By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (May 11, 2012) US Soccer Players — Shaun writes: I was really disappointed with the New York – Houston game on Wednesday night. To me, it was everything that I dislike about MLS. Two teams bogged down, both unwilling to do the work to get the points. I would have much preferred it to end without New York being rewarded. This is a team that thinks a win answers everything, even if it’s a misplay by the opposing keeper. Unfortunately, I don’t think Houston is much better. Will some team try to put on a show?
I only saw highlights of NY – Houston, and I’m not going to judge based on that. However, your broader point is something I’m already hearing more of this season than last. To me, there are a few types of MLS games.
The first is one team really wanting it and playing accordingly. Real Salt Lake is the clubhouse leader on this approach, going into just about every game under Jason Kreis with the idea that those three points should be theirs. This isn’t something that’s taken for granted in any league, so all credit to them. The problem is when that effort isn’t rewarded, the team looks more suspect than they otherwise would. It’ a risk vs. reward issue that I would argue scares off the bulk of the teams in MLS who are more suited to playing for the draw on the road and the win at home. Remember, Kreis’s RSL has played this style from day one, and they weren’t rewarded for it early.
The second is the technician teams. These are the ones that tell you what they’re going to do, and are then stuck with actually having to go out and try to do it. We’ve seen more of this type of game this season. At least one team wants to put on a coaching clinic. When it works, it works. It doesn’t take a whole lot to figure out that a team is taking advantage by pushing its defenders way up the field, compressing and exploiting space, and basically highlighting the flaws of their opponent. When it doesn’t, things can get silly very quickly. A skilled team loses by multiple goals to an opponent that’s relying on very basic moves in a traditional setup.
The third is the grind out style where two teams are happy for it to end in a draw, but will take an opportunity that presents itself. We see this all over the world, club and country, and it’s nothing new. Too much of this, and it drags the league as a whole down. It’s the cliché of the Scottish Premier League, for instance.
I’m going to add a fourth, and that’s the disadvantage games. One or both teams don’t have enough of their core to keep their shape, and that as much as anything decides the game. I started with two mainly positive styles and ended with two mainly negative for a reason. Over the course of a season, there will always be an interplay between these styles. You want the balance to end up with the quality teams winning more than they lose and carrying the league up from the median. The MLS problem is that there’s enough of the negative styles to keep the league at a median or, even worse, drag it down.
It’s certainly possible to pick games to watch week after week that disappoint. Part of the problem with our current ‘must see’ culture in American soccer is sometimes there really is nothing to see. Stack up enough examples, and it would discourage any fan. Hopefully, you’ll have some luck in getting that 90 minutes of engaging soccer. MLS certainly provides that on a regular basis, even though it can be tough to find when looking at a schedule.
Jeremy writes: You’ve mentioned this before, but why isn’t there a better highlights show for American soccer? I feel like I’m still having to do too much work to follow the teams and players I care about. We have several soccer-specific channels, and none of them get the highlights right. Is there a web channel I’m missing?
Though I’m sure there are people doing good work shaking their heads yes to the last part of your question, I agree with you. I have yet to see anything that’s better than the old Premier League highlights show that Fox used to run on their regional sports networks, but that’s been gone for at least a decade. In fairness, that show had two hours to get everything in and was limited to one league. And again, in fairness, it didn’t last. It’s hard to know if there’s really enough of an audience for this sort of thing even in the SportsCenter-centered world of American sports. I wouldn’t jump from want to criticism if you follow. Let’s just say it would be nice if there was a single show that covered the obvious choices for the American soccer fan on a daily basis with that American fan in mind.
Anonymous writes: "I really appreciated you writing about the positive side of summer friendlies. I look forward to seeing the touring clubs. I was disappointed to see that Philadelphia Union coach Peter Nowak said before the game started that he would rest is regulars, even when Schalke’s coach said he would do the opposite. It would’ve been nice to see the real Union against Schalke. But hey, they won right so that explains not putting out a best effort for the paying fans."
Once again, I return to MLS commissioner Don Garber’s point when Seattle fielded reserves against Manchester United last season. If you’re going to schedule the games, take them seriously. It’s always going to be disappointing when an MLS team chooses not to, and there’s limits to the argument that it’s good experience for reserve players. Those reserve players aren’t going to play a team like Schalke, Schalke’s reserves, or Schalke’s youth team with points on the line. Neither will Philadelphia’s first team, but the expectation is that’s who starts against a prestigious opponent. Give Schalke all the credit here, regardless of the final score.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
More from J Hutcherson: