Commentary

MLS gets its wish, and it's ugly -- parity

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

So, let's have a show of hands. Who says their favorite MLS team is playing well? OK, let's not have everyone raise his or her hand at once. We see a few hands reluctantly go up from the South Ward. Who'd have bet on the Red Bulls being unbeaten six weeks into the MLS season?

But just about nobody can be happy with the way things have been going this MLS season. The season started brightly for FC Dallas and Vancouver but what have they done lately?

MLS: Week 6 Results & Standings, Week 7 Schedule

FC Dallas opened with three wins and a tie but has lost 3-1 and 4-0 in the last two games, conjuring up memories of last year when it started out 5-1-1 only to follow that up with six losses and two ties in an eight-game winless streak.

Just last week, Vancouver was the toast of MLS after a dominating performance against the Galaxy. What did the 'Caps do for a followup? They could only manage a 2-2 tie at home against Columbus, which didn't bring its entire team to B.C. Place, and they fell at San Jose, 1-0, in a match neither team, frankly, deserved to win. Avaya Stadium's largest outdoor bar in North America would not have been long enough for if all the disgruntled fans had sought relief along the rails.

There's been a lot of that recently. Brutal halves. Or brutal games. Or brutal games following quality outings.

Welcome to MLS 2015, not a very pretty sight.

Also on Saturday, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake almost matched the futility of FC Dallas-Seattle two weeks earlier as it produced just one shot on goal and ended 0-0. What makes it so discouraging is that these are not downtrodden clubs that might be looking to eke out a meager result. All have won MLS Cup or the Supporters' Shield.

MLS is averaging a scoreless draw every six games. Last year, it was one 0-0 tie every 19 games.

MLS's owners crave parity, and they've gotten it: Just six teams with winning record. Seven teams have losing records. That leaves the other seven teams at .500.

In the Western Conference, only Portland can be unhappy as it has the only sub-.500 record (barely) at 1-2-3 following its 2-0 loss at home to Orlando City.

You know things are bad when even Timbers coach Caleb Porter, who always seems to have a sunny outlook, no matter the result at Providence Park or weather in Portland, can't find any positives.

"I couldn’t tell my guys after the game that they played well and deserved to win today," he said.

That's Porter-speak for saying the Timbers were really bad.

MLS Scoring:
WEEK AVG.
Week 1: 1.60
Week 2: 3.13
Week 3: 1.25
Week 4: 1.90
Week 5: 2.63
Week 6: 2.20
Season: 2.09

Week 6: Three goals you must watch

1. DILLON SERNA vs. FC Dallas. Serna closed out Colorado's stunning 4-0 win at FC Dallas with a left-footed blast from distance. What makes the goal so remarkable is that he has already done it before, scoring this golazo in 2014.

2. DAVID VILLA vs. Philadelphia.
Villa's nifty back heel was the highlight of the six-player sequence that ended with the Spaniard walking the ball into the goal after the initial shot was blocked.

3. ROB LOVEJOY vs. Montreal. The North Carolina product was one of three rookies who scored his first MLS goal along with Cyle Larin (Orlando City) and Dominique Badji (Colorado), who both had winners. Lovejoy capped Houston's 3-0 win over the Impact when he lofted a delicate shot over Evan Bush. (The Dynamo's second goal after Ricardo Clark nutmegged Bakary Soumare was also sweat.)

What Worked in Week 6 ...

Portland's poor showing shouldn't take anything away from a quality win by Orlando City, its best performance of the season.

Brek Shea continues to be a handful coming forward from his left-back position, and Kevin Molino, while still looking for his first MLS goal, was dangerous on the right wing. They opened up space for goalscorers Larin and Kaka to operate in the middle.

What Didn't Work in Week 6 ...

Goalkeeping continues to be an issue for many clubs. Bill Hamid, a contender to start on Wednesday against Mexico, got back into the national team on the strength of his consistency throughout D.C. United's strong 2014 season.

But the normally reliable Hamid took the blame for D.C. United leaving its match against the Red Bulls with one point when he coughed up Sacha Kljestan's dipping free kick, allowing Lloyd Sam to put away the rebound and make it 2-2 in the 90th minute.

National Team Watch

Clint Dempsey's injury paved the way for rookie Cristian Roldan, who dropped down to the 16th overall pick in the 2015 SuperDraft, to start his second game for the Seattle Sounders, this time in front of family and friends at StubHub Center for Sunday's game against the Galaxy.

Roldan, who grew up in nearby El Rancho, was a projected top-five pick out of the University of Washington but dropped in January's draft until the Sounders traded up to snatch the midfielder. He created several chances for Obafemi Martins and Marco Pappa as the Sounders peppered Jaime Penedo in the Galaxy goal.

Roldan has never played for the U.S. U-20s, but he could make a late case to join them along with Zach Pfeffer, who scored against NYCFC, and RSL's Jordan Allen. All three missed Concacaf qualifying and recent U-20 trip to England.

U.S. UNDER-23s. Starters: Alashe, Gil, Trapp, Zimmerman. Subs: Serna, Shelton, Villarreal.
U.S. UNDER-20s.
Starter: Miazga, Pfeffer, Roldan. Sub: Allen, Thompson.
U.S. UNDER-18s. Sub: Mansaray.
*MLS debut.
mls
20 comments about "MLS gets its wish, and it's ugly -- parity".
  1. Vince Leone, April 13, 2015 at 4:58 p.m.

    Dumb comment that neither team deserved to win the San Jose/Vancouver match. Yes, the 1st half was terrible, but SJ spent the 2nd half on the Vancouver side of the field and attacked constantly. When a team does that and gets a goal, that's the definition of "deserves to win."

  2. Mike Jacome, April 13, 2015 at 5:04 p.m.

    wow, 0-0 every six games!!Stop the press!...well, Kudos to the defenders and the keepers. I thought teams hire top-of-the-line defenders and keepers to produce shoot-outs, don't they?

  3. Mike Jacome, April 13, 2015 at 5:15 p.m.

    "But the normally reliable Hamid took the blame for D.C. United leaving its match against the Red Bulls with one point when he coughed up Sacha Kljestan's dipping free kick, allowing Lloyd Sam to put away the rebound and make it 2-2 in the 90th minute." So did Emmanuel Khan on the 2002 WC final against Brazil which costed Germany the title and he still got the Best Player award for the competition. An isolated mistake is not a representation of a player level.

  4. John Bishop, April 13, 2015 at 5:20 p.m.

    Mls boring to watch just like its Academy games and the rest of Ussda teams. The very best in USA is boring. That focus on defense first along with "if they don't bleed not a foul" mentality makes it unwatchable. Bad thing is mls owners think they are on right track. Another 20 years and MX games played in USA will always outsell mls by double the amount. Can't get the right loyal fans to watch this NLS garbage.

  5. Mike Jacome, April 13, 2015 at 6:58 p.m.

    I've seen a 4-4 draws that were unbearable to watch and a 0-0 that was amazing from 1' to 90'. The abundance of 0-0 should not be a concern here. This is neither water polo nor Basketball. The Vancouver 2-0 Galaxy game was simply amazing and could have ended 5-0 easily, if the game wouldn't have had those two goals, would have been fine with me because finishing 0-0 and all I was extremely entertained throughout. Attacking, combinations, opportunities, saves, all that are elements of football. Scoring, being an element, is not a necessity to make a game good.

  6. Michael Polonski, April 13, 2015 at 9:37 p.m.

    I, too am frustrated with the quality of play this season. I do agree that the Vancouver win over LA was outstanding and so was the Orlando-DC and NYC-Revs games. But the fact remains that these entertaining games are few and far between. The problem? Too many teams and the limited talent pool is spread too thin. The solution? I know no one wants to hear it but when the league grows to 28 teams we need to split it up into two 14 team divisions, with the better teams and players obviously in the first division. Let the second division teams earn the same amount of money from the tv contracts but give the first division clubs a slightly better salary cap. Imagine the quality of play if the best players played together on 14 teams! With 20 and soon to be 24 teams, I only see the on-field product getting worse.

  7. Michael Polonski, April 13, 2015 at 9:38 p.m.

    And yes, have promotion and relegation between the two divisions.

  8. Jacob Wang, April 13, 2015 at 10:59 p.m.

    More damning is the statistic that only in week 2 was the average total goals per game been higher than 3.00 & that week 5 was only other time the average has been above 2.20

  9. Allan Lindh, April 13, 2015 at 11:19 p.m.

    The problem is not parity, not not not. The problem is incompetent refs that follow the "no blood, no foul" rule that MLS is infamous for. Tell the *&%$# ref's to call the G&%d&%$m game by the book. Intentional fouls, YC. Repeated fouls, YC. Repeated fouls by a team on a skill player, YC. Fouls from behind, RC. Time for the MLS office to get it through their thick skulls that we are not hockey fans, we don't go to matches to watch fights and blood shed. Stop spending big money on over-the-hill show horses and hire competent refs. Then tell them to call the game with some b...s, and have a few 9 v. 8 matches until they get the message. And reduce the accumulated YC threshold to 4, and double the suspension and 6, and again at 8 -- all suspension w/o pay. Then you'll start to see some soccer.

  10. Kent James, April 14, 2015 at 9:41 a.m.

    Michael, I'm glad to hear your idea about an evolutionary growth to an upper and lower division. I think that is much more realistic than using the existing league structures (because the lower leagues right now are so far below the MLS in terms of economics). Promotion/relegation adds such a great dimension to league play, but is unrealistic because of current disparities in the leagues. But your suggestion, grow the MLS then divide it (and keeping the money not so dramatically different) solves many of the problems (dilution of talent, too many meaningless games, a pathway to maintaining club solvency). I could see it happening in a shorter term by inviting 2-4 of the teams in the lower leagues to join the MLS (in the lower division) at the point of division.

  11. Kent James, April 14, 2015 at 9:51 a.m.

    Boring, low-scoring games are not the result of parity. In addition to Allan's point about slack officiating, a dilution of talent and an emphasis on defense are responsible. Since I've been a defender all my life, I appreciate good defense and it is a skill, but it is easier to defend than to attack, especially if you don't have talented offensive players (which are much more rare). Parity will cause two problems; first, there will be fewer blow-outs, so there will be fewer games in which players are completely relaxed and having fun (at least on the winning team). So maybe there will be fewer exhibitionist displays of offensive skill (the kind you might see in a meaningless all-star game). But that's okay. The more serious (and I daresay insurmountable) problem of parity in the MLS is when the MLS teams compete against outside competition. A league with 20 evenly balanced teams will have a much harder time succeeding in something like the Champions League when other leagues have a few teams with all the talent (Real Madrid, Barcelona). But in most other areas, parity is beneficial; close games tend to be more exciting and it is much better to go to a game in which your team has a real chance to win. So don't blame parity for problems it did not create.

  12. R2 Dad, April 14, 2015 at 12:14 p.m.

    Kent, after 20 years of MLS focusing on defense, shouldn't we have at least a couple world-class defenders on the USMNT? Unfortunately, I don't think the math works that way. Top defenders are able to use their quick thinking, speed and composure on the ball to, for example, enable their team to play a high line vs bunker-and-boot. So either coaches don't demand that or US players are unable to provide it. From what I see coaches are focusing on big beefy defenders to crowd out on set pieces, and aren't as concerned about their tactical contributions in the run of play. I don't think parity per se is the problem, but parity along with the low playoff threshold is killing the attractiveness of the league. For everyone who goes on about how 5 rounds of playoffs are good and American, for the first 100 years of MLB baseball there was just the World Series and NO playoffs. The first 30 years of the NFL had No playoffs, either. Playoffs are a recent development to appease owners and we the American public have been willing sheep, in the hopes that our crummy local team just might have a chance if only our team makes the playoffs.

  13. Thomas Hosier, April 14, 2015 at 1:35 p.m.

    I'll go with Allan Lindh
    commented on: April 13, 2015 at 11:19 p.m.
    "The problem is not parity, not not not. The problem is incompetent refs that follow the "no blood, no foul" rule that MLS is infamous for. Tell the *&%$# ref's to call the G&%d&%$m game by the book. Intentional fouls, YC. Repeated fouls, YC. Repeated fouls by a team on a skill player, YC. Fouls from behind, RC. Time for the MLS office to get it through their thick skulls that we are not hockey fans, we don't go to matches to watch fights and blood shed. Stop spending big money on over-the-hill show horses and hire competent refs. Then tell them to call the game with some b...s, and have a few 9 v. 8 matches until they get the message. And reduce the accumulated YC threshold to 4, and double the suspension and 6, and again at 8 -- all suspension w/o pay. Then you'll start to see some soccer."

  14. Rick Estupinan, April 14, 2015 at 6:06 p.m.

    By nature,goals in Football(Soccer),are rarely in abundance,and when the refs calls a player off side ,even for being ahead of a defender by an inch,it makes harder for forwards to score.

  15. Kent James, April 14, 2015 at 6:58 p.m.

    R2, the low score lines would suggest either good defense, or bad offense, or both. My point was not that we're producing a plethora of world class defenders (and I certainly agree that good defense does benefit from skillful defenders), but just that given the low score lines, the problem is with a balance between the offense and defense, not parity between teams. Ties in general can certainly be blamed on parity, but 0-0 ties have additional causes. And I do agree that easy access to the post season negates the value of the season. Baseball had it right.

  16. John Bishop, April 15, 2015 at 12:28 a.m.

    Kent, low scoring lines only suggest refs are bad. Nothing more. Refs allow defenders to get away with murder. Therefore low scoring ugly games. Therefore we have subpar defenders on the international stage. Therefore we dont develop skilled players or encouraged skilled play. And therefore owners prefer the big unskilled thugs whcih under current officiating are more effective and cheaper.

  17. Mike Jacome, April 15, 2015 at 1:36 a.m.

    Rick, FIFA address the situation by the premise "When in doubt favor the forward" The problem is that the refs have no backbone, and when in doubt they will always raise the flag..... John, how about Refs allowing forwards to cheat and flop in the area and either buying or not sanctioning diving? Once again this is not water polo, the score doesn't have to be 14-10 to be a great game. One of the main attractions in football is the difficulty in scoring. I found more value in a exciting 0-0 than in a 2-2 produced by diving-penalties and crappy defending.

  18. John Bishop, April 15, 2015 at 10:34 a.m.

    Mike, so by me stating the fact that mls refs allow dirty defending, it would only mean I prefer fwds cheating and flopping? I don't understand ur logic behind that conclusion. You are right. Its not water polo. It also isn't rugby the NFL. I don't prefer flopping or allowing it. I prefer skill. I think it is the league's and therefore the ref's job to protect skull. Not give them calls. Just don't allow unskilled thugs to mug them out of the game. I hope you understand the difference. And yes 0-0 games could be enjoyable as long as thuggery isn't dictating that score or 2 teams playing too defensively. Otherwise its garbage that very very few people want to watch. Can you imagine Jordan playing vs a league full of pistons back then? Can you imagine the NBA allowing that? Jordan would have never played full seasons due to injury. Scores would be 50-70 point games that would not be too fun to watch.The NBA is a great example as to why they succeed with fan base and mls doesn't. Nba protect their skill. Skill is rare. Good "team" defense is needed because they are not allowed to mug skill. They actually defend and guess what?? Basketball is also a contact sport. Go figure!

  19. Kent James, April 15, 2015 at 10:50 a.m.

    John, you're right that lenient referees can reduce scoring by favoring thuggery (though it also favors flopping, which can lead to what rare scores there are coming from PKs), which greatly reduces its appeal, and I am certainly in favor of referees eliminating both thuggery and floppery (and doing so is not an either/or proposition). My point was that it was not parity that causes low scores; you can have parity with very high scores (4-4 is still a tie). There are other reasons for low scores (bad reffing, unskilled players, sacrificing offense to concentrate on defense, etc.).

  20. John Bishop, April 15, 2015 at 2:10 p.m.

    Kent, exactly. Thast why we need to walk before we run. Why are we worried about scores before we get more skilled players first?? Why are we surprised our defenders are so bad for our USA teams when we condone thuggery ij our pro teams and Youth Elite leagues (USSDA)?? The very few skilled players we do have should be protected by our leagues and refs for multiple positive reasons. To encourage them to be as creative as possible, to send the message to the younger generations that skill is rewarded over physicality, to actually improve our team defense (which is getting worse every year), etc. For example, our USSF coaches talk so much about picking skill as main attribute yet the league they run themselves, USSDA, is reffed even worse than the MLS. Its a free for all on fouls. It is proven that coaches will play according to what the refs allow, therefore they will pick brute muscle over skill to succeed.

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