Wynalda: Incentive plans
just short of half -- have ended in ties. It's even harder to commentate when you know that the players are better than what they are showing. I'm frustrated. I want the games to be more entertaining. I want them to mean something. If it looks like the players are going through the motions, they probably are. I guess the question is how do we change it? How do we force the players to not play conservatively? The answer is not overtime, so don't even think I'm going there, but there is an answer and it's not a new concept.
Professional soccer, by definition, means that the players and coaches get paid to compete. They make money when their team wins or loses, or do they? You see, players in this league are on contracts that really don't hit them in the wallet, as in other leagues around the world. Maybe a good effort is drawn out of players when they know that after the game they will immediately be gratified by a win bonus.
Hey, there's a novel idea. Well, not really, but why not pay players to win games rather than to play games? Dangle the carrot in front of their faces and see what happens. If guys on minimum salaries suddenly have the possibility to make a grand in one night, I think things will get better. So when somebody makes a mistake and costs the team a point or three, he has to answer to the other 12 guys who just lost money because of him or his mistake. On the flip side, what if he was the guy who made the game-saving play or the game-winning pass to win everybody on his club bonus money? Do you think the atmosphere would change a bit? You bet it would. That is the way it's done everywhere else in the world, and since we have already decided to do the right thing and get rid of overtime, maybe we should take it to the next level. I've had this discussion with league executives.
We have approximately 180 players in this league on contracts with personal incentives. Those incentive-based contracts make those players anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 a year. If you do the rough math, that's over a million dollars in private incentives, right? My point is that the structure of these contracts makes the players selfish. We all remember Mamadou Diallo, the most selfish player this league has ever seen. He actually stood in front of his team and said, "I don't care if we win or lose I get paid to score goals." That's because he actually did. If he had that attitude in Europe, he wouldn't even make it through the Friday walk-through because his teammates would be kicking him during practice. But it's a problem in MLS that needs to be fixed. A payment program is professional soccer, by definition.
Also, a new payment program means every player has the right to have an opinion about what happens on the field. For example, last year, Clint Mathis took off a couple games. He didn't really show up, and it was pretty clear that he didn't care. But, when every player out there is making or losing money with every game, he doesn't have a choice, does he? And, based on what Clint has said in the past few days after his return from Germany, that's something he learned pretty quickly.
The funny part about this plan is that it's actually cost efficient. Add up all of the teams' total points from last year and multiply by $350 per point per player. The number of players per team varies with the number of substitutes; let's just say 13 for argument's sake. See what the final number is and decide whether that's too expensive to make our product better. I think you know the answer, but I'm curious if you are willing to admit it or have the guts to endorse it. I could be wrong here, but probably not. But what do I know? I only lived it ... the good and the bad. The product will get better and that's all that really matters here, right?
This week's match-up
Jurgen Klinsmann talks about it all the time: Players need to be happy and hungry. Alejandro Moreno is a good example of someone who is both of these. When your team takes some injuries like the L.A. Galaxy has in the last couple of weeks, you have to have capable bodies ready to step up and fill the holes vacated by the injured stars. Granted, Moreno is no Carlos Ruiz. When Andreas Herzog hits you in the eyebrow, it's hard to miss. Any warm body could finish the job with the quality Herzog delivers. Still, give Moreno credit for putting the chances away. He's doing the hardest job in MLS. He's a replacement player, a bench guy fighting for his chance to be considered a starter, and he's hungry. Right now he's acting like he belongs in there all the time. Of course, we all know he won't be.
Sigi Schmid has one of the best records in MLS for a reason. He has always been pretty good at identifying talent. He usually keeps things pretty close to home by bringing in players that he has known for years, extending back to his college days at UCLA. By sticking with the guys he knows, he gets players that he can count on. He has been in the thick of it every year as coach of the Galaxy because he somehow figures out how to make his team win regardless of what makeshift team he throws out there. I don't always agree with his methods but you can't argue with his success.
So is the Galaxy going to be there in the end? It looks like it, mainly because they're happy and hungry.
Now they've got to figure out another "H": healthy. Although they have been getting results with out the likes of Ruiz, Jovan Kirovski, Danny Califf, Tyrone Marshall and Peter Vagenas, they can't count on that lasting forever. Eventually, they will need those guys healthy and available to be competitive.
The last time the Burn played the Galaxy, Dallas was in first place. The Burn were playing with a lot more confidence than they are now. With Los Angeles being one of the tougher places to play, and The Home Depot Center being one of the bigger fields in this league, it'll be difficult for Dallas to go there and steal a point. Some questions that I have about the Burn: Is Cory Gibbs healthy? Can Nhleko and Johnson provide any offense to stretch L.A. or is it time for Jason Kreis to re-establish himself as a starter?
After the last couple of weeks, frustration has been mounting for Scott Garlick, which he showed with his antics at the conclusion of last week's loss. Garlick is still one of the better goalkeepers in the league, and if the Burn are going to get anything out of this weekend, he will have something to do with it because he will be tested early and often.
The last time these two teams played, it was a sleeper until the second half. Let's all hope for a more entertaining game.
Former U.S. international forward Eric
Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He will be inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9-11 weekend. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.