

I understood the gripe about the Wizards old home, Arrowhead stadium, a cavernous monument to American football. With 40,000 empty seats, morticians enjoyed a more lively atmosphere than Wizards fans. Yet amidst the vast sea of red chairs, a spark led to fire led to smoke. A hearty group of Argentines sang their hearts out amidst drums and flags; a vibrant oasis amidst the despondent desert. They were the Cauldron.

Complaints surfaced. The noise bothered the minivan brigade. The cursing, although exclusively in Spanish, offended Anglos and Latinos alike. Beer was occasionally tossed. And racially based arrests pervaded the scene. Still, the Wizards had succeeded in luring a loyal and elusive demographic: the 30 something Latino.

Enter Community America Ballpark. The Wizards switched fields from football to baseball, but still no soccer. The stadium seats less than 10,000 spectators, making for considerably more cozy viewing. Games also sell out more regularly. And you can actually smell the tears on Jonathan Leathers face as home fans heckle him for his latest defensive blunder. But for everything gained, something is lost.

In name, the Cauldron exists. Community America Ballpark has a special "free speech zone", quarantining the Midwestern version of ultras. Fences and bleachers separate the rabblesousers. I struggle to answer one basic question: is this a piecemeal reform or corporate commodification? Is this the skate park next to the playground, or our own prison?

The Argentines, perhaps residents of now faraway Missouri, no longer make the trip. The remaining mass of cynical Midwesterners has failed to fill the vacuum. Lacking South American expertise, the songs have decrescendoed into the faintest of echoes. And you can only hum along to the White Stripes so many times.

Not surprisingly, philosophical dissonance self destructed. The current Cauldron is the "alternative" school, a misnomer obvious to all but some oblivious superintendent. The miscreants drop out to cook french fries rather than endure the indignity. The current Cauldron is Modest Mouse pre Float On; compromised, yet uncomfortably so. The current Cauldron is many things, except a steaming bastion of spontaneity.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What is MLS? An Uneven Market?


Greg Thorn writes:
Everything would change for me in 2007 when my wife and I moved to Kansas City. There, I was finally able to get intrenched in supporting an MLS team and quickly began to cheer for an exciting Wizards forward named Eddie Johnson. My support for Kansas City was soon equaled by my support for my new/old favorite team, Seattle Sounders FC. When I was living in Seattle the Sounders played in the A-League (now USL). Their games were fun to go to but lacked the excitement and star power of a top division professional team. On March 19th, 2009 my soccer fanaticism would reach a new level. I now had what I had waited my teens and twenties for, a local team to root for (Kansas City) and a hometown team to support passionately from afar!
Greg had been waiting since 1994 for MLS to come to Portland or Seattle, which he describes as "soccer-crazy" cities. The A-League version of professional club football, which had been around in North America in other forms for awhile, wouldn't do. It took thirteen years for MLS to "discover" thirty thousand fans willing to pay to see live soccer; by that time, Greg was cheering a young Eddie Johnson over in Missouri.

There is something maddening about MLS' haphazard franchising. On the evidence it seems there were many other Gregs in the Northwest waiting patiently for football to come home—enough of them, as Greg proves, that some of them might have been biding their time filling seats at other MLS venues like Kansas City. And the hype over some of the newer league entries might lead one to suspect that maybe there are some North American markets that for whatever reason—history, ideology, demographics—might just be more soccer-friendly than others.

That's why looking at how MLS has grown and contracted since '96 sometimes reminds me of the Gary Bettman ethos in NHL; just push the game around enough to smaller, southern middle markets and the fan culture will soon see how hockey is intrinsically worthy enough a game to go pay to see every week. Which sometimes leads to teams like the Phoenix Coyote's, waiting in a sullen desert courtroom to die.

While the NHL is hardly comparable in terms of spending, history, and the nature of the league as an organization, and while clubs in MLS don't usually die in such a drawn out, public way, the idea is the same. X game should have broad continental appeal, so we should be able to market clubs wherever individual owners are wealthy enough to buy stadiums. Meanwhile strong markets like Seattle and Philadelphia take years to enter the scene.

But then again the long wait for Seattle, Philly and Montreal in MLS could be a good thing. Toronto probably wouldn't have supported the club so strongly had its twenty year olds not had ten years of cheap exposure to European football. Other major markets may have been waiting to get a sense of MLS' long term viability in a harsh North American market. Maybe the previous thirteen years of MLS were a sort of sampler for the some of the more skittish big markets taking a wait and see approach.

I'm not certain, but as more and more new stadiums potentially debut with strong, season long sellout crowds, the league table in five or ten years might begin to more closely reflect North America's footballing geography.

Friday, October 2, 2009

What is MLS? The USMNT's Life Partner


Robert R Luker writes:

The MLS and Football in general is going in the right direction in North America. Because of this, MLS needs two things. First, they need to figure out what their goals are. I'm sure Don Garber has them written down, I would just like them to be more transparent to the public. Secondly, they need time. With time, I think the clubs will garner more fans, tradition, and money. Along with time I think the quality of play in MLS will slowly rise and eventually jump from the benefits of more youth playing high-level football. I never want to see MLS die because the USMNT needs the MLS, whether all 11 or none of their starting XI are playing in MLS. Unfortunately, that is another problem because unlike me there are a group of USMNT fans that are not MLS fans. The answer to how you make them MLS fans is beyond me, though.
This is the latter part of a longer comment from a Red Bulls supporter who feels that overall, MLS has a done an admirable job in slowly building the league since 1996. He pointed out that European leagues have had a one hundred year start on North America in the stable league department so there's no need to hoist the grand aspirations of restless fans eager for a competitive, internationally respected club competition onto MLS' tiny shoulders.

But this last bit struck me, and maybe more educated MLS writers will know, but has Don Garber actually laid out a clear, detailed vision for where he sees the league five, ten, twenty years down the stretch (outside of dropping a few hints willy-nilly about which North American city might be next in line to get a franchise)? And I mean outside the whole "we want to build the best, most economically viable soccer league North America can offer" bland reassurance stuff? Perhaps some sense of whether Garber thinks a soft cap might eventually be needed to help remove the training wheels (thanks for that, Ben)?

I was also struck by Luker's assessment of the USMNT's fan culture. It's been my experience that in Canada, you'd be challenged to find a Canadian national team fan who didn't also pull for one of Canada's three premier professional clubs. And bonne chance finding a Canadian CMNT supporter who exclusively watches European football; I could ring off in order the countries that would have to be eliminated from a World Cup before they'd pull on the CSA red.

But USMNT supporters who don't follow MLS? As the league slowly changes gears, introducing for the first time players out the academy system and moving away from collegiate football (as Match Fit USA wrote about recently) as a source of American talent, Major League Soccer's health and well being will be even more integral to US national soccer than before. Maybe a large portion of USMNT fans are Fulham supporters, I don't know, but they might start thinking about going local to get a sense of where the national team might be headed in future.

Over the next couple of weeks, AMSL will be examining Major League Soccer through a series of anecdotes, stories, and opinions, to help get a better sense of where the league could or should be headed in future. Please see this post for an idea of what I'm after, and please do send in something either to amoresplendidlife[at]gmail.com or in the comments section below.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is MLS? The Best Thing to Happen to Canadian Soccer Since 1986


Running around a bit today, so here's a feel-good story. I hadn't read this comment in full when I posted my story about De Ro scoring the golden goal; amazing how resonant it was north of the border. Here's Duane Rollins in his own words:

That game hooked me. I was writing for a B.C. magazine called World Football Pages doing a bi-weekly Canadians abroad thing. We considered MLS to be abroad, so I was tracking DeRo at San Jose. Somehow, through that, I became a fan of the 'Quakes and I tried to follow the team as best I could (mostly by following BigSoccer threads on game day). The MLS Cup offered a rare opportunity to actually watch them play.

So when DeRo, a CANADIAN!, scored the golden goal...yeah, that was great. At the time I never dreamed that six years later I'd be walking into a stadium in Toronto with 19,999 other people wearing red scarves.

The scarves. The image of everyone wearing the scarves on opening day will be with me forever. It was incredible to see that there really were that many people out there that cared about Toronto having a team in MLS. I had heard that it would be sold out, but I didn't actually believe that it would until I saw it.

And the stomping...I can still hear a wall of noise from sections 112 and 113. It sounded like they were going to break through the stands when you stood in the concourse. In Toronto!

Singing. Alllll we are saying...is give us a goal! Oh my God, you can't imagine how incredible that felt. This is really going to work, isn't it!

Finally I'm walking home after the game. I'm walking past a hair salon when an older man literally starts chasing me. He's seen my scarf. "Did they score?" he asks with his British accent. "No," I say sadly. He's legitimately upset. "Next week," he says smiling. "We'll get 'em next week."

We'll. A British ex-pat in Toronto just called a domestic soccer team "we."

It was then that I really knew it was only going to get better.

Over the next couple of weeks, AMSL will be examining Major League Soccer through a series of anecdotes, stories, and opinions, to help get a better sense of where the league could or should be headed in future. Please see this post for an idea of what I'm after, and please do send in something either to amoresplendidlife[at]gmail.com or in the comments section below.