By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
East Rutherford, NJ (Sports Network) -
Major League Soccer is an up-and-coming league in the United States, but for it to get to the level Commissioner Don Garber envisions, the product on the field needs to continue on its current growth curve.
Nobody can argue that the addition of the designated player roster rule - which allows teams to pick one player on their rosters that don't have to fit under the salary cap - hasn't helped. Especially after the Aug. 18 slugfest at Giants Stadium between the Red Bulls and the Los Angeles Galaxy that saw New York prevail 5-4 in dramatic fashion behind the offensive prowess of two of the league's five designated players.
The game was played in front of a record 66,237 fans, most of whom were there to see the Galaxy's designated player, David Beckham, who recorded two assists in the game. New York's designated player, Juan Pablo Angel, also scored two goals, including the game-winner two minutes from time. Both players were pivotal in the free-flowing offensive shootout.
But even more pivotal was the fact that both teams seemed to throw defense out the window in an effort to give the record crowd something to cheer about. The result was one of the most exciting games in the history of the league.
"I think you saw tonight, two teams that wanted to play the right way, and that's going forward and attacking the other team, which is good," Galaxy coach Frank Yallop said after the game. "I don't think we set out to (combine for nine goals in the game). You don't set out to do that, but I think you saw some good players on the field that were dangerous, and when you have that you are going to see an exciting game."
So why can't there be more games of this quality in MLS?
Offensive-minded teams have made watching MLS games more exciting.
The answer is that most coaches prefer to win 1-0 or settle for a scoreless draw, especially when playing on the road. They are more concerned with wins and losses than attracting fans to the games - and rightly so, that is their job.
"We need to teach this sport a little better in America so people understand it more," New York's Clint Mathis said after the Galaxy-Red Bulls clash. "(That way) we can have more games like this for the non-soccer fans so it's more of an entertainment value for them... instead of them expecting a 1-0 game or a 0-0 game."
The trend in MLS seems to be changing to that more offensive mentality, which bodes well for its future.
"I think if you talk to Frank Yallop and I behind closed doors, we would tell you that we had a lot of breakdowns throughout the night, but having said that, that is all part of the game," New York coach Bruce Arena said after the classic tilt. "Scoring goals is an important part of growing the sport in this country."
MLS has made great strides since last season, and possibly more important than the designated player rule, is the fact that it has added a number of new head coaches who all seem to be preaching the same thing - offense.
Steve Morrow has FC Dallas attacking from everywhere, the Chicago Fire are battling for a playoff spot with Juan Carlos Osorio adding creativity to the league, D.C. United is currently tops in MLS thanks to Tom Soehn's ability to keep the team in an attacking mode and Kansas City's new coach, Curt Onalfo, is also earning a reputation in the league for his aggressive style. His offensive mentality not only has the Wizards in playoff contention, but they currently have the third most goals in the league, no small feat for a team that didn't make the playoffs a year ago.
PLAYOFF RACE HEATING UP
Red Bull New York, the Kansas City Wizards and the Chicago Fire would be the final three teams to make the playoffs if they started today, but the Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew are in position to make a run if the aforementioned teams falter in their final six-plus games.
New York currently has 36 points, Kansas City 33 and Chicago 29, while Columbus and Colorado are tied at 28. All of the teams have six games remaining except the Fire, who have seven.
New York looks to be in good shape, needing to win just three of its remaining games to clinch a spot with its remaining schedule against Chicago, New England, Real Salt Lake, Toronto, Kansas City and L.A. The Wizards also probably get in with three more wins, with matches against Columbus, CD Chivas USA, L.A., D.C., New York and Dallas remaining. The Fire probably need four wins against their remaining schedule of New York, Dallas, D.C.(twice), Chivas USA, New England and L.A.
D.C., Houston, New England, Chivas USA and Dallas have their spots pretty well locked up, barring a collapse down the stretch.
New England coach Steve Nicol was dismissed from Sunday's 4-2 loss to D.C. in the 68th minute after a non-call by referee Abbey Okulaja allowed a turnover, leading to United's go-ahead goal.
"What are you supposed to do? We can set up to play against teams but we can't set up to play against officials," he said after the game. "I'm not talking about a hairline decision one way or the other. I'm talking about a free kick that everybody within 20 yards could see what it was. Not one of them saw it? That's what they'll probably tell you. And if they did see it - are you kidding me?"
So was he blaming the officials or just venting after a tough loss?
Let's hope Nicol wasn't blaming one non-call for the outcome of a game his team lost by two goals, especially considering most teams suffer worse calls by the league's full-time referees every week.
Revs star striker Taylor Twellman probably had it right when he said, "To be honest, D.C. outplayed us today."
GOALLESS STREAK CONTINUES
Last-place Toronto FC's current goal-less drought was extended to an MLS- record 732 minutes at Dallas Saturday. Without attackers Ronnie O'Brien and Jeff Cunningham, who are out for the season with injuries, and Danny Dichio, who will miss the team's game Saturday vs. Real Salt Lake with an injury, chances of the streak extending are better than average.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"There is a gimmicky-type thing in the beginning with it and we didn't really react. But he's a quiet kid, he's very humble and every day he kind of won us over with his work rate. He works his butt off. Guys get after him and he just responds by playing harder and that's what you want out of a young kid. He doesn't seem to get a deer-in-headlights when someone has a go at him or when it gets really physical. He responds by playing harder and that's all you want out of a young guy."
- CD Chivas USA forward Ante Razov said of Jorge Flores, who won Chivas USA's Sueno MLS contest earlier this year and made his professional debut against the Red Bulls Sunday.