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Major League Soccer IS a seller’s league … and that’s OK


As soon as the words left MLS commissioner Don Garber’s mouth, I could feel the temperature rising in some domestic soccer supporter corners.

Meanwhile, his words were a soothing balm to others. It all helps demonstrate an ongoing conflict in the minds of some supporters: is Major League Soccer as a so-called “seller’s league” acceptable?

During his Google+ Hangout address on Wednesday, Garber said he wanted Major League Soccer to be a “destination” league. That is, he wants players landing in MLS to settle in, cozy with the knowledge that they have arrived at the promised land of a soccer career.

But we know better. Money is still better in Mexico, Europe and elsewhere, decidedly and measurably so in some cases.

So my question is this: Why isn’t that OK? Why is that anathema in some corners of the U.S. soccer supporters collective? Is being a “feeder” league to associations that have a 100-year head start, where soccer is so faithfully entwined in the culture, such a repulsive thing?

In the case of an MLS executive, I can see where it might be considered impolitic to say otherwise. But supporters? The Dutch Eredivisie is a technically strong, mid-level European league; aren’t we all excited to see Jozy Altidore excel there? The Eredivisie is certainly a seller’s league.

The real rock and hard place here is that supporters are divided – sometimes even within themselves. In some corners, we want MLS to mature, to evolve out of this position as a holding ground until something better comes along. (That’s hard to accept in a land where ambition was always a bedrock virtue.)

But in some corners, we get all twisted in an angry knot if MLS deciders don’t let the best young American stars go find their betters selves abroad.

“We don’t MLS to be a seller’s league!”

“But, uh … hurry up and sell that guy to the English club!”

What Garber (pictured above) said:

I’ve said this since I’ve became commissioner. If it were up to me, if this was a perfect world where everything was under my control, and no commissioner ever controls everything, we would never sell a player.

Part of our goal is to be that league of destination, so that the issue is how to manage all the players who want to come in. But that’s not the reality, players do come and go. The movement of players is part of any sport.”

Garber is a smart man. So, again, perhaps he is just saying what he must. Problem is, fans hear the words from on high and get on board.

Garber and MLS must accept the reality: until TV money arrives at a point where it becomes competitive with Mexico and the leader leagues in Europe, salaries will be similarly skewed. And until the domestic titles and trophies find the same level of reverence and relevance as UEFA Champions League and the championship targets of England, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc., it is the way it is.

And that’s OK. Major League Soccer now exists in the middle of the food chain, a place of destination for players from some countries and a feeder league for the world’s marquee associations.

It won’t always be that way – and the ambition to seek more is OK, too. But for now, it is what it is.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.