By J Hutcherson (Jun 29, 2015) US Soccer Players – During their coverage of the Sunday MLS games, Eurosport played a game of their own. They put a percentage on the likliehood of superstar players joining MLS. Some were obvious, including players already signed by MLS and likely additions like Andrea Pirlo. Others were rumors. Then there are the long shots, contracted to European powers but fitting the description of a player that might take his talents to North America.
What’s interesting about any list of potential designated players is whether or not any of them could be the difference right away. Right now, that’s the expectation for the teams waiting on the highest profile designated players.
One of those Eurosport games on Sunday was NYCFC falling apart in the second-half against the New York Red Bulls. Make whatever you want of the local derby, potential rivalry, and growing animosity real or imagined between the two clubs. NYCFC losing to the other New York at Yankee Stadium was embarrassing. That the Red Bulls looked good for at least another goal or two in the final 45 minutes only makes that worse.
“Tonight’s a good feeling,” New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty said. “Unbelievable atmosphere, credit to the NYCFC fans and obviously our fans for making it very enjoyable. Sometimes it’s not easy to watch games on this field and I think you saw from the get go it was hectic, it was not ideal going down early. I thought once the game went on a little bit, 20 minutes in we started to settle down, we started to play better and then the second half we knew we were going to come out, we just needed an early one and what a finish from Brad, so it was a great second half, some of the best stuff we’ve played all season. Honestly, we scored three, it could’ve been five. They were gassed, we had energy, we had life, great performance in the second half and I’m just glad we got a win for our fans.”
For NYCFC, even in an expansion season their plan isn’t about making the opposition feel better about their soccer. It’s about using the season-to-season flux of MLS to put on a show. Ignoring the Toronto FC example, making the playoffs isn’t totally out of the question even for a first year club. With NYCFC already spending on players and set to add more high-value talent, it’s already worth asking what’s the point. A cheaper squad could drop a game to the Red Bulls at home.
Meanwhile, the LA Galaxy responded to a big win over the Portland Timbers by dropping their game against the San Jose Earthquakes in front of a capacity Stanford Stadium crowd. If the game is important enough for the home team to choose a larger alternative to their nice new stadium, it’s important enough for the Galaxy to win.
“We were crappy,” Galaxu coach Bruce Arena said. “You can come up with all your theories but we stunk in the second half. You can use all your theories that you want. You have no clue; we just couldn’t do anything simple and right. From giving away the ball that led to their first goal, from that point on, we were no good.”
Ample credit for honesty, but it’s not exactly a theory that a team shouldn’t be that up and down in a single week. Three games in eight games aside, LA has one of the most enviable rosters in MLS.
“To be fair, they were the better team,” LA forward Robbie Keane said. “We’ve only got ourselves to blame, and hopefully, this is a kick up the backside because maybe we were getting carried away with ourselves scoring a lot of goals. We have to be concentrated at all moments. We just weren’t at the races tonight.”
What’s at issue for both NYCFC and the Galaxy is whether or not their mid-season designated player additions really make them better. LA is a contender, so there’s an argument that it’s tougher to push a good team. A lousy team, and it’s hard to argue NYCFC as anything else, has it easier. At least in theory.
The problem with introducing designated players midway through the season is that the team already exists. There’s no buffer to figure things out. The games teams drop trying to make it work all over again count. NYCFC has played 17 games to show they probably belong at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. LA played their 20, showing that they’ve done very little with two extra games played over the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-place teams in the Western Conference.
Does that change with Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and whoever else takes the MLS option this summer? Maybe, but it’s nowhere near a sure thing.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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