MLS 2020: A Quarter Century of Soccer

67YAZ

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The Fire hold out for the win. Seattle were the better side, especially in the second half with Morris and Roldan making things happen. But Beric and Pineda each pounced on Sounder mistakes. Defend in a block and punish the other side's errors is a good template for Chicago right now.
 

Titans Bastard

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Congrats @67YAZ. I'm still not sure if the Fire will be actually good this year, but even if they're bad I think they'll be the fun/interesting sort of bad.
 

67YAZ

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Congrats @67YAZ. I'm still not sure if the Fire will be actually good this year, but even if they're bad I think they'll be the fun/interesting sort of bad.
Good would be a stretch, but Fire fans will be very happy with progress this season. After so many years of drifting, playing pragmatically and seeing the players and possible even a system develop over this season will be great.

By my count, Wicky has already used 4 different formations in 3 matches. So yes, fun/interesting is definitely in the cards.
 

Titans Bastard

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Two quick goals for Chris Mueller in this NYC-Orlando game. He's already got four in four games this year.
 

Titans Bastard

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Brenden Aaronson set up one goal and had an amazing pass to set up (an almost) second goal that was (dubiously?) called off for offside. It's too early in the season to declare that he's making The Leap but signs are positive so far. IMO he's a much better prospect than guys who have been more ballyhoo'd like Alex Mendez at Ajax.
 

67YAZ

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Nice! Hopefully a good inspiration for the raft of younger homegrowns signed this year, a signal that the Fire actually want to hang on to them.
 

Pesky Pole

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Brenden Aaronson set up one goal and had an amazing pass to set up (an almost) second goal that was (dubiously?) called off for offside. It's too early in the season to declare that he's making The Leap but signs are positive so far. IMO he's a much better prospect than guys who have been more ballyhoo'd like Alex Mendez at Ajax.
Being my adopted hometown team, I've watched Aaronson a lot the last few years. He's really improved a lot and the Union have done a great job giving him opportunities. Aaronson benefited greatly from having Harris Medunjanin around the last couple of seasons. Medunjanin offered him a lot of advice and help - to the point that Aaronson took his job from him - first as the 10 and then on the roster altogether. He's done a good job of getting physically stronger the last year or so but he's still small in stature (5'10" and 154lbs on the official roster) and will have to keep working on that to survive Concacaf and the like. You can see this year that he's much more confident in trying things his talent allows.
 

nayrbrey

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So the USL Championship Birmingham Vs Memphis match is on ESPN2 right now, and the MLS matchup of Vancouver and San Jose is only on TUDN? I’m sure there’s some reason for it, but it’s an odd way to broadcast the country’s top soccer league.
 

Titans Bastard

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So the USL Championship Birmingham Vs Memphis match is on ESPN2 right now, and the MLS matchup of Vancouver and San Jose is only on TUDN? I’m sure there’s some reason for it, but it’s an odd way to broadcast the country’s top soccer league.
It's just a coincidence for tonight. MLS has three major broadcast partners: ESPN, Fox, and Univision and all must be fed. Normally the Univision game is parallel to other games, but with the one-at-a-time schedule, sometimes TUDN will have the only MLS game at any given time (though there's always a live feed with English commentary on the MLS Twitter account).

USL has a broadcast deal with ESPN where nearly all of their games are on ESPN+, with a few on ESPN2.
 

Titans Bastard

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This match between Vancouver and San Jose is a very stupid and bad and great game.
 

shawnrbu

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I think it will get better as the tournament goes along. Right now it's effectively preseason form and fitness, while playing games on the surface of the sun while simultaneously in the shadow of a major hotspot of the biggest pandemic in the last century.
You were exactly right. Goals coming early and in bunches lately. 3 within 25’ in the Canadian Classique tonight.

Akinola already has 4 goals in the tournament and we aren’t at Half of his second match.
 
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Titans Bastard

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You were exactly right. Goals coming early and in bunches lately. 3 within 25’ in the Canadian Classique tonight.
5 within 38'!

Ayo Akinola, a fairly unheralded American-Canadian dual national forward, is now the tournament's leading scorer with four goals in two games (and counting!). Didn't see that coming.
 

Titans Bastard

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Sebastian Berhalter '01 had a respectable performance for his first start last night in Columbus' 2-0 win. He hit a lot of those diagonal balls his dad likes so much!

One of the nice things about this tournament is that because guys are at preseason fitness levels, the heat in Orlando is so oppressive, and games are coming every five days instead of seven, a lot of young guys are getting and taking opportunities.
 

Kliq

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I'm sure it has been discussed before, but is the goal to just keep expanding and expanding until you have two solid tiers and then you can do promotion/relegation?
 

Titans Bastard

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I'm sure it has been discussed before, but is the goal to just keep expanding and expanding until you have two solid tiers and then you can do promotion/relegation?
This is a good question. The answer is unknown and subject to a lot of debate.

MLS repeatedly and strenuously denies that they have any intention of adopting pro/rel. I believe them. People are not investing nine figures into soccer teams and then voluntarily creating a situation where they'll be relegated. I'd love to see it, but I'm skeptical.

The question, then, is how far will MLS go? The US is a big country. Smaller cities that have no hope of getting an American major league team are far bigger than many European cities that host prominent, top division clubs. The combined Southampton-Portsmouth urban area is the same population as Baton Rouge.

The benchmark set down by other big leagues is 32. MLS is committed to 30 so far. There are still some biggies out there beyond the 30: Phoenix, Detroit, San Diego, and Tampa are all top-20 metro areas.

I'm not sure if MLS even knows what they are going to do. They'll probably pursue whatever strategy they believe will have the greatest positive impact on TV ratings. As much as the league has grown in so many ways over the years, TV ratings are the last frontier. They've grown, but only very slowly. Maybe it's a bit better than it looks when you consider the backdrop of decline in ratings for just about everything, but they still aren't anywhere close to where they need to be for MLS to get huge dollars on a TV deal.
 

Kliq

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This is a good question. The answer is unknown and subject to a lot of debate.

MLS repeatedly and strenuously denies that they have any intention of adopting pro/rel. I believe them. People are not investing nine figures into soccer teams and then voluntarily creating a situation where they'll be relegated. I'd love to see it, but I'm skeptical.

The question, then, is how far will MLS go? The US is a big country. Smaller cities that have no hope of getting an American major league team are far bigger than many European cities that host prominent, top division clubs. The combined Southampton-Portsmouth urban area is the same population as Baton Rouge.

The benchmark set down by other big leagues is 32. MLS is committed to 30 so far. There are still some biggies out there beyond the 30: Phoenix, Detroit, San Diego, and Tampa are all top-20 metro areas.

I'm not sure if MLS even knows what they are going to do. They'll probably pursue whatever strategy they believe will have the greatest positive impact on TV ratings. As much as the league has grown in so many ways over the years, TV ratings are the last frontier. They've grown, but only very slowly. Maybe it's a bit better than it looks when you consider the backdrop of decline in ratings for just about everything, but they still aren't anywhere close to where they need to be for MLS to get huge dollars on a TV deal.
I agree that owners would be uninterested in joining a league and then finding out they are in the second tier; it is a very un-American way to do sporting business.

When it comes to television, rapid expansion and thus a further dilution of the talent pool, would seem to work opposite of generating ratings, which typically rely on big stars and big teams. Isn't the La Liga TV contract, like Real and Barcelona get 90% of the cash and the other teams split up the remaining 10%? I suppose the more local markets you are in the more likely you are to attract fans in those markets to games, but I'm not sure they will deliver the real ratings boost the league is looking for.
 

Titans Bastard

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I agree that owners would be uninterested in joining a league and then finding out they are in the second tier; it is a very un-American way to do sporting business.

When it comes to television, rapid expansion and thus a further dilution of the talent pool, would seem to work opposite of generating ratings, which typically rely on big stars and big teams. Isn't the La Liga TV contract, like Real and Barcelona get 90% of the cash and the other teams split up the remaining 10%? I suppose the more local markets you are in the more likely you are to attract fans in those markets to games, but I'm not sure they will deliver the real ratings boost the league is looking for.
Expansion doesn't hurt the quality of play like it does with the NFL, MLB, etc. because MLS is just one small part of a giant global player pool. Since MLS isn't among the very best leagues, there is ample opportunity to go out into the global market and find additional foreigners who can come in and ensure the level of play is maintained. Because per-team spending has increased considerably in the last five years, most would argue that the level of play has increased even as the number of teams has grown.

If MLS is somehow able to approach the level of the biggest leagues one day, having so many teams might be viewed as diluting the player pool of the league, but that's a "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it" problem.

The percentage of minutes that are going to American players has declined from around 50% in the old days to about 44.5% in 2017 to about 38.5% last year. The overall number of minutes is close to the same, though, it's just that the same number of Americans are spread out across more teams.



As far as TV ratings go, I'll say this: if you have a surefire way of improving the situation, give MLS a call and ask to pitch your ideas. They'll do anything to boost ratings. One problem the league faces is that individual clubs have grown fanbases, but the average MLS fan is more "team-centric" than the average fan of other major sports leagues. People watch their team, but it's been hard to build a national audience for national broadcasts. The league's hope is that having a presence in more large markets will engage with more fans, who will then tune into national broadcasts. MLS went a long stretch without any presence south of DC or east of Houston. By 2022, there will be five clubs in the South.

The other problem is that MLS is a niche of a niche. Soccer isn't the most popular sport in America (though it's rising up the ranks), but there are still plenty of fans. The problem is that fandom in the US is highly balkanized. Obviously, the EPL is considerably more popular than MLS. Additionally, there's the parallel universe of Hispanic fans who follow clubs from the old country, including and especially Liga MX. As I often like to point out, if you judge by TV ratings the most popular league in the US is Liga MX and the most popular soccer team is the Mexican National Team.

It's a lot easier to convert an EPL or Liga MX fan into an MLS fan than a non-soccer fan, so the league has some work to do on that front. Anecdotally, this board has always been fairly England-centric, but it does seem like interest in various components of the world of American soccer has grown over the years. It's a slow process, because it's obviously true that MLS does not approach the level of play in the EPL. On the bright side, the level of play here has improved slowly but steadily, and other aspects of the game like the stadium experience and TV presentation have also gotten better. 15 years ago, most MLS teams were still tenants playing in cavernous environments in NFL stadia. (Local factors apply: I suspect there'd be more MLS chatter here if this were a Seattle Mariners fan board....the Revs are trending up in certain ways but historically haven't made it easy to be a fan.)
 

dirtynine

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I believe “closed” pro/rel, as in the Japanese system, is in the cards for the US. Basically, you can shuffle between D1 and D2, but you can’t fall any farther. This has all the benefit of the relegation and promotion chase, but no risk that you (as an owner) will see your team get destroyed by relegation.

The team centricity mentioned above is why this will work; Columbus fans will turn out for a relegation fight in D1 or a promotion battle in D2. I also think MLS’s very specific way of honoring Euro traditions via an American filter (see Real Salt Lake) matches this well. If they can get to 36 clubs and pull off closed pro/rel faster than other US leagues adopt Euro ideas (the NBA may do a tournament modeled on the FA Cup soon), they will get a ton of upside from it - including financial benefits.
 

Quintanariffic

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Brenden Aaronson set up one goal and had an amazing pass to set up (an almost) second goal that was (dubiously?) called off for offside. It's too early in the season to declare that he's making The Leap but signs are positive so far. IMO he's a much better prospect than guys who have been more ballyhoo'd like Alex Mendez at Ajax.
Ooohhhh...those are fighting words for the Kleiben mafia.
 

Quintanariffic

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I believe “closed” pro/rel, as in the Japanese system, is in the cards for the US. Basically, you can shuffle between D1 and D2, but you can’t fall any farther. This has all the benefit of the relegation and promotion chase, but no risk that you (as an owner) will see your team get destroyed by relegation.

The team centricity mentioned above is why this will work; Columbus fans will turn out for a relegation fight in D1 or a promotion battle in D2. I also think MLS’s very specific way of honoring Euro traditions via an American filter (see Real Salt Lake) matches this well. If they can get to 36 clubs and pull off closed pro/rel faster than other US leagues adopt Euro ideas (the NBA may do a tournament modeled on the FA Cup soon), they will get a ton of upside from it - including financial benefits.
I’ve never seen this take but it makes so much sense I’m not sure it will ever happen. I think that would be transformational for MLS fandom and engagement.
 

Quintanariffic

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A lot of really smart stuff on MLS in the US media landscape.
One small point is that the teams themselves don’t even have strong TV audiences. Average local MLS TV audiences tracked by Nielsen are below 10,000 in most markets.

There’s a fan mix issue here b/c MLS skews younger to people who aren’t captured in linear TV metrics but the numbers still seem really tiny.

this is one of the reasons why some really innovative stadium design work is coming from MLS b/c it’s a much more important lever for them than local TV rights vs other large leagues.
 

Titans Bastard

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I totally agree that the Japanese model is the only prayer the US ever has at implementing pro/rel.

The J.League model isn't entirely closed any more, though. A singular entity controls the top three divisions, but there is pro/rel now between the 3rd tier and the 4th tier, which is controlled by a different league entity. I don't think we'd ever get pro/rel between a hypothetical MLS 2nd tier and the USL (or whatever lower league entity exists).

There are some who claim that it is more likely that other leagues will do away with pro/rel than it is that MLS would adopt it. I'm not sure how I feel about that argument.
 

Titans Bastard

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Guillermo Barros Schelotto has to be heading toward the hot seat. He's a big name, but LA Galaxy have been playing awful soccer this year, both before and after the COVID interruption. They've lost both games in this tournament, but they also drew with Houston and lost to Vancouver at home (ouch!) back in Feb/Mar. LAG's problems go beyond GBS though.

One day, LAG will finally understand that a team-building strategy that consists of always looking to sign the latest shiny big name star isn't going to take them where they want to go. Donovan-Beckham-Keane was a great trio, but it's the TAM era now — teams have the budgets to build strong supporting casts that complement their stars. You can't get away with the scattershot approach anymore. Zlatan was incredible for LAG, but the team was still mediocre because the pieces and tactics didn't fit together.

LAFC have an amazing roster. Their only "name" player is Carlos Vela, and they've surrounded him with a bunch of talented South Americans who no one heard of before and some players they found in MLS/USL and had Bob Bradley coach up (Kaye & Blessing). They have a great coach, a clear tactical identity, and a player recruitment strategy that meshes with everything else.
 

ThePrideofShiner

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Despite only having one point through two games, the Sounders will advance as a third place team with a win tonight.

Hard to believe with how they've played so far.
 

67YAZ

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A win and they move on for the Fire! We’ll take good news where we can get it these days.

The line up looks like another 3-5-2 formation with Pineda-Calvo-Sekulic holding down the backline. Frankowski looked good enough defensively against Seattle; he went toe to toe with Morris for 45 minutes, and only got beat badly once. Hopefully tonight he has a chance to spring forward and make a few things happen. There’s not a ton of a technical skill on their roster, so they’ll have to be creative with movement and passing to break open the man marking. We’ll see.


Props to the Fire for a fun idea - they’re having a drive in watch party for the match at one of Soldier Field’s parking lots.
 

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67YAZ

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Defend in a block & try to punish mistakes - that’s the plan. But man, it’s gonna be a loooooong night for the Fire.
 

67YAZ

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Oooff, looks like Lima landed on the back of Stojanovic’s leg. Hope he’s ok.

Chicago looked a lot more positive and even fluid for moments since the water break.
 

67YAZ

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Ugh. For 1.5 games the Fire backs line played the trap on a knife’s edge. And now they just got cut.

that was a nice little flurry of a response. Gonna need to see a lot more.
 

67YAZ

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Wicky finally makes a sub (other than the injury). Sapong definitely brings pressing and work rate, but he’s not connecting well with Beric. Hopefully Herbers & Mihailovic can provide more transitions and service.
 

67YAZ

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Grrrrr. Would have been a soft penalty, but the ref has been handing out yellow cards for the same all night.
 

67YAZ

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Welp, if you leave Wondo all alone, he’s gonna score.

Frustrating night for Chicago. The Quakes man marking was always gonna be tricky for a team with no real skill players or enough familiarity with each other to play a slick passing game. But the defensive lapses in the second half are inexcusable.

San Jose adjusted at half to get forwards in the peace behind the wing backs to pull the CBs apart. Not enough communication Or foot speed to close the gaps.

we all love Mo Pineda, but he’s not ready to organize a backline yet.

Edit: at least Aliseda gets his first run out. He’s one to keep an eye on.