Efra's significance, U.S. cases for Morris and Arriola and addressing an atmosphere of intimidation

Some thoughts on Week 1 in Major League Soccer ...

1. Lots riding on Efra's success

It's hard to overstate how big Efrain Alvarez's debut was the LA Galaxy and MLS. You couldn't tell that the Galaxy missed the playoffs the last two seasons by the excitement of the Carson crowd or the media scrum surrounding the 16-year-old Alvarez after he engineered the 2-1 comeback win over Chicago. But that's only part of it.

The Galaxy has invested millions of dollars in player development -- including the creation of a private high school for its academy players and launch of the first MLS second team in the USL -- and seen no return on that investment.

The situation reached a crisis point last fall when U.S. U-20 star Alex Mendez signed with German club Freiburg for free when he turned 18. (Uly Llanez, another U.S. U-20 star, doesn't turn 18 until April, so he can't yet officially sign with a foreign club, but he's also expected to move to Germany.)

For all the attention on new Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the most important piece in the Galaxy's offseason makeover was the hiring of GM Dennis te Kloese, the former chief of  director of Mexico's youth national teams.

It will be te Kloese's task to manage Alvarez's integration into the first team. If Efra produces like he did in the USL last season and against the Fire on Saturday and becomes a big star, he will draw other young players from LA's talent-rich Mexican-American community to the Galaxy and convince them that MLS is their path to stardom, erasing long-held views about MLS and American soccer.

Photo: Members of the late Sigi Schmid's family and players from his 2009 Seattle Sounders' team pose before the start of Saturday's Seattle-FC Cincinnati game. Credit: Nike Fiechtner/Sounders FC Communications.

2. USMNT beat: Morris and Arriola make cases in Week 1

March 12 is the date U.S. Soccer will release the men's national team roster for the friendlies against Ecuador March 22 and Chile March 26. That comes after only two weeks of the MLS season, so the national team staff will have only a small body of work to go on in evaluating MLS players for selection to the two games beyond what they might have shown in January game.

The consensus is that Gregg Berhalter's two starting wingers will be Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, but neither has played much recently. In MLS's Week 1, both Jordan Morris (two goals for Seattle) and Paul Arriola (the winner for D.C. United) made strong cases for playing time on the wing.

Arriola was also excellent in the USA's 2-0 win over Costa Rica on Feb. 2. But in Morris' case, he didn't have the benefit of playing the first two games of the year as he was recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2018 MLS season.

3. Addressing an atmosphere of intimidation in The Bronx

MLS commissioner Don Garber criss-crossed the country, attending season openers in Los Angeles (for the Galaxy's unveiling of the David Beckham statue) and Seattle on Saturday and Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

At Sunday's D.C. United-Atlanta United game, Garber was asked by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Tannenwald about the recent Huffington Post article on the presence of far-right and white supremacist fans in New York City FC supporters' clubs, the efforts to kick them out and and the concerns of other NYCFC fans that not enough has been done to address the issue.

Garber's response, largely condemned on social media, was the NYCFC situation "was about the view some fans have about other fans" and the job of the league and its clubs wasn't to judge or profile any fan. He said it's a "slippery slope" to engage in any kind of profiling and reiterated that the league had a zero-tolerance policy for anyone misbehaving, but he should have come out more forcibly to state the league doesn't tolerate racist, homophobic, xenophobic and sexist language or political language, signs or gestures.

The problem, though, isn't simply how some NYCFC fans "view" the white supremacist fans in their midst -- but how they feel intimidated by them.

The Huffington Post article linked to a version of MLS's fan code of conduct on the NYCFC web site that referenced prohibited behavior but included the catch-all “any behavior that impairs the safety and/or enjoyment of the event from other guests."

MLS's recently updated fan code of conduct covers misbehavior including fighting, all sorts of inappropriate language behavior, gestures and threatening behavior but the catch-all language is no longer included.

The core issue isn't that incidents of prohibited language or fighting have or haven't been addressed by NYCFC and the league but that fans feel that an atmosphere of intimidation has been allowed to fester in The Bronx.

“They don’t do anything,” one fan told the Huffington in describing how the far-right and white supremacist fans act in the supporters' section at Yankee Stadium. “They just come and stand next to you. They just look at you. What can you do? You can’t go to the club and say, ‘This guy is looking at me.’”

In the updated fan code of conduct, a look doesn't count for "inappropriate language behavior."

Photo: The LA Galaxy unveiled a statue of former star David Beckham at Dignity Health Sports Park when the club kicked off the 2019 MLS season against the Chicago Fire. Credit: LA Galaxy.

1 comment about "Efra's significance, U.S. cases for Morris and Arriola and addressing an atmosphere of intimidation".
  1. Wooden Ships, March 5, 2019 at 8:06 a.m.

    I’m disappointed to hear of some NYCFC fans. What I cherish/cherished most about playing then managing is the mix of different people. At the 94 Cup (Nigeria-Bulgaria) match I remember telling my wife that of the 24 countries playing, I’d had teammates or played against players from 22 of the participating teams. NYCFC and any other team needs to get control of their fans. 
    I can see Arriola getting called in to the larger group, not Morris at this point. Although Zardes has been getting a call up, so who the heck knows. Flip a coin, neither are close to what we should have. 
    Dont know what to add about Alvarez and others of his quality, we’ve been ignoring them for years and years. I could give my reasoning for why this has happened but it’s maddening. 

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