Poking the Bear

You know, as much as the Open Cup has been marginalized, I'm still a bit in the afterglow--most likely as a result of the excellent images and video coming out of Behind the Badge. I suppose it also helps that Charleston put up what was, by most accounts, a stirring fight--taking the game to United in spells, rather than relying on the bunker-and-counter. But is anybody really surprised at this?

Your pardon while I continue to poke the bear.

Consider the embarrassing fate of MLS in the Champions' Cup. While the Revs were proceeding to get thrashed by T&T's Joe Public (4-0, 6-1 on aggregate) and the Goats stumbled to a draw against Panama's Tauro (1-1, 3-1 on aggregate), the USL's Montreal Impact (or Impact de Montreal--I'd be shocked if the MLS Euro-love brigade doesn't insist on Olympique Montreal should they join the next round of expansion) advanced (0-0, 1-0 on aggregate).

Then, while United and Charleston were scrapping tooth and nail for a cup last night, the USL's Puerto Rico Islanders overcame the heavily favored Alajuelense of Costa Rica (2-1, 3-2 on aggregate) to book their passage. So two MLS side fell at the first hurdle, while two USL sides leapt clear and advance to the group stage.

Does this mean that USL teams are better than MLS sides or that they're better adapted to cup competitions? Remember, the Revs and Chivas weren't the first MLS sides to fail in qualifying. Toronto also managed to crash out during the Canadian qualifying stage. And I'm sure we'll all remember USL sides dismissing (admittedly mostly reserve) MLS clubs in the Open Cup.

So what's the difference? Let's consider fixtures for a moment. The same four MLS sides qualified for both SuperLiga and the Champions' Cup, while two of them (United and the Revs) advanced to the final stages of the Open Cup. Frankly, that's idiotic. Either SuperLiga has to be moved or the qualification standards have to change. Or it can be killed altogether. Do we really need another international tourney with the Champions' League being expanded? The alternative is sides deliberately crashing out of cups to keep their league hopes alive.

And why should they have to make that choice? Depth. MLS rosters are not big enough, nor do they go deep enough when it comes to quality players, to support this many fixtures/tournaments in such a short time frame. And when reserves are brought in, we see that yawning gap between the first team and the scrubs (witness the Open Cup failures--though this is hardly unique to the US if England's recent FA Cup history is any indication). Yet the expansion march continues apace. (As an aside check out Portland having their act together while St. Louis clutches the purse-strings.)

Does anybody honestly think that the best way for the league to move forward is to dump it into as many markets as possible, spreading an already thin talent pool even further, and praying that quality will somehow occur? Add to that the pathetic state of pay for journeyman and young players that is encouraging an exodus of potential (and existing) talent to mid-tier Euro-leagues and the USL, and you end up with an even shallower pool from which to draw.

That's a recipe for more "Galaxy-model" sides--a handful of stars and decent veterans surrounded by clueless kids and hacks. That's not a recipe for joga bonito. That's not a recipe for fans of the game. That's not a recipe for success in multiple competitions. That's a recipe for passion-sapped Saturday evenings full of the squeals of shrill pre-teens and parents sitting on their hands. That's a joke of the worst magnitude.


No comments:

Post a Comment