First XI: Taking a stand
the salary budgets and the SuperDraft -- it's easy to understand what's at work here. MLS has 10 teams that are all pretty even and should make no apologies for being the league of top-to-bottom parity. It follows that when even teams compete in a match, you're going to see a lot of ties.
10. Win bonuses would not be such a good idea. I apologize to Eric Wynalda, but I've changed my mind on the whole "win bonuses" concept as it does disservice to the guys on the team who bust their butts in practice but don't always get minutes in games. A better idea is "team bonuses" for the clubs that finish in the top four. I'm a team guy and wouldn't want to see a lockerroom get too infected by who's getting paid and who's not.
9. Wynalda's goal vs. Guatemala in '96 should've made my list of best moments by MLS players in World Cup qualifying matches. I kind of feel bad about changing my mind on the win bonuses thing, so I'll throw my buddy a bone here, even though I have no recollection of the goal. I'll just take Waldo's word for it that it was huge.
8. There is no way, no way, no way, Sigi Schmid should've been fired by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Who died and left the Galaxy as the flagship franchise of this league? I did not get the memo that said the Galaxy were going to get more spending money than the other teams, that the Galaxy were not going to have to deal with things like the draft, that the Galaxy were supposed to be something more than another team in the hunt? Look, The Home Depot Center is great, the best thing ever to happen to MLS, but to think that first place is not good enough, that's just plain arrogant. As Bill Parcells likes to say, "You are what you are." Schmid's record, his U.S. Open Cup title, CONCACAF Champions Cup title and MLS Cup title speak for themselves. He got a raw deal.
7. The American soccer media is not giving MLS enough credit. We've got a good league, folks. It's not a bad thing that the 10 teams are pretty even, that all 10 have a shot to win the championship this year, that every game can go either way. Is every game a masterpiece? Uh, no. But show me the league where every game is a masterpiece and I'll give you a lifetime subscription to ESPN The Magazine, and a fleece pullover. The soccer media uses the word "parity" as a putdown, but should instead be taking note of just how hard the teams are competing on a game-by-game basis in MLS. Honestly, I'm probably part of the problem, but the coverage of soccer in the U.S. should've improved as much over the last nine years as MLS has improved. On the whole, it has not.
6. One more thing about incentives. If league contracts are going to have bonuses for players who make the All-Star team, at least let the players and coaches pick a true All-Star team at the conclusion of the season. As it stands now, awarding bonuses to those players who play in the All-Star Game is not a fair way of doing it.
5. Maybe Oneonta is not the place for the permanent U.S. Open Cup Final. My memories of Oneonta are of Hartwick-Princeton games and big crowds, but maybe my idea of putting the U.S. Open Cup final in Oneonta every year is not such a great idea. More than a few people have told me it would be too hard to get people there. How about St. Louis?
4. If the Earthquakes are moved, I'll get a lot of hate mail. Honestly, I went though this one time before, when the Miami Fusion folded. My reaction was that South Florida got what it deserved. They had a nice little place to watch games, an entertaining team, a fun coach, and still no one came out to the games. San Jose has always been one of my favorite MLS cities. I have wonderful memories of the inaugural game, which I watched in a bar in New York City with members of the original MetroStars. I was at the 2001 All-Star game there. But let's get past the sentimentality. The Quakes have won two MLS Cups in the last three years and have the best player in the league in Landon Donovan, and they still only have a handful of fans. It'll be a shame, because, honestly, Spartan Stadium is one place in MLS where a crowd of 12,000 can rock the house. But when you can't get to 10k with a really good team led by a great player, maybe you don't deserve a team.
3. Bring on the new L.A. expansion team. Let 'em bend the rules. Let them be all-Mexican like the real Chivas. Who knows, maybe they'll become the most loved and hated team in the league immediately. I can come up with worse things than that. If U.S. version of Chivas lights a fire under the rear ends of some other fans in MLS, good for them.
2. There is really no game like soccer. The MetroStars beat the Galaxy 3-0 on the road a few weeks ago. The Revolution beat the Burn 3-0 the Cotton Bowl recently. You see results like these and your natural inclination is to think these games were lopsided victories for the road teams. If you watched these games you know this is not the case. There's nothing profound about what I'm about to say, but there is no magic in soccer like good finishing. After watching the U.S. lose to Puerto Rico in basketball the other night, I asked Bruce Arena if he mentioned the result to his team. "I don't have to," he said. "They know what can happen in international soccer. And they know our margin for error is a lot less than it is in basketball, where there's so much scoring. In soccer, everyone knows one goal can often win a match."
1. Go back to No. 11 and think about it some more. MLS is not set up for runaway winners. What we've got is a 10-team scramble. Enjoy it.
Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.