Apr 10, 2013, 10:45 AM EST
A few years ago I wrote critically and frequently about Major League Soccer’s chief flaw on the field. That is, the faulty element most guilty of holding back the league from achieving better quality between the white lines (i.e., MLS imperfection on the field, not in marketing matters).
It was simply that too many matches didn’t matter. When 80 percent or 60 percent of teams make the playoffs (MLS first decade or so), every single match simply was not important enough. That tolerance for imperfection infected everything, from daily practices to match-day management. Mistakes weren’t punished sufficiently, so the drive to improve individually and collectively suffered.
It’s gotten better, of course, but the math still works in opposition to genuine, night-in, night-out, down and dirty competitiveness. Simply put, each individual match does not drip with the weight of importance as it should.
Making the playoffs is still the brick and mortar of Major League Soccer from a competitive standpoint. And more than half the teams still qualify (10 of 19). So there is still not enough “gotta have it” for each contest.
The basic league structure is just too forgiving in terms of individual match importance; too many contests cannot be earnestly stamped “Code Red Critical!”
When MLS teams get themselves into Champions League seriousness, they aren’t quite equipped to deal tactically, emotionally or intelligently when it comes to one match (or a pair of them) that simply must be had.
We saw it twice last week, as Seattle couldn’t properly manage a home match against Santos Laguna. Left in a 1-0 hole, last night’s 1-1 draw in Mexico was insufficient. Santos advances into the CONCACAF Champions League final; MLS misses another chance.
The LA Galaxy conceded two goals late against Monterrey, and the chances of something heroic tonight in Mexico do not look good. At all.
Quality depth in the rosters (better on the Mexican side) has a lot to say about this ongoing imbalance, as Mexican sides continue to dominate the regional tourney.
But the lenient playoff qualification standards still hinder MLS progress. We saw it last year as clubs that finished fourth and fifth in their conferences made the MLS Cup final. LA was about as bad it could be in March, April and May … and still won the championship.
When a smaller percentage still of Major League Soccer teams make the playoffs, every match will ring the bell of importance. Organizations and individuals will know that a match in April, May, June, etc. should carry all the serious weight of a stretch-run contest in September. Only then will the best practices of approaching a match and managing out matches become muscle memory for MLS players, coaches and clubs.
Until then, well, we’ll just have to enjoy a few more all-Liga MX CONCACAF Champions League finals.
Dec 9, 2013, 8:18 PM EST
Don’t miss the last save from the package, an absolute show-stopper from Aston Villa’s U.S. international Brad Guzan:
Dec 9, 2013, 8:01 PM EST
An alternative look at all the action from Week 15 of the PL:
Dec 9, 2013, 7:53 PM EST
Who says the MLS off-season is too short?
Dec 9, 2013, 7:30 PM EST
Round 15’s Team of the Week includes a throwback man in John Arne Riise:
Dec 9, 2013, 6:52 PM EST
FC Dallas had a busy day … but, uh, who is going to coach the team?
Dec 9, 2013, 6:32 PM EST
Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports talks about Arsenal, Manchester United and more:
Dec 9, 2013, 5:48 PM EST
One versus England potentially being arranged in Miami? And another against Canada ahead of next year’s World Cup?
Dec 9, 2013, 4:59 PM EST
Hull pick up a valuable road point as Swansea’s season of missed opportunities at home continues:
Dec 9, 2013, 3:59 PM EST
Major League Soccer has been steadfast on this one all along:
Dec 9, 2013, 2:48 PM EST
Can the Swans surge back into the top 10? Watch live on NBCSN:
Dec 9, 2013, 2:29 PM EST
We caught up with ‘beardless’ Howard after his impressive outing vs. Arsenal. Here’s what he had to say:
Dec 9, 2013, 1:27 PM EST
With a shortlist of over 50 names to choose from, what is your current best starting XI in world soccer?
Dec 9, 2013, 12:59 PM EST
With Michu in-line to return, could the Swans blow the Tigers away?
Dec 9, 2013, 12:06 PM EST
Moyes takes the blame but how much longer can he take the flack for his under-performing stars?
Dec 9, 2013, 11:20 AM EST
Do the Gunners have themselves to blame? Or were the Toffees just too good?
Dec 9, 2013, 9:48 AM EST
Shock horror, Ronaldo and Messi go head-to-head for Ballon d’Or….
Dec 9, 2013, 9:14 AM EST
Ex-Premier League striker among those questioned as investigation continues:
Dec 9, 2013, 7:49 AM EST
Who gets your vote? Sit back, relax and watch some stunners from Osvaldo, Assaidi, Cabaye and others:
Dec 8, 2013, 11:54 PM EST
The one commonality among both stars’ groups: Almost none of their opponents have good defensive records.
Dec 8, 2013, 10:48 PM EST
Unbeaten in three, Spurs have turned things around since their loss at Manchester City.
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- Ronaldo: "I Didn't See the Draw, I Was Asleep"
- Messi: "There Are no Easy Opponents"
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- Mexico's World Cup Kit
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