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

11 Comments

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.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls
Leave a comment

HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

Photo credit: BBC Sport / Twitter: @BBCSport
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Leave a comment

A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.