MLS timing is off
Major League Soccer has developed a nasty addiction. The league got a taste of what having its teams face European competition could mean with friendlies against the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Chelsea and now it cannot kick the habit.
MLS is preparing to send an all-star team to Spain next week to face Real Madrid in Real's final preseason match on Tuesday. The opportunity is a great one for MLS players and for the league to show its stuff on a world stage, but that does not change the fact that the timing is absolutely terrible.
League officials probably realized the error in their ways when they began making inquiries about what players could be available. MLS asked teams eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup to provide two players and teams alive in the Open Cup to provide one. Most of the league's teams became locked in fierce protests over having to include their best players at such a crucial time, especially the six teams who would presumably have to surrender one of their best players and therefore be shorthanded for Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal round.
MLS cannot be serious. Would the English Premier League do this to the FA Cup? Would any other league that claims to be legitimate on the world stage even consider this? Would Real Madrid consider playing a friendly in the United States during the heart of their club campaign. No. Never. Period.
So why does MLS? It seems as if that inferiority complex is on full tilt as MLS falls victim to the "these games prove how good we are" hysteria that followed the AC Milan-Chicago Fire and Chelsea-DC United friendlies. You might ask why those matches were a good idea, but this one is not. The club friendlies served their purpose, providing some international exposure for the league and letting MLS fans see just how its teams could measure up against the world's best.
The earlier friendlies served that purpose, which should have made this invitation to Madrid a little less difficult to turn down. MLS was not about to say no though, even after Real Madrid stood the league up on two occasions last year. It is almost as if MLS is the little brother who jumps at any chance to play with his older brother, even if it means taking a beating.
Imagine being one of the six teams alive in the Open Cup. You are three wins away from a championship and now you are told that you have to let one of your best players miss the quarterfinal round for a friendly. Why should FC Dallas have to face D.C. without Ronnie O'Brien? Why should D.C. have to play without Jaime Moreno. The situation is even more unfair for Chicago and Kansas City, which both face non-MLS teams in their quarterfinals. You might think those squads can afford to surrender a player since their facing lower level competition, but that is ignoring the fact that in cup competitions anything can happen.
Imagine being Landon Donovan. You've just played in the grueling grind of the Gold Cup, you are in the midst of national team qualifiers AND the Galaxy is playing in the Open Cup. Now MLS wants you to fly to Spain for a friendly? It is the type of game he should play in, but not under those circumstances (MLS apparently listened when Donovan made it clear he did not want to play against Real Madrid and will not select him). Luckily for MLS, it should still field a strong squad, with Amado Guevara, Youri Djorkaeff, Moreno, O'Brien, Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis among the players expected to take part.
MLS officials continue to talk this game up, saying that a good showing could do wonders for the league and winning the Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu would bring respectability. If so, then why hasn't the league even announced a roster yet? Why hasn't there been a drop of marketing to promote this appearance? If you're going to the trouble of strong-arming teams into giving up players the least you could do is make an attempt to justify your actions.
Again, the game itself is a nice idea. Facing a Real Madrid squad that is about to start its season is a far better gauge of where MLS stands than when the Galaxy faced them on July 18th. It is a nice idea but one only worth doing if you are going to bring a top squad of players and that just shouldn't be an option considering what is at stake for MLS teams at this time of year.
The transfer window has opened and teams are stockpiling some impressive talent for the stretch run. You have New England snaring Panamanian playmaker Ricardo Phillips and Chivas finally adding its contingent of Mexican standouts including Francisco Palencia and Juan Pablo Garcia. All the new editions around the league should make for some difficult matches to call in the coming weeks as we try to figure out which signings will help and which won't.
Chicago at Kansas City The Fire is starting to dim. After a solid first half of the season, Chicago is starting to falter and could drop from second place to fourth place with a loss this weekend. The Wizards are on a roll as their offense improves more each week. The Fire's defense will struggle with Chris Rolfe as its only available quality forward. Kansas City rolls and Chicago begins its slide down the East standings. Wizards 2, Fire 0
FC Dallas at Columbus Crew
Crew fans have come up with some clever ways to get their feelings across this year and you just know they have something ready or FC Dallas coach Colin Clarke, who angered Columbus fans with what some felt was an unneeded gesture following Dallas' Open Cup win in Columbus. Unfortunately for the Crew, the fans won't be able to help a midfield that is back to its struggling ways. The honeymoon is over for Robert Warzycha as FC Dallas finally breaks its winless skid. FC Dallas 3, Crew 1
Los Angeles Galaxy at D.C. United
D.C. introduces defender Facundo Erpin on Saturday as he faces the weakest team on the road since Miss Daisy and her chauffer. Seriously, can't the Galaxy do anything to snap their terrible road form? How about bringing along palm trees to give the road that Home Depot Center feel? Expect D.C. to smother Landon Donovan and roll to their fifth straight victory. D.C. United 3, Galaxy 1.
San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake
San Jose should fear the letdown game. Sure, Real Salt Lake has been terrible lately, and they are without their best ball handler in Clint Mathis, but games like these have a funny way of turning into upsets in MLS. Real Salt Lake doesn't have the firepower to beat the red-hot Quakes, but they slow them down here. Earthquakes 1, Real Salt Lake 1
Chivas USA at MetroStars
Imagine being Bob Bradley. You have what looks like a very winnable game on your schedule against Chivas, and your playoffs hope hinge on winning almost every game down the stretch, then Chivas decides to announce that it has just added a boat-load of reinforcements. The arrivals of Palencia and Garcia should help the Chivas attack find more chances, but it should take a few weeks before their full impact is felt. The Metros are a desperate team and aren't going to drop points to the Goats. MetroStars 2, Chivas USA 1
Last week's record: 4-2 Overall record: 49-47
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN.com and is also a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.). He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com