– It’s that time of year: the narrow window between the regular season and the post-season when playoff previews/prediction pieces start popping up like delicious, dream-inducing mushrooms. I’ll be churning one out tomorrow; assuming I can quiet the voices in my head for just one friggin’ minute, it will assume a size commensurate with my knowledge of things to come…so, that’s just a word or two by my count.
Turning, however, to people who have already turned in their preview/prediction pieces, let’s run down today’s – and in the order that I like them: Steve Davis (who belongs to no man, no media outlet), WVHooligan’s drew epperly, and Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl (I ranked Grant last do to the somewhat throw-away feel of his playoff stuff; he more than makes up for it with quality commentary on Bruce Arena’s status, Altidore for the Nats, and the Ryan/Solo drama).
Some team-specific pieces bear flagging as well. For instance, is Houston’s 2007 defensive record really the best all-time (wouldn’t shock me) and does Dallas have a shot against them given the Houston-philic head-to-head record between the two Texas teams (talking to toucans tasting Twix twixt trees twined together)? More recommended reading: Can the choking-late Revolution clear their throats? Is FC Dallas’ post-season strategy really “belief”? Is Tor! Tor! Tor! correct in calling Kansas City v. Chivas a good match-up – and this is crucial – for KC?
– Another thing popping up like…like…I dunno, microwave popcorn…are the season reviews – or, more to the point, the near-relatives of season reviews. I’m talking about things like My Soccer Blog’s endangered coach’s list (a short and static list; probably accurate too) and Who Ate All the Cupcakes’ thumbnail reviews for the five teams on the wrong side of the playoff picture.
But there’s one item out there that bears deeper commentary. USSoccerplayas.com’s Ian Plenderleith, who has been tracking some stats all year, wraps up a couple of them this time around: average goals per game and attendance. While I’m in full agreement with his bottom line for both – respectively, that goals are good and that attendance, while up, needs to go higher before we celebrate – but a couple underpinning arguments invite quibbling.
With the goal-scoring, Plenderleith quotes Ivan Gazidis about MLS’s desire to get the goals higher, which is a fine plan, so far as it goes. But how do you improve that? Shop in bad defenders? Require the back four and ‘keeper to take a shot of rum after every save? Worse, because it’s sickeningly within the realm of possibility, do you do wacky crap like giving teams 4 points for a win if they score more than two goals? The point is, of course everyone (except those paid to keep them out) want to see more goals. But this is one of those, “it is what it is” kind of things: the best you can do is bring in better players and MLS has limited ability to do that. A tinker here or there could help – calling the offside rule as written (e.g. when the attacking player is even with the defender, it’s play on), to give an example – but there’s just not much for help here that doesn’t boil down to slow, progressive change…and slow, regressive change heading the other direction will trump that soon enough.
On the other point, attendance, Plenderleith sees 15,000 in Pizza Hut Park and sees a half-empty stadium. Growing up where and when I did (the Mid- and Northwest and 1980s and 1990s, respectively) and I think, “15K? At a soccer game? In Texas? Holy shit!” The league is growing, as Plenderleith admits, but I think people get so caught up in wanting MLS to thrvive that they forget what things looked like, literally, 10 years ago. Seriously, think back to 1997 (and try to block out the uniforms as you daydream): could you have pictured things where they are today? The glass got 2/3 full in 2007, so far as I’m concerned. Capitalizing on the momentum is by no means guaranteed, but this year defied nearly every hope and expectation I had.
– After (shamelessly) quibbling with someone whose work I generally admire, it feels good to say this: the league should hire Ian Plenderleith to sell MLS teams to municipalities and to confront soccer-phobes. His unsolicited presentation on why a city should want an MLS team is brilliant. And he’s correct on another score as well: MLS Commissioner Don Garber does come off as a half-soulless corporate slick far too often.
– Finally, file the following under good, good stuff: as threatened, Climbing the Ladder put out Top Goals compilations for every team in MLS. Not only is this very cool, but I envy scaryice’s technical savvy.