MLS Archive


Dear MLS, please kill the No. 4 vs No. 5 playoff game dead

MLSlogoplayoffsFor a guy who writes about soccer as much as I do, loves the game as much as I do, I surprise myself about how many times I wonder if there are too many matches being played.

The world would be a better place without the League Cup (we get to see who the big clubs put on the bench today!), meaningless friendlies, North American summer tours by European clubs… They are like the cheapest of Scotch; too much exposure to these things, and you might get so turned off that you forsake the good stuff, too.

And, if Major League Soccer cared about the integrity of its playoff system, it would do the world a favour and jettison the No. 4 vs. No. 5 conference playoff games.

Wednesday’s match, which saw FC Dallas end the Whitecaps season with a 2-1 win, was another example of why the No. 4 vs. No. 5 playoff game is a massive issue. The announced attendance was 10,279. Almost Chivas bad. But, as anyone in Sports Marketing 101 would tell you, what do you expect when a team is expected to sell playoff tickets for a game that happens on a midweek evening, just three days after the regular season ends?
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How Leiweke’s successor can deal with TFC’s culture of failure

“I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again”

— The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

It’s becoming part of the club’s not-so-wonderful lore; that when Toronto FC does have a reason for hope, the dreams will die in New Jersey.

Heck, TFC has been buried in Jersey so often, that Jimmy Hoffa FC might be an appropriate rebrand for the franchise.

In 2009, TFC went to Giants Stadium needing a win to get to the promised land — and gave up five goals to a hapless Red Bulls team. The Red Bulls are a much better team in 2014 than 2009; that still doesn’t mitigate how poor TFC was in the first half of the 3-1 loss to the Red Bulls on Saturday. Now, TFC’s playoff hopes hang by a thread and, psychologically, the fan base has given up on the team.

With Tim Leiweke set to leave his post as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s head, it gives food for thought; what to do now with TFC? What would you do if you were president of the club?
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MLS announces a major rebrand: Should the league have considered changing its name?

MLS_Next_126Major League Soccer has a new logo. Refreshingly, it does not have a soccer boot crashing into a ball, as the outgoing one did.

(For two decades, it was nice to be reminded by a soccer league that has “Soccer” in its name that, indeed, its teams do play soccer.)

The new logo is remarkably simple, with “MLS” in a simple wordmark on a stylized shield split into two halves. One half bears three stars — and the other is left blank. The shield’s colour scheme can be altered to match any of the league’s teams — and the cynic will say that’s a reminder of the fact that, even though you may have a club to call your own, in the end it’s the league office that controls contracts and calls the shots.

It’s also incredibly bold for a league to announce a change in the way it markets itself, going into a year where a new Collective Bargaining Agreement needs to be negotiated. The current CBA expires after this season.

“Our new brand and crest are the result of an iterative process that has helped us better understand the world in which we operate in. The outcome is not an evolution, but a revolution,” Howard Handler, the league’s chief marketing domo, said at a news conference held Thursday in New York.

But there’s something I hope came up at the marketing meetings. If MLS has decided to go ahead with a major rebranding of itself, it should tackle what is maybe its own worst enemy. And that’s its name.

Major League Soccer.
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USL-PRO silent on status of Canadian MLS teams’ bids for affiliates

uslThe deadline to apply for a new USL-PRO franchise fell on Sept. 15.

A day later, the USL brass won’t say much about which MLS teams will have new affiliate teams in place for the 2015 season. That includes the three Canadian MLS sides.

In 2013, USL forged an to become the developmental league for MLS. In 2014, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact confirmed their wishes to have USL affiliates for the 2015 season. Toronto FC has been rumoured to also be looking at having a direct affiliate in 2015, after failing in an earlier bid to secure an affiliate team in Hamilton.

But, when asked about who could be in and who could be out, USL President Tim Holt said Tuesday that the process of adding teams is still ongoing.

“USL PRO remains in the process of determining the roster of teams for the 2015 season, including any additional expansion teams. This includes several MLS clubs evaluating the opportunity to launch a USL PRO franchise. Any such official announcements will occur once agreements have been finalized.”
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Breaking down Michael Bradley’s comments, by the numbers: Do Canadian refs really favour American teams?

Dave Gantar: Even though he got the call wrong, is he owed an apology?

Dave Gantar: Even though he got the call wrong, is he owed an apology?

Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley crossed a line on Saturday night.

After Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Chicago, which saw Edmonton-based referee Dave Gantar rule out what would have been Gilberto’s winning goal for a phantom push on a Chicago defender, Bradley vented his frustration. And it was captured on the TFC’s official video feed (CLICK HERE).

“They continue to assign Canadian referees whenever an American team is playing against an Canadian team… they are going to go make a conscious effort to show that they are not being biased one way or another. It’s not the first time we’ve had this guy this year. What can I say? He’s just not good enough?”

A player moaning about officials is nothing new. But it wasn’t that Bradley was simply calling out Gantar for missing a call. He was suggesting that there was a motive behind the call. He suggested that Canadian referees are making “conscious efforts” to call their games a certain way.

It’s one thing to challenge a referee’s eyes or even a referee’s judgement. But the second you challenge the official’s character, you need to back that up.

Did Gantar make the wrong call on Glberto? Yes. Even the opposing coach, Frank Yallop, allowed that his Fire side was fortunate.

“It didn’t look like it was a foul, or whatever the ref called. We got lucky on that one,” Yallop said after the game.

But, let’s make this clear. There’s a big difference between a blown call and a blown call because of bias. And Bradley suggested the latter.
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Canadian quotas are price USL must pay for not having Canada at the table when MLS deal was hatched

Victor Montagliani

Victor Montagliani

Back in 2013, Major League Soccer announced its partnership plan with (officially regarded as) third division USL-PRO.

But there was a problem. It was an American agreement made with the oversight of American authorities. For MLS, which is a North American league, shutting Canada out of the process was a major problem.

So, now, both MLS and USL-Pro have to reap what they have sown. As the Montreal Impact (Montreal FC), Vancouver Whitecaps (New Westminster) and Toronto FC (maybe a team north of the city) move ahead with plans for affiliate USL-Pro teams for 2015, we have learned they will be subject to pretty tough quotas.

As reported by Duane Rollins in Canadian Soccer News (link here), any USL-PRO team affiliated with a Canadian MLS team will have to follow some strict roster rules. Half of the players on the squad must be Canadian-eligible, and six of the 11 starters must be Canadian-eligible.

By “eligible” we mean that, if Canadian national-team coach Benito Floro made the call, that player would be available to go.

The move will likely prevent teams from stashing foreign talent on their USL-PRO rosters, or treat their affiliates like true minor-league clubs. That’s fine. The Whitecaps have sent established non-Canadian pros to NASL’s FC Edmonton on loan in the past, and the two teams still have a strong relationship. Toronto FC sent Ryan Richter to the Ottawa Fury. No reason that the Fury can’t continue to build relationships with TFC and the Impact.
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The circus comes back to town: TFC gets weird again and undoes a few months of goodwill

Greg Vanney

Greg Vanney

Watching Toronto FC in 2014 was, kinda like watching someone trying to keep a new year’s resolution.

Oh, hell with pussyfooting around it. It was more like trying to watch a long-term alcoholic try to stay sober, despite being surrounded by temptation.

After seven years of dysfunction, the franchise looked to have turned a corner; that, under the presidency of Tim Leiweke, TFC had finally decided to take itself seriously. A new general manager, Tim Bezbatchenko, was hired — and he brought a knowledge of how to milk the MLS salary cap. Marquee Designated Players were wooed and signed. And, the team, for much of the 2014 season, has been competitive.

Even with its recent troubles, taking just 13 of the last possible 36 points, TFC is still in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, with games in hand on everyone in the race. And the Reds have a favourable schedule heading home. Compared to past seasons, even now this TFC feels like Arsenal’s invincible season. Or, at least, it should have.

Instead, TFC went on a binge, in a kinda-nuclear-bomb fashion. The soap opera returned, soon after Leiweke’s imminent departure from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was made public. Sunday, after being called out by coach Ryan Nelsen for putting too much pressure on the team ahead of a 3-0 loss to New England, Bezbatchenko struck. And struck again. And again. And again. Once he was done, Nelsen and all his assistants were gone. Heck, even the strength and conditioning coach was gone. We’re still trying to confirm if the person who cuts Nelsen’s hair is gone. Maybe the elevator operator at BMO Field got the gate, too.
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Leiweke’s departure: Toronto soccer supporters can’t be blamed for fearing for the future

leiwekeNo doubt, the next few days worth of stories in the Toronto media will feature a lot of he-sad, she-said.

There will be speculation over the magical straw that broke the camel’s back at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. What was the major reason (or reasons) that spurred the company and its high-profile head to announce their impending divorce?

Was it the failure to get an NFL team? Or the rumoured dislike the Leiweke clan holds for the Canadian winter? The fact there are no In ‘N’ Out Burger outlets to be found in the GTA? Conflicts between the outgoing CEO and the MLSE board?

In the end, it doesn’t matter. The optics of the situation are simple. MLSE announced Thursday that CEO Tim Leiweke will step down by the end of next June, or earlier if a suitable replacement is found. And that means one of the highest-profile venue builders and managers in all of North American sport will fall well short of fulfilling even half of his five-year mandate.

And the question will be, if Leiweke is chewed up by the Toronto sports cauldron, who could take the job without being a well-paid yes-man? Thanos, maybe?
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Stats show link between number of draws and playoffs; are there lessons there for MLS?

MLS-logoAs of Thursday, 31.7 per cent of Major League Soccer’s game end in draws.

That’s not a number that falls far from the conventional soccer wisdom that says that between a quarter and 30 per cent of all games will end in ties. But, probability changes as the game evolves. And, if you look at other leagues around the world, the 30-per-cent-draw figure isn’t such an accurate reflection of how the game is being played nowadays. The rate of draws is actually closer to 20 per cent, if you look at the major Euro circuits.

In the previous English Premier League season, just 78 of 380 matches ended in draws — or a shade above 20 per cent. Major League Soccer has seen 61 draws already, in just 192 games played so far in 2014.

In the previous Bundesliga campaign, 64 of 306 matches ended in draws. Just a bit under 21 per cent, and consistent to the English trend. In Spain, 86 of 380 matches were even after full time, a rate of 22.6 per cent. A little higher than in England or Germany, but nowhere close to MLS.

In the 2013 season, MLS had a 25.4 draw percentage. Slightly higher than the elite-European-league norm, but 2014 is trending upwards, thanks to the likes of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Chicago Fire, who each have drawn more than half of the games on their schedules (and, so fitting, played to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday).
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Garber hints that Canadian-player rules in MLS may change: Why we need to look at minutes played, not roster spots

Don Garber

Don Garber

In a Facebook chat with fans held on Monday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was greeted with the thorny question about Canadian players in the league.

Francis Ghanimé asked him: “Will Canadian players ever stop counting as internationals for American clubs?”

And this was the answer from the commish.

“We are working on a new approach to our international player rules as they relate to Canada. Stay tuned.”

We have asked MLS for more clarification on the issue.

But, we do know the rules as they pertain to Canadians are on the radar. We also know the Canadian Soccer Association has lobbied MLS to changes the rules so Canadians are seen as domestic players, league wide. This would then put MLS on an equal footing with USL-PRO, which allows Canadians to be domestics on U.S. clubs.

Right now, the Canadian teams are required to each carry three Canadian players on their rosters. On the U.S. teams, Canadians are counted as international players and take up roster space that many American teams would prefer to give to players from, well, sexier parts of the soccer world. Meanwhile, on Canadian teams, Americans are seen as domestics.

The timing is interesting. We know CSA has been pushing for changes for a while. But, now, the CSA has gone public with its stated goal of having Canada’s own “Division 1A” (CLICK HERE or see issue 2 of Plastic Pitch), and reports continue that NASL, CFL owners and the CSA are discussing the formation of a Canadian division — something that NASL won’t deny, but says it simply can’t comment on… at this time.

So, pressure is no doubt building on MLS.
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