Will Bruin;Boniek Garcia

Major League Soccer’s playoff pace, timing utterly nonsensical

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The pace and rhythm of Major League Soccer’s playoff stinks. It’s broken, largely ineffective and fairly nonsensical. There’s no other way to say it.

It’s really about a larger problem with MLS priorities: League stability now largely achieved, steady growth now a pleasant reality, Major League Soccer can now lean into the business of refining its product. And nowhere is refining (“reforming” actually, in this case) more important than in year-long scheduling. The concerns are myriad, including the problematic issue of playing through FIFA fixture dates, TV time slots that don’t make a lot of sense, the loss of opportunity in a lack of simultaneous final-day kickoffs and more.

Over the last few days, we’ve seen another troublesome, pot-holed road of MLS scheduling: a playoff docket that works against the league in so many ways, in limiting ticket sales and in stripping away any chance to build meaningful post-season momentum.

Let’s start here: Major League Soccer is committed to its playoff system. Not everyone agrees it should be this way; a day never passes in MLS supporter circles without impassioned debate over whether traditional world soccer models – single table, no playoffs, plus promotion-relegation – should decide the championship. But American sports are about playoffs, and I happen to believe that’s fine.

So MLS is committed to playoffs, and fair enough. League deciders favor the playoffs so much that three years ago they added two teams to the post-season field, getting more teams involved not only in the post-season, but in the truly exciting stretch run, the dramatic playoff races that (league officials hope) create memories, adding interest and fans along the way. So, fair enough to all that.

But it makes no sense to draw a big red circle around your post-season and point toward that show cow all year – and then fail to make it a priority in overall scheduling.  The league builds and builds and builds toward the playoffs – and then “Poof!”  So much of it is over in about 10 minutes.

(MORE: Dynamo president Chris Canetti talks about low turnout)

If we isolate scheduling, it really looks like the playoffs are just something MLS sticks on the back of the regular season. As in, “All right, let’s get this over with!”

First thing that happens: Teams often get two or three days to sell the first match. That’s why Seattle had just 32,204 in attendance for its elimination game against Colorado, a contest that kicked off just two-plus days after the final regular season kick. A few days after that, Seattle was back on the field again, this time playing before 38,507. Both are great numbers in domestic soccer – but well below average for the Seattle Sounders.

Along with the final regular season match, MLS policy forced Sounders FC to ask its fans to buy tickets three times within seven days. And that’s a tough ask. Bottom line, when Seattle is having trouble selling tickets to important matches, something has gone very wrong.

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Both Seattle playoff matches at home so far fell well south of this swell attendance number; this was the final regular season match at CenturyLink.

Houston had issues selling playoff  tickets, too, no real surprise considering the Dynamo didn’t know it was in the post-season until final day – and then had seven days to sell two matches. (Yes, other sports, NBA, NHL, etc., face tight sales windows at playoff time. But as we all know, and yet sometimes conveniently forget during these conversations, MLS is not the NBA or even the NHL.)

TV becomes problematic, too, with so little time provided to sort out the particulars. MLS had major trouble ginning up network interest in last week’s elimination matches. Neither of tonight’s matches (where the league’s largest market club, New York, could be eliminated) will appear on an English-language national outlet.

Aside from ticket sales and missed opportunities to create sponsor involvement and TV interest, MLS gives itself and its clubs zero chance to build some real marketing momentum along the post-season way.

The season ends. Three or four days later, two teams are gone. A week after that, four more are out.

Think about that: Within 11 days of the final regular season whistle, 6 of 10 teams are gone! The bulk of the playoffs – remember, that big red circle the league has pointed to over an entire year – are history in just 11 days.

That is what MLS wants its playoffs to be about?

The single-game, 4th-vs.-5th elimination match is fine – but put it on the weekend after the final regular season match. (And for heaven’s sakes, stop putting one of the first MLS playoff contests on Halloween! People are out and about, not home watching sports.)

(MORE: MLS loses opportunities with no final-day simultaneous kickoffs)

Then stretch these conference semifinal series over two weekends. Give them some room to breathe. We see fantastic momentum build during playoff series runs in baseball, basketball and hockey. Those are multi-game sets, of course, and MLS is fine with its two-game, home-and-away format – but give them a chance to create some energy in the market, at least.

None of this even addresses issues of fairness or technical quality. Play, travel, play, travel … that’s hardly a recipe for great soccer.

Mostly though, MLS just doesn’t give itself a chance to exploit the meaningful post-season narratives, the memory makers that create club history and build legacy. And that’s a real shame.

It’s not that difficult: Add a couple more regular season weeknight dates – and then avoid them at all cost during the post-season.

Generally, when creating the overall schedule, MLS needs to start with a playoff schedule that makes sense, and then back into the regular season from there.

Report says Swansea City meet with Bob Bradley

Bob Bradley, Le Harve AC
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Former U.S. men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley has reportedly met with Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins.

[ MORE: Atlanta hire Martino ]

Bradley, 58, is the current head coach of Le Havre in Ligue 2 in France but with current Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin under plenty of pressure following four defeats in their opening six games of the Premier League season, both Bradley and Ryan Giggs have been linked with the position.

As of yet there has been no comment from Swansea, Le Havre or anybody else in-between but the BBC is reporting that Bradley met with Jenkins at Bristol Airport in England over the past few days.

ProSoccerTalk understands that there is genuine interest in Bradley’s services from Swansea. The south wales side host Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) and a heavy defeat could be the end for Guidolin.

It is easy to see why the Swans would turn to New Jersey native Bradley, who has previously worked wonders in trying situations and on shoestring budgets. After leaving the U.S. national team in 2011 following five years in charge, highlighted by a Gold Cup title in 2007, runner up spot at the 2009 Confederations Cup and a Round of 16 berth at the 2010 World Cup, Bradley took the Egyptian national team to the brink of the 2014 World Cup during a time of huge turmoil in the African country which impacted all of his players heavily.

[ LONGFORM: Bradley’s journey in Norway

He returned to club management in 2014, taking tiny Norwegian side Stabaek to European qualification over two seasons and almost led Le Havre to promotion to Ligue 1 after taking charge of the French second-tier side midway through last season. Bradley has a great track record of working with youngsters and operating on a small budget, which is exactly how Swansea operate.

Bradley has been linked with several jobs in the Premier League in the past with West Brom, Aston Villa, Fulham and Hull City mentioned, but it seems with Swansea’s U.S. investors (led by Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan) now playing a pivotal role in decision making at the Liberty Stadium, Bradley has emerged as a serious contender if Guidolin is fired.

He would be the first-ever American to manage in the Premier League if this all works out.

Atlanta United name Gerardo “Tata” Martino as first-ever head coach

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 04:  Argentina coach Gerardo Martino waits near the bench area during their International friendly match against Bolivia at BBVA Compass Stadium on September 4, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United FC is doing it big.

On Wednesday Argentina coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino was named as the first-ever head coach of the incoming Major League Soccer franchise who will join the league for the 2017 season.

In a major coup, Martino, 53, will lead Atlanta in its inaugural MLS campaign after resigning as Argentina’s manager this summer following their second-straight defeat to Chile on penalty kicks in the final of the Copa America.

Martino has also managed the Paraguyan national team, Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina and spent one season at Barcelona in 2013-14, losing out on the La Liga title on the final day of the season to Atletico Madrid.

“I’m very happy to join Atlanta United as the first head coach in club history,” Martino said in a club statement. “This is an exciting time for MLS and I’m looking forward to the challenge of leading a team in an evolving league.  Atlanta United is a first-rate organization, and I’m very eager to get working and build one of the top clubs in MLS.”

His experience and pedigree as a coach is well documented and Tata is undoubtedly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, managerial appointment in MLS history.

Atlanta United’s owner Arthur Blank said he was “thrilled” Martino chose to head to ATL, while Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra praised the new head coach heavily.

“Gerardo’s teams have always been organized and have displayed a fast and fluid style that aligns with how we intend to play,” said Atlanta United Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra. “He’s also demonstrated a commitment to youth soccer, consistently proving his ability to enhance the progression of younger players. He’s a great fit for our club and I look forward to working with him to build a successful club.”

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 6

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This lad is a samba sensation.

Philippe Coutinho is back at the heart of the Liverpool team and he was crowned as the Player of the Week in the Premier League for Matchday 6.

Coutinho, 24, scored a sensational long-range goal, grabbed an assist and created four chances in a dominant performance during Liverpool’s 5-1 win against Hull City on Saturday. 

Watch the video above to relive a Coutinho masterclass as Jurgen Klopp‘s side continue their fine start to the PL season.

No wonder some refer to Coutinho as Liverpool’s Harry Potter.

He’s a wizard.

China aiming for increased influence on FIFA

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - NOVEMBER 26:  CFA General Secretary Zhang Jian poses with the AFC 'Inspiring' Member Association of the Year award during the 2013 AFC Annual Awards at the Mandarin Oriental on November 26, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The influence of China in world soccer could increase on Tuesday if high-ranking Chinese official Zhang Jian is elected onto the FIFA Council in elections to be held in Goa, India.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is holding an Extraordinary Congress to elect three representatives to FIFA’s new decision-making body which has replaced the scandal-hit Executive Committee.

The chances of Zhang, the vice-president and secretary general of the Chinese Football Association, increased on Sunday when one of the favorites, Saoud A. Aziz Al-Mohannadi of Qatar, was barred from running.

In a statement, the AFC said “FIFA has advised the AFC that, based on the report of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, it has decided Mr Saoud A.Aziz Al-Mohannadi (Qatar) is not eligible to stand in the elections for the FIFA Council.”

Al Mohannadi has been charged by the Ethics Committee with refusing to co-operate with an inquiry. While details of specific accusations have yet to be released, FIFA has said it is not related to Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

The ruling leaves Zhang running against Iran’s Ali Kafashian and Zainudin Nordin of Singapore for two of the three seats.

Zhang has played a major role in the development of Chinese soccer and planning extensive reforms that aim to make the country, a traditional underachiever in soccer, a world power by 2050.

This has come at the same time as the recent and massive surge of investment in the Chinese Super League on famous foreign players such as Hulk, Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez and coaches Luiz Felipe Scolari and Manuel Pellegrini.

Zhng told South Korean media earlier this month that China also aims to host the World Cup.

“Although it is a case of the sooner the better, we will aim to do so at the right time,” Zhang said. “It seems that around 2030 or 2034 will provide a good opportunity for China.”

The third seat on the FIFA Council has been reserved for female candidates. Moya Dodd, a former Australian international and member of the now-defunct FIFA Executive Committee from 2013 to 2016, is running against Han Un Gyong of North Korea and Bangladesh’s Mafuza Akhter.

“I am doing my best to persuade the 45 voting members of Asia that I can be strong and part of a united AFC team working in FIFA,” Dodd told The Associated Press. “It is important that Asia puts its strongest team forward in FIFA as there will be a lot of issues coming such as discussions about whether to expand to a 40-team World Cup.”

The three successful candidates will take their places on the 37-member FIFA Council alongside existing AFC members from Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia as well as President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Also ahead of the election, the AFC confirmed that South Korea’s Chung Mong-gyu had succeeded Zhang Jilong of China as the East Zone AFC Vice-President.

Zhang, who stepped down for health reasons, was the acting president of the AFC following the suspension of Mohammad Bin Hammam from football activities by the FIFA Ethics Committee in May 2011 as he ran for the post of FIFA President. Shaikh Salman was elected president in May 2013.