October 3, 2008

Friday Soccer Roundtable, Part 3

Halfway done. With any luck this has made your Friday go a little more quickly. With any unluck (what's the opposite of luck, anyway?) your boss has yelled at you for not finishing those TPS reports by the end of the week. Next question:

MLS appears to be suffering greatly in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, most notably in the New England Revolution's thrashing at the hands of Trinidadian side Joe Public FC. What is/are the main culprit(s)? And yes, not being any good is a perfectly acceptable reason if you think MLS just sucks*.

Mustafa Redonkulous: Being thrashed by a 90s R&B group is never acceptable. I see no fault
in your reasoning, sir.

Dave: I think the main culprit is that MLS doesn't pay the players enough to care about about this new Champions League. Everyone finally realized this during Superliga, and I suspect that the Revs looked at their paychecks after that competition and thought, "You know what? If this is how you want to treat us, then from here on out, we'll start caring when you pay us to start caring."

So not only are teams not deep enough to compete in both MLS and the Champions League, but the players have no financial incentive to perform. Part of the problem here is that MLS is modeled after the NFL. It's a closed system where everyone gets the same amount of TV money and everyone has the same tight limits on salaries and roster sizes. Thus, the competition is even, parity reigns, and everyone has a chance at winning MLS Cup.

And that would be just fine -- if MLS Cup were the only trophy in town. It's not. The way MLS is set up, though, clubs are practically programmed to treat MLS Cup like it's the only prize worth winning. That won't work in the long run.

If MLS wants to get serious about competing in the CONCACAF Champions League, it needs to loosen the reigns a bit and allow clubs to add more talent and depth. That means a higher salary cap, larger rosters and better compensation for players in international club tournaments. It also needs to get rid of Superliga, which is a meaningless made-for-TV trinket. (I've actually heard talk that Superliga might replace the Mexican Interliga as a pathway to Copa Libertadores. Really? The Revs can't even win in Trinidad, and now you want to send them to Brazil and Argentina? Yeah, good luck with that.)

Mustafa Redonkulous: Spot on.

Ric: There are many issues, but at the forefront is the league's order of priorities. One problem is that the MLS clubs rarely field a true first team for this, but I think this will change by the next time. When it was the Champions Cup, it did not have the breadth, prestige, or benefits, as it does now as a true (but baby) CL.
Last night's match (Houston-Pumas) was great; the entire tournament will benefit with more like that. I would say that the MLS clubs need to plan more carefully and further ahead for these midweek matches, to have the top talent and healthiest players when time to play, in balance with their regular-season matches.

ΓΌ75: I think David has the main points covered. Personally, I am apathetic to yet another competition within the zone. The sooner the powers that be either scrap it or turn it back to strictly knockout, the better. None of these American teams need further fixture congestion while playing a league in the North American summer. The league schedule itself is already rather compressed when you see that the MLS clubs play a few less games in a six month period than clubs do in a European season, which takes nine.

Beyond that, either get a competition where we can hemispherically challenge ourselves, or let the idea die.

Josh: I think we all know that the MLS clubs don't take the CCL or Superliga as seriously as league competition. But this is no different than all the crazy tournament in Europe.

The Premiership teams don't always field their strongest teams in, say, the Carling Cup. Didn't Arsenal start a teenage team the other day and still win?

The main culprit is the depth on the MLS teams. The drop in talent from the starters to the reserves is drastic. I'm not sure if it's the talent pool or a salary cap issue, but the teams don't have enough "bullets" per se to win in each competition. And not caring, of course, doesn't help either.

*This does not mean I think MLS sucks. I just wanted our panelists to feel they had to right to express strong emotions without retribution if they existed.

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