MLS: Mid-Term Report

Tim Hall’s View From 101

This week marks the Major League Soccer All Star Game, as the best and the brightest MLS has to offer, as voted on by fans, other players, the Commissioner, and video game players, will do battle against Most of Real Madrid. Really what the All Star Game offers is a chance for the game’s American fans to meet up in a centralized location – this year, Chicago – to talk about the sport and participate in activities related to the sport and see and hear from stars of the sport who are better than they ever will be. Think of it like an American Soccer Comic-Con.

Moreover, the All Star Game marks the nominal mid-way point of the never-ending MLS season, and that gives us a pretty good point to look back on where we’ve been, and look forward to where we are going.

The Beasts Are In the East: There is one thing that the Cult of American Soccer Promotion and Relegation and the rest of us normals agree on, and that is that it would probably be better to have a balanced schedule and a single table for standings purposes. But, here we are, with teams playing their regional rivals more than those on the opposite coast. It makes sense from an economic standpoint, but it does lead to imbalance, especially when one conference mows through the other when they meet, such as we have right now. Currently, the East’s seventh place team would make the playoffs in the West. The East’s third place team would be first out West. Of course, all this means is that whoever comes out of the West to play for MLS Cup will be nice and rested, while the East’s representative will have all the scars of a month’s worth of dog fights.

Instant VARma: When MLS does return to business on the weekend, they will do so as job creators, as there will be a fifth official assigned to every match. Yes, the Video Assistant Referee system – soccer’s answer to instant replay – makes its not-at-all long-awaited debut as the law of the land in MLS. It will give fans a whole new outlet to accuse of conspiracy against their team, convinced that the league and the advertisers are acting in concert to steer the outcome of games in a specific direction to earn the most money. It’s impossible to prove MLS and its backers aren’t doing that – it may in fact be easier to prove that they are – but maybe we can do something to alleviate some of the worry. Take a sheet of paper and make two columns. On the left, the times VAR decisions go against your team. On the right, VAR decisions for your team, or, at least, against the team your team is playing. If anybody’s team ends up with an 80/20 imbalance with a statistically significant sample size, then maybe we can explore the conspiracy a bit further. Until then, let’s just get the calls right and not waste a lot of time doing it.

Derby Round 9: One of the first round of games that will be contested under our invisible camera overlords will be the Hudson River Rivalry between New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. The teams have split the honors in their two previous meetings in 2017, with City winning at Red Bulls in league play, but Red Bulls holding fort to knock City out of this year’s version of the US Open Cup. But this game isn’t just for metropolitan bragging rights. When play resumes on the weekend, City will be in third on 37 points with Red Bulls in fourth with 35, and with a game in hand. The Metros also have momentum, coming off a 4-0 win over Montreal in their last game before the break, while the blue half of the city fell 4-0 to East leaders Toronto. We sincerely hope no fans attending The League’s Self-Determined Most Important Rivalry will be injured, as in many derbies past.

Expanding Waste Lines: Since all of the Major League Soccer powers-that-be are congealed into one thick mass, not unlike the pizza in Chicago, the All-Star game also does lend itself to negotiations and major announcements over the direction the league will take in the near future. The form this usually takes is to discuss expanding the league to new markets. While bids and cities are constantly jockeying for attention, right now two bids have the inside track of the twelve alleged to be under review.

First is Detroit. Some of the people there are in the camp of “No! We don’t want MLS! We’re happy with our completely organic fourth-tier product!” and that’s all well and good, except those people aren’t the ones throwing around money. The ones that are have received at least partial government support to knock down a jail that was half-built but never finished, build an MLS stadium on that site, then build a jail two miles down the road. This is not surprising as nothing wins over the hearts and minds of voters than more jail cells for criminals who may or may not exist just yet. But they will, and if the government has to make more laws to make more criminals, by golly they’ll do just that. Godspeed Detroit!

The other tantalizing bid is Miami, where David Beckham has stuck with his plan of continuing to be David Beckham and hoping a bunch of money follows. After years of waiting, it appears Beckham’s ship may have come in, as Florida businessman and owner of the North American Soccer League’s Miami FC Riccardo Silva has made an unconfirmed agreement with Goldenballs to add his name – and, more importantly, his bank account – to Beckham’s South Florida effort. This after Silva was rumored to have made a $4 billion pitch to MLS to buy the broadcast rights in exchange for MLS adoption promotion and relegation. My sources also indicate Silva totally has a girlfriend, but she goes to a different school so you wouldn’t know her. So believe what you will.

Regardless, MLS League Commissioner Don Garber said this week that Beckham United FC are “at the finish line” in terms of their bid and that a vote would likely happen at the owners’ meeting this week. Garber did clarify that “votes can go any which way” and that Team Becks might leave the meeting with just a handful of further questions to answer before proceeding. Questions like “Does Miami really need another entertainment option?”, “Is it such a good idea to build a stadium without parking of it’s own in a car-centric culture?” and “Haven’t we all heard the stories of a new stadium bringing untold economic gains to the poor part of town before?” one would presume.

So now you’ve got a grasp on what’s going on in MLS as they make the turn for home. Go forth and impress many with the wisdom you have gained here today.