23 September 2005

Laborious Reading

I'm all for getting paid. I'm all for wanting other people to get their fare share. I look at some of the salaries that are paid to MLS players, and sometimes I feel pretty bad knowing that I earn more in my job than they get. But I don't like it when people use recent games as bargaining chips in a labor relations struggle between players and management. We are less than 22 hours from the start of the Santiago game, a game DC United nearly won. Why did they lose? Was it poor defending? Bad passing? Or was it that they didn't get paid enough to win and MLS isn't running the league correctly? If you said "yes" to the last, then you are currently writing for the US Soccer Players website, which has not one but two items that essentially point the finger at MLS for DCU's failure to advance.

From The Soccer Daily (emphasis added):

There are those that would have you believe that the quality of Major League Soccer is already at international level. There are those who have a stock answer for 'how would MLS teams do in England' that has some fighting it out in the lower reaches of the Premier League and others near the top of The Champsionship. There's one guy in particular that likes to talk about the only difference being the uniforms.

Well, not without payroll. What we saw last night in Santiago was a team that didn't have enough outlets, enough speed, and enough ability to lay
for the entire game
. This is a slightly ridiculous generalization, but MLS clubs have too many players unable or unwilling to play the entire game. There's a difference between that and the occasional lapse. With DC United in-particular, they're the only team with the relative honor of being able to show what's a League-wide trend at international level...

Reality being what it is, that returns us to the biggest mistake the League has made since contraction... expansion. Until the contraction year, the League had enough foreign talent to offset the domestic talent, creating what anyone designing a League should want: the ability for new professionals to learn from established pros who have big time experience. That included the American contingent returning from overseas. When that dried up due to player availability and the League's willingness to pay, all that was left was really left was the domestic pipeline...

What we watched last night was a working critique of the current
MLS product
, one that had its two clubs playing in international competition fail. Now the issue shifts to what we already know. The League isn't likely to do anything about it. In fact, they're far more likely to try another round of expansion and make it worse.

Maybe I'm overreading, but it seems to me that the contraction/expansion issue is a stalking horse for the real issue: the league should pay more to get higher quality players. This is a defensible argument, but not one that should be made in the guise of one game, which is what we have going on here. Even if you accept the contraction/expansion argument, and you eliminate Chivas and RSL, does United win because it still has Quintinilla or Ezra Hendrickson? Ridiculous.

But it's not just expansion/contraction/salary thats the problem. Nope, DCU didn't win because they aren't accustomed to playing high-level, cut-throat matches according to the Urban Opinion at US Soccer Players...

The ultimate reason for DC United's failure to advance in the Copa Sudamericana comes down to the demands, or relative lack thereof, placed on the players week in and week out in Major League Soccer. Until the matches matter much more than they presently do, until the players feel like they need to win every time they step on the pitch, the absence of a pressure-cooker match environment will limit the development of the overall quality of the soccer in MLS, a problem requiring a more comprehensive solution from the league office than bringing in a faded European star or two every January with an accompanying media blitz designed to stimulate ticket sales.

Now, is there a common thread here? Let's go back to our college english classes, and see if we can't apply a Marxist reading of these texts. Yup. The reason DCU lost is the fault of management and executives. They're the ones. Not the play, not the players, not the cards, not the fouls, not the lacked converted chances. Management and the Front Office, they're the ones at fault.

That US Soccer Players would want to make an argument against the structure of mangement is fine. That they use DC United's defeat to do it seems tacky at best. I have no problems with unions, and think they do a lot of good in life for workers. And some DCU players are woefully underpaid. And the playoff system should be reworked to value the season more. That's not why DCU isn't heading back to South America this year.

US Soccer Players, as an information source, should be treated with skepticism. It is also a propoganda tool. Read their history of the NASL, which faults the league for many things but doesn't mention overpaying foreign players to live out their retirement by playing half-assed soccer over here, but instead credits the glory years to the free spending Cosmos (yes, there's a truth to that. But there's another side which is ignored).

If there's a point to this rambling, it is only this. Remember motivations when reading all of this stuff, read between the lines. And remember that labor wants you to believe one thing, management another, and truth may lie between, or it might even be on another axis entirely.


At 23 September, 2005 22:14, Blogger scaryice said...

This year the quality took a hit due to the expansion teams and the expansion of the rosters. It'll be fine.

At 25 September, 2005 00:55, Anonymous Andy Wattenhofer said...

Interesting take on the quality of play. I read this having recently finished another season as a fan of the Minnesota Thunder, a USL team where the players are paid even less than in MLS but where the team knocked three MLS clubs out of the US Open Cup in decisive fashion. Is it because the MLS players were underpaid, or the USL players were motivated to prove themselves? I tend to believe the latter. It is in my opinion still a great privilege to be able make a living as a soccer player in the USA. Any MLS players who believe they are not paid enough to win cup competitions need to take a look at the burgeoning ranks of talent coming up behind them or they will be left behind. As a side note, look at the situation with Mark Cuban taking over the Dallas Mavericks. His passion for the game and the team was motivation for the players to perform better, and they responded by winning games. There is a motivational leadership aspect to the team performance debate that may be getting overlooked with DC United.

At 26 September, 2005 12:43, Anonymous Joe said...

I'm not sure expansion affected the non-expanded clubs that much, in terms of player quality. But definitely there have been some shitty Chivas and RSL matches on national TV this year.

I also think Bill Urban's got a great point about the week-in, week-out pressure being relatively low in the league. You have to blame the execs for that to some degree, for maintaining this silly playoff format that rewards all but the worst teams.

At 08 November, 2005 09:06, Anonymous J Hutcherson said...

I know I'm a little late to the party, but USSoccerPlayers as a website isn't pushing a labor agenda when it comes to MLS. The NASL example of bias is fine, but all of that was written circa 1998-99 when I wasn't working as a sportswriter. It might explain where I ended up, but it has nothing to do with the aims of the US National Soccer Team Players Association in any overt way.

And as the person who has final say over what hits USSoccerPlayers.com, I didn't agree with Urban's article. I don't agree with a lot of stuff that ends up on the site, and neither would some of the players. But it won't work as a house engine. Anyone would see through that kind of bias.

When I first went to work for the Players Association, there was no criticism of anything on the site. It took the better part of a year to break that down and convince enough people that there's value in having something that's more independent editorially than might be comfortable. Credit the players for saying ok, I know I do.

There's bias everywhere. Newspapers own teams they cover. While I'm not about to pretend that USSoccerPlayers is totally objective, it's also not a propaganda machine.

Personally, I'm more concerned when I'm involved enough in a story to know all sides and then I read what makes it onto websites and into papers. To be honest, it's scarey. There aren't very many people really chasing stories or that have the access to get at what's really happening. There are stories that hit major outlets that might as well have been written by the media relations people.

When reading anything, look for the bias. It's almost always there.


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