By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 10, 2011) US Soccer Players -- I’m sure there are those within Sporting Kansas City’s front office who would like to buy a better story than ‘great opening night at the stadium, shame about the soccer.’ Fortunately, they and any other Major League Soccer team can do just that by putting more money into their squad.
That might sound a bit harsh the morning after Livestrong Sporting Park opened to the public, but not for anyone who watched that game from the comfort of their own home. It’s not much of an overstatement to see what happened over those 90 minutes in Kansas City as Major League Soccer’s quality problems writ large.
Negative tactics designed to keep the other team from establishing a rhythm? Yes, and from both teams. Passes into opposing players? Sure, and you have to wonder how they score those statistically. That all-too-common MLS hesitation in the attacking third, turning chances into half chances and half chances into missed opportunities? Well of course.
Trot out any cliché you want about 0-0 draws, but this game would’ve been poor had one of the few attempts actually turned into a goal. It really was that bad. Unfortunately for MLS, they manage at least one or two games like this every week. Fortunately for MLS, they’re normally not the ones getting the national cable coverage.
Sporting Kansas City is unique in having a nice new combination of the best of Toyota Park in suburban Chicago and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver. Maybe they even get a good run as a low seed and follow Colorado’s example of how to win a title on the cheap. Right now, this is a team screaming for better players capable of putting better ideas into practice on the field. Chicago is hardly any better, and there are a number of MLS teams capable of that depressing style of play higher up in the standings in both Conferences.
For MLS, this has been a big picture issue for years. Multiple expansion cycles have been an unfortunate answer for the designated player rule. On its own, the success/failure rate of the designated player has given enough teams an easy excuse for barely spending over the cap to keep a player. There’s not enough pressure to actually go out and spend at the level of a Los Angeles or New York.
Expansion has added a flood of squad players that in a smaller version of MLS would be competing against each other for jobs. That’s the reality of this League when the salary increases for squad players have been incremental. It’s also what needs to happen next.
Spending on nice new stadiums is nothing unique in MLS. Spending to make sure you’ve got a competent and cohesive starting eleven is. Right now, only a few teams do it, with the rest putting out an inferior product and hoping for the best.
It’s easy enough to point to New York’s current record or LA’s slide last season as examples not to spend. There are teams that have done just that. Yet that only half validates cheap teams and does nothing to answer the bigger problem. How does this League get better game-by-game? How does MLS create a product they can trust on most nights? How do we get past rationalizing not spending simply because other teams were capable of dragging better squads down to their level?
For a League that seems obsessed with what happens next, it’s not likely that quality control pushes past expansion and new stadiums. After last night, it’s an open question if it’s even on the list.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.