They’ve all stuck hundreds of millions of dollars into English soccer teams.
Meanwhile, the MLS goes schlumping along, and by the time the season winds down in September no one will care who wins. (Oh, wait, it ends in November. See?)
All most Americans really care about is their national team, and Sunil Gulati, who runs US Soccer, finally gave in yesterday and named Bob Bradley his permanent coach.
What does this mean? It means big American money is fleeing the sport and its status is not going to change. What is big-time elsewhere will remain small-time here.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Gulati kept an interim tag on Bradley for months because, he said, he wanted to interview European coaches when their seasons ended. I’ve written here that his main target may have been Sam Allardyce, then the coach at Bolton. I still think this was the case. Once Allardyce signed with Newcastle this week, the Bradley move followed.
- Why did US Soccer need a European coach? To give our national players the best chance to advance in their careers on the continent, where the best club soccer is still played. As it is, one of the players Allardyce let go this week was US defender Oguchi Onyewu. Another U.S. national star, DaMarcus Beasley, was let go by Manchester City. (I’m a Beasley fan, which is why his picture is here. But darn it, Beaz, stop giving it to the other guys in your own end. ) America’s pros need someone with the savvy and contacts of an Allardyce to find top clubs where they have a decent shot at playing time.
- Big American money won’t go into American soccer so long as it remains a monopoly. MLS owns its teams. It has no relegation, no promotion. The enormous interest over the last three months in the English Premier League’s bottom sides was matched by the excitement in the Coca-Cola Championship (yes, they’re putting big money into the sport too) over who might replace them.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Major League Soccer should buy the United Soccer Leagues (our minor leagues), and sell back stakes in all major teams to local owners. Its season should consist of a home-and-home series among all the clubs — no conferences, no divisions. With the current set-up that would mean 24 games in a season.
The play-offs should consist of two rounds between the 2nd through 5th clubs, with the winner getting a place in an international tournament, like the Concacaf Cup, which sends its winners to Japan in November, where they might play the European champion. The league winner should also gain entry into Latin America’s Copa Libertadores.
The bottom two clubs in MLS, meanwhile, would go down to the first division of the USL, replaced by its champion and a play-off winner. There are already several USL divisions, and if they want to save money they could divide lower leagues regionally (as is done in England) with league champions moving up, and the roster re-jiggered each season.
What does this mean? It means at the end of each season there’s coverage of bad MLS games, with teams worried about going down. There’s also excitement in "minor league" soccer, with clubs looking to move up (or fear going down).
This is the way soccer is done everywhere else in the world — except here. There’s obviously enough financial interest to make it work.
All that’s standing in the way is Phil Anschutz’ greed. He owns the league. He can make the change. Does he really prefer having a big piece of something small to a smaller piece of something really big?