Tuesday, February 3, 2015

MLS, In the Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Suck it! No car for you! And that woman hates you!!
In the past, this space has crowned a modest succession of (significantly) Eastern Conference Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs the official winners of the 2014-15 offseason (winner, winner, chicken dinner). Fun 'n' games and all, but that act of separating and ranking looks past something bigger. And one has to don some to pretty fucked-up goggles to miss this:

This is Major League Soccer's (MLS) best offseason ever. Hands down. Ignore the biggest names for now, or even the returning flocks of high-end American players (zey are like zee swallows zircling zee setting sun….): every week, sometimes every day, some outlet or another drops word of some exotic, new player coming to MLS. Today, for example, I see reports of a defender from Guatemala, a(nother) Argentine midfielder, a Nigerian who comes to the league by way of Switzerland named Innocent. As recently as five years ago, the league had to scratch the world markets damned hard to get such enticing players. And getting this many of them at once? Out of the goddamn question.

Last night, I counted up the designated players (DPs) who will play for MLS clubs in 2015 (a hit-or-miss list) The first count: 43 of 98, all-time (maybe; Wikipedia). Then I noted the absence of some big names (oh, just Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Sebastian Giovinco, Laurent Ciman, etc.) and revised the numbers upward: 47 of 102 last I counted. And that's going to grow. Already has by two (maybe 3; see above). Yessir, the league is stocking up on some big fishies, the kind that feast on steroids. The point is that no one club really won the offseason. We all won the offseason. Even the surprisingly inactive Philadelphia Union.

Virtually every MLS club kicked off their pre-seasons this past weekend, which only adds to the sense that, holy shit, this is really happening. Hell, outlets are streaming no small number of the preseason scrimmages, especially those between two MLS clubs. Yeah, by common consent these games mean nothing, but they do scratch an itch. Between those signs of activity and all those freakin' new players, it's enough to make a guy feel like a dog being reminded that he is, in fact, a good boy by a room full of the world’s kindest people.

It can make one feel like that...so why doesn't it? To sum it up in three letters, C, B, and A.

Until the stupid Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is signed by everyone who counts (not going to be easy), I don't know how to enjoy any of this. I mean, what are MLS clubs telling all those new signings? Not to worry? When I clock preseason results, or even watch the games (two watched so far, one noted, if in a tipsy, bubbly hiccup), at least half my thoughts turn to whether the players, like me, wonder about the point of it all. I mean, do athletes suffer existential crises? Besides Landon Donovan.

I’ve gone through and discarded a series of overwrought analogies to describe this sensation (some of them just plain wrong – e.g. starving children and cancer patients). My closest, and most appropriate translation of the 2014-15/Pre-CBA experience likens it to being shown your dream car at your Sweet 16 and being told that you are absolutely not going to get it. ("You like the car? Aw, that's sweet. Anyhoo, fuck you. Can't have it. That's right, cry. Your tears are my water.")

I’m going to track the CBA negotiations as closely as I can until they're resolved because it really is the first thing I think about when I think about MLS these days (listen to this if you want to feel a little better). Given the tight-lipped nature of these kinds of negotiations, I don’t expect to find much, but I'll pass on anything more damning, than, "yeah, strike" or more uplifting than, "we're close." And, no, this space won't be all-CBA, all the time. I’ve got a USMNT thing I want to get to, plus some Timbers stuff. Even then...


...talking about all that other stuff seems a little pointless till MLS fans across the country – and, dare I say it, here and there around the world? – hear that the negotiations are over and that the league will actually play some games in 2015.

My current (pessimistic) thinking? We're going to lose March. All of March. Keep those expectations low, people. That's one way to survive disappointment. A shitty way, but a way.

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