Why do MLS teams focus on results over entertainment?


By Tony Edwards - San Jose, CA (Mar 25, 2014) US Soccer Players - While every MLS team certainly values winning, not every team in MLS values entertainment. This would not be such a problem in a market where soccer held the positions, say, the NFL or the NBA holds in the United States. In those leagues, teams can focus on winning, or even development, while charging major league prices no matter what.

In this, the MLS’s 19th season, we are still seeing teams that apparently don’t value entertainment. Instead, the focus is on grinding out results or setting out to stop play, rather than to playing to win and entertain. Professional soccer has to be about entertainment. People need good reasons to pay for tickets. This isn’t the Bundesliga with 45,000 seat stadiums, low ticket prices, and standing sections. It’s not the Premier League where people will pay major league money for a major league product. In a game where excellence is often subtle, an Aurelien Collin professional foul just outside the midfield circle isn’t entertainment.

Did a game this weekend have more fouls than Kansas City – San Jose?

Obviously, yes, that would be Saturday’s Dallas – Chivas USA game, where the refs called 38 fouls altogether, 24 by Chivas USA.

Here’s the thing, we all know soccer is unique in that a team can play not only not to win, but not to entertain. This can happen in other team sports without a shot clock, such as in the 1990s when the New Jersey Devils of the NHL perfected their ‘neutral zone trap.’ That fan unfriendly move led to a Stanley Cup for the Devils and a rule change for the NHL to stop a negative tactic from taking over the league.

MLS doesn’t have the freedom of the NHL to start changing rules. The vaunted Laws of the Game (trademark FIFA) won’t allow it. Instead, they have to trust their teams not to resort to negative, boring soccer. That trust is sadly misplaced. Instead, we have a long list of examples of MLS teams playing not to entertain.

Give an MLS team an excuse and they’ll resort to trying to deliberately frustrate the opponent. To some extent, that flatters MLS. If points are so important and teams are so desperate to get them, that speaks well for the league as a whole right? Well, not really. It speaks to seeing the league schedule one way while the fans in the stadium and anybody watching on TV sees it as a waste of two hours.

I’m not saying Chivas USA wasn’t playing to win. I am saying they weren’t playing to entertain. They aren’t alone.

There needs to be some recognition within MLS that, despite what the league tells us, the United States is not a mature soccer market when it comes to the domestic league. Teams need to be committed to entertaining, to giving people real reasons to spend money to buy tickets and overpriced gear. Forty fouls in a game and professional fouls in the midfield to break up an attack are not entertaining soccer.

Is this every team in MLS?

Nope. Playing good soccer and in 1st-place in the Western Conference is FC Dallas. While Mauro Diaz is receiving significant praise, Dallas also did a nice job limiting Mauro Rosales’ effectiveness Saturday. This is an effective way for Oscar Pareja to start in Dallas, two wins and a draw to start the season, before they host Portland next weekend. Points in March count just as much as points in July or September, and given Dallas’ fade last season, they need to accumulate points now.

Is artificial turf really such a bad thing?

Obviously, if you have your choice, everyone would prefer to play on pristine grass. However, looking at the grass at Sporting Park Saturday night, it made you think maybe turf isn’t so bad, or at least some of those grass-turf hybrids?

Three weeks into the season and your grass turf looks that bad? There were huge brown spots in front of both goals. Even on television, you could see the ball bobble and bounce. Everything about Saturday night’s Kansas City-San Jose game cried minor league. The field was brown and rutted, neither team could consistently connect on passes, and there were 37 fouls and 7 cautions.

Which chestnut is Union coach John Hackworth falling back on already?

Bemoaning his team’s inability to defend restarts. It’s nice to see that some MLS traditions remain intact.

“I’m really not happy we’ve given up two restart goals,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “And two of those restarts were just missed clearances. We have to solve that.”

One issue that Philadelphia has upgraded from last season is Vincent Nogueira. USMNT players Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu are rightly getting praise for their play and tactical nous, but from early games, the signing of Nogueira was a canny one.

Which MLS team wants shorter games?

Our friends Chivas USA, who have given up six goals so far this season, and all of them in the last 30 minutes of games (three from 60th to the 75th minute and three from the 76th minute on). ‘

Okay, there was one game they played a man down. Still, giving up zero goals for the first 60 minutes of games, then giving up six in 90 minutes (three games times the last 30 minutes of games) is a sign of a team not quite fully formed. Which is not unexpected. The question is how does the team stay together and evolve, unlike last year’s squad.

Tony Edwards is a soccer writer from the Bay Area.

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8 Responses to Why do MLS teams focus on results over entertainment?

  1. Trey says:

    Easy answer – coaches want to keep their jobs. Until MLS teams reward entertainment over making the playoffs, coaches are going to keep coaching not to lose.

  2. Mike says:

    To an extent I agree, but it doesn’t jibe with Sporting KC’s 38 consecutive sellouts at Sporting Park. There’s a fine line between aggressive play and cynical play–I feel Sporting KC style is the former. I prefer goals (goodness knows SKC needs to learn how to finish!), but in lieu of that I find creative defense can be entertaining for a knowledgeable fanbase.

  3. Robb says:

    I agree with you, Mike. But… if the knowledgeable fan base is say 30k per MLS market that’s the same problem the NHL has. You need more than that to really move the TV needle. MLS would love to have what the NHL has, but people have been predicting the NHL TV rights crashing for years now. There’s not enough market for the money to make sense. When the TV rights bubble pops, where does that leave MLS?

  4. Brian says:

    Coaches are like any other employee. They (theoretically) respond to the expectations of their bosses. If the boss were to tell them that their priority #1 is results, of course they are going to prioritize that over entertainment. It’s the front office’s job to set out expectations. It’s the coach’s job to make those expectations (and not his own) happen.

  5. Brian says:

    By the way, turf is always worse than grass.


    Grass is sometimes awful to play on. Turf is always awful to play on.

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