Daily Talking Point
There’s considerable debate about the value of the MLS All-Star game going around today. A sold-out Rio Tinto stadium in Salt Lake looked impressive last night, but the tepid match and the penalty kicks to determine the result seemed rather pointless — does anyone actually care that Everton won? Steve Davis, writing on the official MLS site, comes to the rather generous conclusion that “it now looks more like a real game than a friendly.”
Like in the NFL, though, the whole concept of the All-Star contest as a “real game” has a real problem — there’s a reason the Pro Bowl takes place after the NFL season, and is little more than a procession. As soccer is also a sport dependent on physical contact, would we even want our MLS players going for it balls-out and risk getting injured with half the season still to go? It doesn’t make any sense for the All-Star game to be vaunted as a serious contest.
At US Soccer Players, J Hutcherson has a potential answer as he argues that what the event needs is actually less substance and more flash, with the return of a skills contest and a fan-orientation. “Say what you will about baseball’s version, but it’s setup as an outward event. Same with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League,” Hutcherson writes. “Not so much for MLS, who have instead turned it inwards. A destination for sponsors and once, current, and future League employees. Everybody else, thanks for buying a ticket.” Would a more fun set-up make it easier to avoid pretending it’s a serious contest and market it otherwise? Or would it just make the whole world laugh at MLS All-Stars kicking balls through hoops?
The fact that the All-Star game went on as an MLS team were playing a continental Champions League game that actually means something seemed rather perverse, and at MLS Talk, Daniel Feurstein comes to the opposite conclusion from Hutcherson and says “it’s time for MLS to end the All-Star game.” It’s hard to deny that with all the other high-profile friendlies going on in the US this summer amidst a glut of competitive soccer proceeding in parallel shadows, one more or one less game just doesn’t make much difference.
Brian at the Run of Play addresses all of this with his usual elan, as he notes that “if there were a player who showed the kind of craft and subtlety that we routinely employ in judging the importance of soccer tournaments, he’d be spending the summer professing his loyalty to his current employer while not saying anything to discourage Real Madrid.”
- MLS’ woes continued in the CONCACAF Champions League, with Toronto FC losing 1-0 at home to Puerto Rico Islanders of the USL. With the Red Bulls representing the league tonight, things can only get worse, one would expect.
- Meanwhile, at the 24th minute, Duane Rollins points out the curiosity that with ESPN planning to show MLS in England, it’ll be easier to watch the league a Canadian team participates in from across the Atlantic than in Canada itself, where MLS games are rarely shown outside of Toronto FC. This seems like a situation MLS should really work to fix ahead of further planned Canadian expansion.
- The Designated Player rule is apparently up for debate, as Steve Davis reports that “I’m hearing that big hitters in the league are talking about ways to get more teams on board with the Designated Player initiative.” This makes sense; the $415,000 hit to a team’s $2.3 million salary cap puts too many eggs in one basket, and there are only one or two DPs in the league right now justifying that on the playing field.
- In WPS, Boston Breakers Coach Tony DiCicco expressed mild dissatisfaction with the standard of the refereeing as his side lost to the Washington Freedom, noting of the referee: “He’s over his head. Most of the referees in this league have been over their heads.” Think he’ll get fined for that?
- Yet more trouble in Scotland, where Hearts are facing insolvency after HM Revenue and Customs filed in court for unpaid debts. The club again exclaimed its shock, saying they have the money, just as they did last season when they blamed “technical glitches” for their failure to pay players on time. One could write a book about the bizarre ownership of Vladimir Romanov, who appears bent on shredding the nerves of all Hearts supporters.
- Will Arsene Wenger spend some of the loot he’s taken in in recent weeks with the sales of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure? “The fans want signings,” screeches Rob Kelly in the Telegraph, “and if they do not get them, they deserve answers.” In the Guardian, David Hytner puts the Frenchman’s parsimony down to both pragmatism and principle, praising his youth development policy and noting Wenger’s feeling of “vulgarity” on the mere idea of spending £20 million on a player. The bigger question, though, is just how much pressure he’s getting to sell in order to shore up the club’s shaky finances and continue his success at developing youth and selling at the right time for a big price.
- AC Milan are expressing a similar aim, with club president Silvio Berlusconi calling on manager Leonardo to only target younger players — a similar proclamation to Alex Ferguson’s last month. This all comes down to money, with younger players obviously far more likely to bring a return on investment down the line, a model Wenger has shown to be very successful. At some point, though, does the market tip to make it worthwhile going for the 29 or 30 year-olds if big clubs aren’t bidding on them?
- And finally, previously unseen Hillsborough documents are to be released to an independent panel.