Monday, November 30, 2009

Jimmy Conrad Has a Vision and It is A Good One

Kansas City Wizards centerback, MLS veteran and U.S. international Jimmy Conrad writes a column for ESPN Soccernet (and he actually writes it) and his latest piece is here. This column is about a vision he has for MLS and I must say that I like a lot of his ideas.

My favorite one is not MLS1/MLS2 with promotion and relegation (and he defends it pretty well as well) but a monopoly on professional soccer in America. See here:
Become a monopoly. MLS needs to buy the United Soccer League, the Major Indoor Soccer League and any other league with thoughts of being a competitor. Despite my instincts to the contrary, competition, in this regard, creates gray area and confusion, and if our main goal is to become one of the great leagues around the world while developing homegrown talent and a superior national team, everyone needs to be working together.
In many ways this is a brilliant idea--despite my usual belief that competition in the marketplace breeds success better than a monopolistic enterprise. But take a look at the National Football League--they absolutely dominate that sport. While there are club leagues and of course youth leagues, the NFL is really the only place where professional football is played. Even the Arena Football League, a somewhat distinctive game (which it must be said produced Kurt Warner and other NFL players) has failed financially. But unlike professional American football, the collegiate system of soccer in America does not greatly serve the player development needs. Conrad makes some pretty convincing arguments for this aspect of his vision.

Conrad posits that USL would be come a reserve league, a place where young players or veterans rehabilitating from injury can get some game time with something at stake. The demise of MLS's Reserve Division in 2008 meant that young players would only see action in a limited number of games, usually U.S. Open Cup games and maybe the odd friendly here and there. The result is that the U.S. Open Cup doesn't draw fans because it was known that MLS teams, the teams with the biggest stars wouldn't play those big stars, negatively affecting the fan draw. I liked Conrad's idea for the indoor leagues.
The MISL can be converted into a "See Them Before They Are Stars In MLS" Indoor League. The league could and should be held during the MLS offseason from the end of November to the beginning of March, and the rosters for these teams could and should be littered with players who played less than 1,000 minutes during the regular season in MLS. Again, it's an opportunity to get players valuable touches on the ball under pressure with lots of eyes watching instead of having them sitting on the couch waiting for preseason training to roll around. The league could barnstorm around the country, hitting a variety of markets, or a rule could be introduced that each team in MLS has to have an indoor team. The best example I can give to prove why this would be beneficial to the league is that the majority of professional soccer players from America grew up in California, Texas or Florida. That's because, due to the climate, the kids in those states can play all year. The indoor league would provide MLS with this opportunity.
My only addition to this idea would be to have the indoor game played with futsal rules rather than the traditional indoor rules with boards and astroturf. Futsal would generate young players with skill on the ball, quick passing skills and short bursts of speed that also generates a lot of excitement and skill on the outdoor pitches. It should be noted that a lot of Brazilian superstars developed their ball skills by playing futsal as youngsters. A MLS off-season futsal league also will keep the game itself in the public's eye.

I would like to explore Conrad's vision of league structure, which for soccer purists includes a single table with promotion and relegation. But that is a topic for a different post.

No comments: