Apr 10, 2013, 10:45 AM EDT
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.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
The Premier League’s big boys each play once more in the USA before heading back to England for the start of the new season.
Jul 27, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT
Afellay makes four ex-Blaugranas on the books at Stoke, where Mark Hughes is aiming for European qualification.
Jul 27, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
As Bayern chase their fourth straight Bundesliga title (it would be a first), Mats Hummels says the league’s other teams need to stop fearing them.
Jul 27, 2015, 6:06 PM EDT
Drogba has arrived in MLS, and he even got to choose which team he’ll play for — kinda.
Jul 27, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
Cyle Larin bagged his first pro hat trick on Sunday, somehow outshining David Villa at Yankee Stadium.
Jul 27, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Villa, Giovinco, Finlay and more — this week’s MLS Team of the Week.
Jul 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
The first of three newly promoted sides, do the Cherries have what it takes to stay in the Premier League?
Jul 27, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT
JPW dissects the top deals, discusses which clubs have done the best business and which need to get a shift on.
Jul 27, 2015, 1:43 PM EDT
Plenty of preseason action continues out in the Far East.
Jul 27, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Can Sherwood rejuvenate Villa and show progress is being made? Losing Benteke and Delph will hurt his chances of doing that.
Jul 27, 2015, 12:02 PM EDT
Here are the latest rumors from around the soccer world.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:06 AM EDT
SWP and BWP in MLS for RBNY.
Jul 27, 2015, 10:20 AM EDT
El Tri boss could be in a lot of trouble if these reports are true.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:35 AM EDT
LVG isn’t afraid of telling it like it is. Not at all.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Can the Gunners improve on their third-place finish from last season?
Jul 27, 2015, 8:03 AM EDT
Red Devils sign another goalkeeper as the David de Gea saga rumbles on.
Jul 26, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
It’s been an ugly tournament for El Tri, but they showed up ready to play in the finals.
Jul 26, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT
Arsenal won its second preseason trophy, while Romelu Lukaku logged a hat-trick for the Toffees.
Jul 26, 2015, 8:26 PM EDT
The French youth international impressed in the friendly against Wolfsburg, and Arsene Wenger wants him to stick around the Gunneres’ system.
Jul 26, 2015, 7:29 PM EDT
Banged up Mexico takes on rigid Jamaica in a scintillating Gold Cup final matchup.
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- Amid reports of journalist brawl, Mexico boss Miguel Herrera looks ahead to USMNT showdown 5
- Manchester United lack creativity to challenge top clubs, says Louis van Gaal 6
- Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Arsenal 9
- Mexico 3-1 Jamaica: El Tri overpowers Cinderella story to win Gold Cup 30
- Frank Lampard ruled out of MLS All-Star game 2