Summer Tours: Less than Meets the Eye

By Paul Gardner

The temptation to stick it to the Eurosnobs -- again -- is bubbling within me. I shall resist it. Or I shall try, though I might as well point out that I have just finished watching the Kansas City Wizards beat Manchester United. The Wizards playing all the second half with 10 men, also needs mentioning.

While I’m about it I might as well tell you that earlier this afternoon (Sunday, that is) I ventured into deepest New Jersey -- oddly, that’s where you have to go should you want to see the MLS’s New York team -- and saw the Red Bulls beat Manchester City 2-1.

All of which sounds great for MLS -- but which is actually not as great as it sounds. Because these games are not what they profess to be, certainly not what they’re advertised as. It’s hardly a secret that both Manchester teams are on tour without their best players.

So ManU takes the field without Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, and Man City presents itself shorn of Carlos Tevez and Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright- Phillips and then players like Darren Fletcher and Nani and Craig Bellamy and Kolo Toure, who are here, spend most of their time on the bench.

Obviously, someone isn’t taking these games too seriously. But that is supposed to be OK, because we’ve been told, repeatedly that these are preseason tours for the European clubs, so they’re really more interested in trying out young players than in winning games.

Which is the point at which MLS lays itself open to criticism. Is the USA or is it not a sophisticated soccer nation? Has it by now developed enough knowledge of the game to sort out the good from the bad, the real from the synthetic? If it hasn’t yet reached that stage, has it at least got past the point where naivete rules and foreign clubs (let us say, European clubs) can rely on making money here with a “preseason tour,” even though they send attenuated teams and use the games as tryouts and warmups?

My feeling is that the comparative success of these tours is likely to be short-lived. As it should be, because the American fans are being short-changed. The Red Bulls opened their splendid stadium earlier this year with a game against the legendary Santos of Brazil, the club Pele made famous. A farce, for Santos sent a reserve team and got duly hammered 4-1. A result that sent the Red Bull fans home happy, but a little of that sort of happiness, at those prices, goes a long way.

Take heed -- there was a time, in the New York area, in the late 1950s and early 1960s when promoters brought in top foreign teams -- Santos, with Pele, was a favorite -- who arrived with all their stars, to play exciting games before huge crowds.

Yet within a couple of years the market vanished -- because the teams started leaving their stars at home, or making it clear they weren’t that interested in the results anyway -- so the fans stopped turning up. There was a lot to regret in the disappearance of those games, but the New York fans had made a point -- they were not to be conned into paying over the odds for an inferior product.

And here’s the current oddity: which is the group of fans most likely to be conned today? Why, those knowledgeable guys, our old friends the Eurosnobs. So they’ll turn up to support “their” teams that, given the substitutions, are barely recognizable. Just how long they will go on paying to watch them lose, I do not know -- but I doubt their patience will last long.

Yes, the reverse side of all that would seem to bring nothing but advantages to MLS and its clubs. The results look good, and the soccer that has been played by the winning MLS teams has been entirely praiseworthy. Even so, it would be nice to hear a firm voice from the Americans -- whether they be MLS or the fans themselves or the TV commentators. Not a hostile voice but one that makes it clear, as New Yorkers did 50 years ago, that there are plenty of soccer savvy fans here who would prefer not to be served up a shadow of the real thing.

I mentioned the TV commentators, who are inevitably among the most prominent in conveying attitudes. Does it help the growth of a sturdy, confident American soccer community, that they have to listen to Max Bretos and Taylor Twellman on ESPN2 fawning and swooning and gushing over Man U, with Twellman explaining that “it’s the mystique of Man U, it’s the red jerseys, walking into the tunnel and seeing players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, you come out to see Sir Alex Ferguson coaching the team ... it’s unbelievable.”

Players like Scholes and Giggs? -- neither of whom has ever made any impact on the world game -- and Sir Alex Ferguson (note the “Sir”) -- whatever all that is (how about exciting, or impressive?) -- it is definitely not “unbelievable.”

The foreigners come with weakened teams and they give playing time to promising youngsters. I find that fascinating, particularly right now, with England coming off a pathetic World Cup performance. So we’re getting a chance to look at some of the top English 19/20-year-olds. We’ve seen Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling of ManU, Tottenham’s Danny Rose and Jonathan Obika and Andros Townsend, and Man City’s Ben Mee and Andrew Tuttle and Alex Nimely.

Having watched that group, and others, over the past week or so, I find it difficult to imagine a reborn England, so ordinary was the talent on view. Therein lies another reason for being a good deal more temperate in praising Man U -- or any of the Euro clubs currently touring the USA. They are also here as predators, looking for young American talent that they can whisk away to Europe. Not one of the more obvious ways of helping the development of MLS.

13 comments about "Summer Tours: Less than Meets the Eye".
  1. Gus Keri, July 26, 2010 at 1:08 p.m.

    I was at that Red Bulls game, also and I left the arena happy with the result. I am under no illusions that MLS teams have reached the level of the EPL teams. Playing Manchester's teams at their peaks in the spring with their full teams would have been a disaster for any MLS club. I don't want MLS clubs losing by 5 or 6 goals, that if the other teams didn't stop playing after scoring 3 goals, out of boredom or respect. There is no benefit from such games whatsoever. For the current level of MLS teams, I am satisfied just to watch my team compete, even with the stars-deprived EPL teams. There will come a day when we see EPL teams sending their first teams to play the MLS. I hope this day will come soon.

  2. Joshua Tabak, July 26, 2010 at 2:42 p.m.

    I think it depends on the Year. This being a World Cup year, it is much harder to get the top stars. Last year was different. Chelsea came to Seattle, and played their starting line up minus Essien. Lampard played 90 minutes. The only Starter who didn't play 60 minutes was Terry, and even he made Terry-like tackles in the 1st half. Barcelona also played ALL their stars until Half time, when the game was no longer competitive. I see two points to take from that...
    1. In Non World Cup years, better talent will be here playing the Preseason games.
    2. Euro Teams should take their US tours somewhat seriously. Both Chelsea and Barcelona took their tours seriously lat year, and they BOTH won their respective leagues.

  3. todd burkett, July 26, 2010 at 3 p.m.

    I don't disagree with much of what you had to say Paul. I like to see some of the young players coming through the ranks at these clubs, but wonder if any of them will ever amount to much in the EPL. Unless they are the very best England has to offer, I expect teams like Tottenham and the Manchester clubs will simply avoid their mediocrity by buying outside of England. What I realized more is that these clubs may be looking at young American talent, but I think we have seen that the best American players ARE capable of playing in the EPL and having some level of success. I'm waiting to see the first American COACH snapped up to manage in a top European league. Then I will know we've arrived on the world stage.

  4. Gary Levitt, July 26, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.

    It is high time for you to turn to the positive side of opinion. I suppose you look to incite response from your readers but similar to me I am sure many readers of your continuous negative take on the sport simply delete SoccerTalk? Do you really think that coming off a World Cup that clubs will feature their players who have recently come back from South Africa? Most people attending these friendlies simply want to see international clubs and some of the players they see week in and week out on television. For example, Mexican-Americans travel great distances to see a club like Club America play at a U.S. venue...and get to see a team like Man City with some of their top players as a bonus. Stop the negative, your column and your opinions are no longer relevant.

  5. Loren C. Klein, July 26, 2010 at 3:35 p.m.

    I can encapsulate my opinion of the quality of this article with a single question: How can we listen to Max Bretos on Fox Soccer Channel when he works for ESPN now?

  6. Karl Ortmertl, July 26, 2010 at 3:43 p.m.

    As a Jets fan, I take all preseason with a grain of salt, having watched the Jets beat up on other teams in exhibitions only to go their customary 4-12 thereafter. To me, I'd rather have top European teams, crippled as they may be, coming to the US than not. It connects us with the rest of the soccer world. Nobody's thinking about putting the MLS into the EPL's promotion / relegation mix just yet.

  7. Mark Goodman, July 26, 2010 at 3:45 p.m.

    The problem this particular summer is that these games are being played too close to the World Cup. I've seen plenty of these friendlies in other years that featured plenty of top stars, and I felt it was well worth my dollar.

    Even in 2006 - a World Cup year - Barcelona played the Red Bulls at Giants Stadium. But they did it Aug. 12 (not mid-July) so that you saw Ronaldinho, Messi, Xavi, etc. And, needless to say, Barca put on quite a show and hammered the Red Bulls, 4-1.

  8. Jonny Sinclair, July 26, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.

    I'm pretty sure that by Scholes and Giggs absolutely dominating the midfield of the world's biggest and most supported club in the world for over 15 years, as well as winning numerous trophies and personal accolades in the world's toughest domestic league is enough to say that have had an impact on the world are such an idiot sometimes Paul. What would you like Giggsy to do?? Lead Wales to the World Cup seems that is the only way he will get any sort of credit from you. Of course those players would be honored walking out alongside 2 masters of the game. And don't even get me started on the Sir Alex comment. you are a plum

  9. Paul Bryant, July 26, 2010 at 11:28 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner, I don't know if you attended any of the "World Series" matches,but I did. I Thorougly enjoy Sunday's double header. I saw a Sporting Club de Portugal team that going to make some noise in the Europa League. I also watched the NY Red Bulls play an excellent match against Manchester City. This was the best live professional soccer event I have seen in six years (Chelsea v AC Milan 2004 @ Lincoln Financial Field). This was definitely money and time well spent.

  10. Kent James, July 27, 2010 at 9:33 a.m.

    While this year the big European teams have left many of their stars home, seeing 60 or 70% of one of the top quality European teams play an MLS team near one's home is a pretty big bargain, since it's a bit cheaper than airfare to Europe. Although your point about American fans not tolerating a 2nd rate product is rational, I don't think it's right. Do you want American fans to become Amerisnobs? A lack of attendance at these games would hurt soccer in America, not help it. A better way to force the European clubs to play their talent is to beat them soundly when they don't. I hope that day comes soon. In the meantime, why not just enjoy watching some soccer games and appreciating them for what they are; entertaining exhibition matches.

  11. beautiful game, July 27, 2010 at 12:21 p.m.

    Paul, u forgot to mention that all the ex-MLS futbol announcers, to include Christopher Sullivan and JP Dellacamera et al bring up the illusionary side of the game as TV commentators. They swoon and browbeat the high quality of MLS players who they describes as game-changers or outstanding attackers, only to see these same players not be able to correctly respond to a clear moment of making something happen...they all suffocate the game with nonsense and overanalysis; Sullivan for one, sounds like a tape recorder, spewing the same bravado each and every game. Worse is that these guys speak while viewing the game on the monitor, thus, having no perspective of what really is happening on the pitch.

  12. Marc Garcia, July 27, 2010 at 1:40 p.m.

    Agree and Disagree with you.
    Agree with the commentators completely. They're just terrible. When a commentator says "He got good wood on that shot" as whoever was doing the Utd./Wizards game Sunday, he completely discredits the ability of Americans to call soccer. Don't mix baseball metaphors. Isn't that obvious.
    Also, agree that the Eurosnobs at some point will tire of their reserve teams getting beaten by Americans. There is still a huge arrogance when it comes to the media in England and around the world and none of them will be kind to their Premier clubs being throttled by an American second class club. I don't care who they send out, nobody likes losing and sooner or later, if it is consistent, these clubs will field "better" teams.
    I agree with some of the comments that the World Cup had something to do with the teams that were eventually sent out on the pitch to play.
    I completely disagree with your point about Euro teams poaching talent. Are you delusional? You really think a team like Utd. or City with its infinite resources are looking for a diamond in the rough? No chance.

  13. Paul Bryant, July 28, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.

    I honestly could care less about the MLS game announcers. To me they detract, or should I say distract from the game being played, partly because of the misuse of terminology. After attending the double-header at Red Bull stadium, I watched the Sounders vs Real Salt Lake game. It was a hockey game disguised as a soccer match. I have not seen so much clutching, tripping, and grabbing since the Broad Street Bully days. It was very disappointing and rather boring. I prefer to watch free-flowing football.

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