You know, I do sometimes discuss the game outside of the ritual spleen-venting that goes on here in blogland, and one of the topics that seems evergreen over the last couple of years is the effect of MLS HQ's Rapid Expansion Plan on the product on the field. We've already shrunk the net available to catch the promising kids by reducing the roster sizes. Now, we're going to have to stretch the quality to cover Garber's mad dash to put a team in every market.
Yes, you could claim that adding more teams makes the net bigger by default, but tossing kids on in situations where they're not surrounded by quality teammates makes it harder for them to really shine unless the entirety of their soccer playing ability revolves around tricks or physicality. Is this the game we're trying to create? NBA partido dos? Or should we be looking for players who, for example, know how to pick out a through-ball (which requires a teammate making an intelligent, dangerous run) or play a quick, one-touch game?
Surely the HQ troglodytes have some inkling of the problem. Their words say they do anyway. We hear them point out that "the soccer fans are here, we just need to create a quality product on the field," and yet where do they expect the talent to make the product better will come from? You either need to focus on the aforementioned wider net, or (and preferably in combination with the former) you have to open the checkbook. And we haven't even mentioned the dreaded specter of the upcoming contract talks between the league and the players' union yet. Checkbooks indeed!
But I'm sure all of you are well versed in those arguments. Where I wanted to raise a point of concern was another area of "on the pitch quality" that doesn't seem to be getting any air time. I speak, of course, of the whistlemen. Now, it's every fan's right to bitch and moan about refs destroying games, being blind, etc., but we've got some pretty scary men running about with whistles in this league. Hell, Brian freakin' Hall is their standard bearer, which should send considerable chills down anyone's spine.
I'm hoping the numbers have increased since this time last year (they better have, considering we have the WPS in the mix now!), but the horse's mouth said to a blog last year (and I can't find anything on official sites outside of who is available for international matches) that there are 24 refs in the pool that work top level games, with only 4(!!!) of those being full-time (including your friend and mine, Mr. Jair Marrufo).
Now, there have been some deserved cards and penalties, and heck, even a few well-managed matches so far this season, but there have also been some egregious decisions and matches driven into chaos by the whistlemen. If this is the best we can manage now, what happens when we add 2 or 3 more matches per weekend, or however many Garber's march to nationwide coverage may lead to? It doesn't matter what kind of player you're going to be putting out there at that stage if the men in the middle can't run a decent game.
Hello, MLS HQ? You're not a cellular provider. Nationwide coverage is not a prerequisite for success. Just focus on getting us a solid signal in the existing markets. Part of that is players. And part is the men with the whistles.
Good luck with that.