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One theory for MLS failures in Champions League


A few years ago I wrote critically and frequently about Major League Soccer’s chief flaw on the field. That is, the faulty element most guilty of holding back the league from achieving better quality between the white lines (i.e., MLS imperfection on the field, not in marketing matters).

It was simply that too many matches didn’t matter. When 80 percent or 60 percent of teams make the playoffs (MLS first decade or so), every single match simply was not important enough. That tolerance for imperfection infected everything, from daily practices to match-day management. Mistakes weren’t punished sufficiently, so the drive to improve individually and collectively suffered.

It’s gotten better, of course, but the math still works in opposition to genuine, night-in, night-out, down and dirty competitiveness. Simply put, each individual match does not drip with the weight of importance as it should.

Making the playoffs is still the brick and mortar of Major League Soccer from a competitive standpoint. And more than half the teams still qualify (10 of 19). So there is still not enough “gotta have it” for each contest.

The basic league structure is just too forgiving in terms of individual match importance; too many contests cannot be earnestly stamped “Code Red Critical!”

When MLS teams get themselves into Champions League seriousness, they aren’t quite equipped to deal tactically, emotionally or intelligently when it comes to one match (or a pair of them) that simply must be had.

We saw it twice last week, as Seattle couldn’t properly manage a home match against Santos Laguna. Left in a 1-0 hole, last night’s 1-1 draw in Mexico was insufficient.  Santos advances into the CONCACAF Champions League final; MLS misses another chance.

The LA Galaxy conceded two goals late against Monterrey, and the chances of something heroic tonight in Mexico do not look good. At all.

Quality depth in the rosters (better on the Mexican side) has a lot to say about this ongoing imbalance, as Mexican sides continue to dominate the regional tourney.

But the lenient playoff qualification standards still hinder MLS progress. We saw it last year as clubs that finished fourth and fifth in their conferences made the MLS Cup final. LA was about as bad it could be in March, April and May … and still won the championship.

When a smaller percentage still of Major League Soccer teams make the playoffs, every match will ring the bell of importance. Organizations and individuals will know that a match in April, May, June, etc. should carry all the serious weight of a stretch-run contest in September. Only then will the best practices of approaching a match and managing out matches become muscle memory for MLS players, coaches and clubs.

Until then, well, we’ll just have to enjoy a few more all-Liga MX CONCACAF Champions League finals.

Everton’s John Stones out of England squad with injury

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: John Stones of Everton clears during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on September 12, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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John Stones has been ruled out of England’s upcoming EURO qualifiers after suffering a knee injury while playing for Everton.

The 21-year-old center-back has missed Everton’s last two Premier League matches, and was unable to recover in time for England’s qualifiers this weekend.

Manager Roy Hodgson has called in Tottenham’s Andros Townsend and Kyle Walker as replacements for the absent Stones.

[ REPORTS: Klopp, Liverpool making quick progress ]

England has already qualified for EURO 2016 with a perfect record in Group E, winning all eight of their matches. With upcoming games against Estonia and Lithuania, Hodgson has said he will experiment a bit with some new players, which lessens the impact of Stones’ injury.

Despite the match being meaningless in terms of a result, players will still be eager to impress the manager in an effort to lock up a spot on the final roster for the tournament in June.

Manchester United’s Luke Shaw is out for an extended period of time after breaking his leg in the Champions League, while Everton’s Leighton Baines hasn’t played since August after undergoing ankle surgery.

[ RELATED: Samir Nasri rules out a return to France squad, hints at MLS move ]

Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand has been recalled to the side, and said he will try to grab the left-back position “by the scruff of the neck.”

Liverpool’s Danny Ings was given his first call-up and Swansea City’s Jonjo Shelvey returns to the fold, although both players missed training with injuries and their status moving forward is uncertain.

Landon Donovan: Klinsmann should be fired if USMNT loses to Mexico

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on before playing Peru during an international friendly at RFK Stadium on September 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Landon Donovan and Jurgen Klinsmann haven’t had the rosiest of relationships.

Since being left off of the 2014 World Cup roster and retiring from the game, Donovan has often been critical of Klinsmann and his tenure with the USMNT.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Ahead of Saturday’s CONCACAF playoff match against Mexico, Donovan said he believes Klinsmann should be fired if the United States loses.

Speaking to ESPN FC:

Around the world, if a player plays poorly and a player has a bad string of results, they get dropped from the team.

Jurgen said many times he wants our players to feel pressure — so if they lose a game they can’t go to the grocery store the next day. If they lose a game, they are getting hammered in the press.

Well, the same holds true for the coach, and so we had a very poor summer with bad results in the Gold Cup. The last game against Brazil was probably the worst game I’ve seen them play under Jurgen.

The reality is that now, anywhere else in the world, if this coach had those results, and they lose this game against Mexico, they’d be fired.

I think if Jurgen wants to hold all the players to that standard, then he has to be held to that standard too.

Heading into the Gold Cup this summer on the heels of some great wins over the Netherlands and Germany, the United States’ performance was wildly disappointing, losing in the semifinals to Jamaica and finishing in fourth place.

[ RELATED: Top moments from USMNT vs. Mexico ]

President of U.S. Soccer Sunil Gulati has shown great faith in Klinsmann, giving him a contract until 2018 as both manager and technical director of the program. However, pressure has been building after a string of poor results.

For Klinsmann, this is arguably his biggest match in charge of the USMNT. Not only does it have implications for the Confederations Cup in 2017, but it is also against Mexico, which always puts added pressure on a manager. If the U.S. loses, more people than Donovan will be calling for a change.