MLS looking ahead instead of behind

In all fairness the 2006 campaign for the MLS was more of a rollercoaster than anything else. The highs and lows seemed to be one of the hardest things this young league has ever had to deal with.

Going into the season, there was much anticipation starting with the move of the Earthquakes from San Jose to Houston and Red Bull buying the Metrostars from AEG. The hype machine was in full force for teams like Chivas USA and crazed hope was there for the Columbus Crew. An announcement of the league expanding to Canada made things clear that the following season would be an interesting one.

2006 still will forever be known as the year the US failed to do anything bright in the World Cup. The year that Landon Donovan and the Galaxy failed to make the play-offs for the first time. One that saw the league’s two best teams failed to even make the Conference finals in the playoffs. And it was a year that the league’s superstars failed to shine.

I am not writing off the year as a complete disaster. There was plenty to look at and be happy with. The league had to feel good about getting new stadiums opened and new ones being close to finished…and the groundbreaking of other ones. I too am happy with one of the best deals made by the league…the creation of a player development system that should mirror those in Europe and around the world. I was also happy to see players like Richard Mulrooney and Alecko Eskandarian make their way back onto the field and show that they still had some play in their boots.

2006 saw a new champion but an old champion really. Houston in my mind will always be San Jose until there is another San Jose in the league. In my mind this is not the club’s first MLS title, but it’s third. I won’t down play the importance of that club winning the league because it is huge for that market and for the league’s sake of moving the club to that market this time last year.

2006 also saw an interesting winner in the MLS All-Star game. I have written many times for the league to get rid of the game due to its worthlessness but beating a juggernaut from England (Chelsea) always looks good in the record books. The win did nothing more than erased the feeling that the league had felt a year before when they were blown out on the road, in the middle part of the season to Real Madrid. To me, its all a level playing field when it comes to an All-Star squad from the MLS taking on a European team. Deep down I know that if the league is to maintain any sort of respect, they need to either do away with the game against a foreign club or go back to the good ol’ days of East versus West. That my friend is how you do an All-Star game.

A year is done but another one is on the horizon. 2007 will be one to be seen, that I can assure you. Add a new team (Toronto) and shake up some things and I think the MLS is on the right path. We all know the league will be a 16 team league by the end of the decade, it’s been said over and over that it will. The question remains where and when.

The time has come to move on. I figure now is the time that I highlight some things and just wrap up the year as best as I can.

Five best moments:

  • Announcement of a player development system – for the league to be a success and move away from its world status as a retirement league…this system will keep the MLS going for years…but only if it is done correctly…just mirror the bigger European clubs and the league should be fine…they have the money (whether or not they would want you to believe they do or not)
  • Enhancement of derby games – I loved the Rocky Cup this year, the Lone Star showdowns, the Atlantic Cups…that is how the league will continue to grow…derby games are nothing without passion and this year we had just that between some of these clubs…I really wish now more than ever that Tampa and Miami were still in the league…the MLS needs more derbies.
  • Houston winning the MLSI may not be a Dynamo supporter but it was huge for this team to pull this off in their first season in Houston…it will help keep fans in the seats and could lead to better things (their own stadium)
  • New Stadiums – got to love the Toyota Parks and the Pizza Hut Parks that are opening up everywhere in this league. Getting every team in their own place is huge for the league…its all about dollars and cents and teams having their own place and not some jumbo NFL stadium is big…just wait and see what it will do for New York when they finish theirs…big things are ahead there
  • Chivas Turnaround – I loved what Bob Bradley did with this club…sure they didn’t make it past Houston in the playoffs but they surely made things interesting in the West…more offense and at times better defense made this team fun to watch…I saw them twice this year in person and they were a handful to contend with

Five biggest disappointments:

  • D.C. United – Sure they won the Supporter’s Shield in like mid-July…that means nothing until playoff time in this league…at least the league is making next year’s playoff push more meaningful unlike this year and those in the past…hopefully it will save us from this and…
  • FC Dallas – now everyone knows I am a huge follower of this club but nothing is more disappointing as a fan of the club and as a fan of the sport to see a club with this much promise fall in the playoffs…Colorado didn’t have this teams number…it has nothing to do with that…poor coaching and poor play had everything to do with it…and not to mention an unbalanced schedule
  • LA Galaxy – if I were ranking these this would be number 1…a bad start plus the absence of key players during the World Cup…don’t translate into success my friends…this team was tough to watch…no heart and no hustle…they really should have repeated going into the year…the talent was there and it should have happened but they fell short of the playoffs for the first time…in club history!
  • Youri Djorkaeff – from getting caught at the World Cup when he said he had to be in France to just the poor play from this Frenchman…probably the biggest reason why New York drew so many games to begin the year because Youri was no where to be seen on the field
  • The playoff format – everyone knows I believe the MLS should do away with its current and even next year’s format…I still hate seeing 8 teams out of 12 making the playoffs each season…the MLS drops the ball each year by not changing it

Good and Bad moves:

  • (Bad) Eddie Johnson – this was definitely a bad move for KC…Johnson hardly showed this season (2g 1a)
  • (Good) Eddie Johnson – this move worked out perfectly for Dallas…they got rid of a kid with high potential but a poor attitude…Johnson should be in Europe making the big bucks but with a poor attitude and pathetic showing on and off the field he will never make it anywhere but in the MLS
  • (Good) Kenny Cooper – Dallas struck gold with Cooper…this kid was everything that they had hoped for coming from Man United. Cooper was a breath of fresh air scoring in his first game as a member of the Hoops and ended up as one of the teams MVPs on the season
  • (Bad) Clint Mathis for Jeff Cunningham – why Colorado ever made this deal is beyond me…you trade a great goal scorer for an overpriced player who has done nothing with himself or for any team since 2001. Cunningham was an MVP candidate for RSL and almost got them into the playoffs for the first time
  • (Good) Ezra Hendrickson – Columbus’s lone bright spot of the year was picking up this guy…Ezra helped bring defense back to Columbus…sadly it was too little too late

Way to early projections for 2007:

  • New England will win the East – I see the Revs turning things around from a decent season this past year and actually showing up…Taylor Twellman won’t have a World Cup to think about and they may not have Clint Dempsey…but that shouldn’t matter
  • Chivas will win the West – yes…it could be a stretch but I think the Goats will pull through more and get some more players and really be dangerous…early on favorite will be Houston or Dallas but expect Chivas to continue to make strides with Bob Bradley (unless he gets the US National Team coaching job)…not to mention picking up Amado Guevara from New York earlier this week was huge…if Bradley, Razov, and Gurvara can get on the same page this will be an exciting team to watch
  • Toronto won’t be that bad – I see some good things in FC Toronto. I like Mo Johnson as their coach and the moves they have already done are good ones…getting Ronnie O’Brian was huge for this team…
  • The playoff field will include – New England and Chivas winning their conferences…those are automatic bids now…after that expect Houston, New York, DC, Dallas, Colorado, and LA making the playoffs. Colorado and Dallas may benefit from the new format or maybe someone like Kansas City will…
  • Houston will repeat as champions – I would love to pick someone else but right now…this very minute I believe Houston is the team to win it all next year…keeping De Rosiario away from going home to Canada may be tough but I think another season of him and Ching will be too much for everyone…plus Dominic Kinner is a very underrated coach
  • A big star will be signed – sometime between now and next August a big international star will sign with the league…the new Beckham rule will open up a lot of doors for people signing into the league…