MLS, USL, WPS Review: Seeing Red


Happy Easter to everyone and thanks to today’s Holiday we’re combining all three reviews into one this week largely because all the matches were played on Saturday this week. Attendance bounced back this week in MLS in the biggest possible way with large crowds in Houston, Los Angeles, and Seattle, and respectable crowds in Salt Lake City and San Jose.

I will concede that the crowd in LA did not pass the eyeball test I discussed last week, and the number looked clearly inflated, but it’s better than the first two attendances the Galaxy had at home which were the lowest back to back crowds since moving to the Home Depot Center in 2003.

But the real theme of the night in MLS and USL was poor officiating. WPS saw an absence of bad officiating and also was absent of the lackluster almost reckless tackling and hacking which put referees in an uncomfortable position in our top two men’s leagues. In fact referees make mistakes in MLS and USL often because some of the play has turned into borderline violence.

I have an English friend who told me he won’t watch MLS not because of the quality of play, which he concedes is below standard, but because he considers it a “hackers” league, where defensive deficiencies and attacking flair lead to a combination of violent play, bad tackling, reckless fouling, and excessive diving. USSF certified referees who work MLS and USL matches often times don’t know how to deal with these circumstances.

In nine MLS and USL matches last night, eight red cards were shown, several simply because of the referee had lost control of the game. This was most obvious in Superclassico where Tim Weyland lost control of the match in the first five minutes and thus subsequently sent three players off, issued ten yellow cards and was consistently seen lecturing players after fouls.

MLS has issues with its quality of play, salary cap, dilution of talent thanks to expansion and USL, etc. But the biggest issue MLS faces and by extension USL is poor officiating: Last year’s table would have looked completely different if the officials had not missed so many critical calls. (For example Toronto FC almost certainly would have made the playoffs: I counted ten lost points on strange calls last season for the Reds). The credibility of both leagues and patience of fans is tested when the officials make so many mistakes in games and cannot reign in violent play and diving with anything other than the constant issuing of cards and by sending players off.

Other Thoughts:

  • Davy Arnaud’s recent play has been remarkable. But has it impressed Bob Bradley enough? Arnaud’s only previous call up was a 10 minute cup of coffee against Brazil in a game I attended. I actually believed Arnaud added more to the US attack than Landon Donovan did that day.
  • Jimmy Conrad hasn’t been called in since Copa America. Now Conrad is arguably the best American Central Defender not named Oguchi Onyewu. You have to wonder about Bob Bradley’s alleged euro snoberry when the likes of Danny Califf and Jay DeMerit get consistent call ins but the best defenders in MLS, Conrad and Michael Parkhurst (now playing in Europe) were consistently passed over.
  • Conor Casey, as I have been editorializing for two years in previous columns deserves a call up. I’ve written so much on the subject that I don’t want to rehash my arguments other than to say if you are truly interested in why I believe he’s a different and more mature player than he was when he was at Mainz at got several call ups look at the archives.
  • Speaking of potential call ups, the US goalkeeper pool is shallower than any point since the late 1980s, and with Bill Gaudette playing so well in several hostile road games in Central America and Mexico during the Islanders CONCACAF run, he really deserves a call up, even just to look at him in camp. For example, Gaudette did not lose a ball costing his team a chance to advance the way Bradley favorite Troy Perkins did two years ago at Jalisco, but instead got his otherwise underwhelming side past several superior Central American teams with spectacular and timely saves.
  • Much like last season, Chicago is getting points on the road. Give Dennis Hamlet credit: his team never seems intimidated or ready to wilt. When you have veterans that have played in much more hostile atmospheres than MLS provides, it’s critical to have the right attitude and the Fire almost always does.
  • USL Live is a decent product for the price which is free. However, last year when USL charged for the service the video quality was slightly better. Nonetheless, the league will get more exposure this year not simply because of the free access to games but because of the success of Montreal and Puerto Rico in CONCACAF. That did more to build USL’s credibility than any amount of advertising and free giveaways could have.
  • Carolina Railhawks under Martin Rennie, who I consider one of the best tactical coaches on American soil (I interviewed him for both CSRN and MLS Talk last year and was blown away by his tactical acumen compared to most other American based coaches I have talked to) had his club flying, but poor finishing kept a ten man Minnesota Thunder in the game. Nic Platter had a great game for the Thunder in goal, but reserve Gavin Glinton finally finished the game Thunder off with a nice header shortly after entering the match.
  • This game leaves a sour taste in my mouth as the referee ended the match with the Thunder about to take a corner kick.
  • Carolina’s new owners must not understand the time honored USL tradition of doubling your actual attendance into reported attendance. The 2,900 + at Wake Med was an accurate accounting of the crowd. Some other USL clubs would have reported 5,800 + in the same circumstances.
  • It’s early in the MLS Season and the only team I consider to be completely uncompetitive is the Houston Dynamo, who have set the standard for the league over the past three seasons. Last night, Juan Carlos Osorio dealing with injuries, and eventually a red card out foxed Dom Kinnear.  Again, I don’t think the importance of Dwayne DeRosario can be over emphasized. For years he’s made the likes of Brad Davis and Brian Mullan look like MLS Best XI or USMNT caliber players. Without him the team looks completely dysfunctional. Kinnear seems to have no answers with his current group of players. So Oliver Luck, one MLS’ best GMs has to make a move to bring in a real central midfielder, not a wide player pushed inside to mask deficiencies.
  • TFC so dominated the match at BMO Field yesterday yet left with a draw. It was a home match against the Hoops (or whatever their new nickname is) last season that broke the Reds back and hopefully the same doesn’t happen this year. That match last year was decided by the officials and at least this was decided by the Reds inability to turn their superiority into a victory.
  • Lindsay Tarpley’s goal yesterday for the Red Stars was outstanding, but Brianna Scurry who was once world class looks more and more lost after a few weeks of WPS.
  • Abby Wambach’s finishing was suspect yesterday. She looks lively and the combination play on Washington is really something special, but the finishing is poor, and now Chicago has secured four points away from home in its first two matches: not bad.
  • Cory Gibbs looks healthy and ready to step back up to the International level for the US. Gibbs untimely injury was one of the things that derailed the US in 2006.
  • Columbus reported attendance of 7,465 was clearly inflated. Crew Stadium looked to have at most 3,500 people last night on a cold night with depressing football. For a club that win last year’s double, once led the league in attendance and set the standard stadium wise, the continued trouble building crowds has to monitored closely and discussed honestly if the trend continues.
  • The late matches between LA-Chivas, and Vancouver-Charleston were both difficult to watch and other than the officiating and some spectacular saves by Donovan Ricketts, Zach Thornton and Dusty Huddock really nothing noteworthy to discuss came from the matches.
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About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the World Soccer Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the books 'Blue With Envy' about Manchester City FC, and 'Soccerwarz' about the MLS, USL and NASL infighting.
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