Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Will MLS Suffer as a Result of Galaxy Mess

In a word, no. Despite what others, namely Kartik Krishnaiyer, have to say, I don't think that long term, the MLS will suffer. Kartik makes some good points, namely that the MLS will suffer a black eye for a period with the resignation of Ruud Gullitt, but that will be short term at most. Here is the reason why coaches like Ruud Gullitt and Carlos Quieroz don't make it in the MLS, while a coach like Stevie Nichol has--they don't understand the American system of salary cap and how to work with the cap. The most successful coaches in the MLS, Nichol and Dominic Kinnear spent several years as an assistant in this league and in Kinnear's case played in the league, before taking the reins at their clubs. The result is that they understand that they don't have a big bankroll to build depth to their squad, consequently, they put more effort into finding quality young players who can play for less money but still provide enough depth to help teh team achieve. Nichol has had more success at this, but Kinnear has won the MLS Cup twice running.

Gullitt and Quieroz are both excellent coaches and managers, their success is undeniable (otherwise why would Quiroz be the coach of the Portugese National Team). However, unlike their previous club experience where money may have been tight, they could always make the case to the owners to open up the wallet during the transfer windows. Here in the U.S., that is not an option. While in the rest of the world, the sale of players is often used to finance the purchase of new players, owners can fudge that by making funds available. In the U.S. there is not choice. If you don't have salary cap space the coach/front office must A) sacrifice depth by selling lots of reserve players or B) sacrifice other players to get cap space to hire new players. The fudge factor is not there and if a manager is not used to such a world, it can be very hard to adjust.

I do agree with Kartik on one point:
David Beckham is a true footballer and a class act. Like most English footballers his work rate is exceptional and his understanding of true football is commendable. The truth is a footballer of Beckham’s stature deserves better than the LA Galaxy or what MLS has become thanks to his presence. It is ironic that on this day when we ponder the massive overhaul of Beckham’s team, that the two dominant forces in MLS remain the two sides that have lived within their means and have promoted continuity over flamboyance and mass marketing: Those two sides, Houston and New England should be held up as examples of what MLS was at one time and should return to once the league returns to its senses. The continued of presence of Designated Players and signings of overage foreigners has done little to sustain new support for the league. While it has stimulated some new interest, much of the interest has turned the television off when exposed to a bad product, which many MLS games not including Houston or New England remain.
Beckham puts bodies in teh stadium, of this there is not doubt, but the MLS isn't keeping bodies in the stadium and Kartik is right about that. Can you imagine what New England could do with Beckham?

But here is the one problem, Houston and New England, despite having, arguably, the best teams and better quality soccer, are not the top draws. The latest figures I could find, which are through June 9, 2008, put New England and Houston fourth and fifth respectively on the chart. New England was getting just over 17,500 a match and Houston 17,100 per match. While attendence figures may have improved over the previous year at teh same point, it is not like New England and Houston are approaching capacity at their facility each game. New England's Gillette Stadium has seating for 22,000 and Robertson Stadium (which is owned by the University of Houston) seats 32,000. To my knowledge this year, neither team comes close to a sellout unless Beckham is in town. So the fact that the teams are the best in the league, neither are big draws in their own communities.

Perhaps that is a problem. Maybe the Dynamo with superstars like Dwayne DeRosario, Brian Ching and others should do more to "sell the brand." Even with a miniature dynasty in the making, they can't draw. Same with New England, names like Joseph, Twellman, Parkhurst, Ralston are fixtures in teh league and they should be selling points for the club.

While I don't want game quality to be overshadowed by glitz, quite frankly a little glitz goes a long way.

1 comment:

rightwingprof said...

What's MLS? And who's David Beckham?