Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Late (Late) Tackle 02 01 2017: Some Weird Stuff on Expansion, Promotion and Relegation

Winner of an accidental, "Most Stoned Llama Contest."
There are still trades (round up o’ the good stuff) and preseason games (uh, quickly, since the last, sole update: New York Red Bulls lost 1-0 to Real Salt Lake; the Vancouver Whitecaps dropped four goals’ worth of hurt on one Oxford or another; the San Jose Earthquakes edged Sporting Kansas City (1-0); the Portland Timbers lost (again) to (I think) a Croatian team; and, finally, new kids Minnesota United FC started their time in Major League Soccer better than Portland continued theirs, knotting at one goal apiece with the New England Revolution), but I’m not actually watching the latter, and I’m broadly ignorant about the former (c’mon, gimme time to watch, people), so let’s detour things I know…

…or, more accurately, things on which I have opinions.

First, and keeping local, the Timbers finally nailed down the agreement for Sebastian Blanco. Here’s to hoping he’s not just as good as advertised, but also sturdy physically. And, with the scars from Lucas Melano still healing, let’s hope he’s locked in mentally. OK, now the rest…

The Rare Export (And Will It Become Rarer?)
Unless you are a world soccer savant – e.g. one possessed of knowledge of all relevant global leagues through at least the second division, I still maintain that SBI Soccer’s MLS Ticker is the lowest useful bar of entry for names and context on incoming players. While I’d usually leave it there, one transfer I spotted today nagged at my thoughts. As reported in, the Whitecaps’ shipped the (presumably) promising young Kianz Froese to an outfit in Bundesliga 2 (Fortuna Dusseldorf, of which I know nothing beyond the fact it's in Germany). That’s not so complicated when it comes to motive – the move puts Froese in a place that makes it easier for bigger, more prestigious European clubs can see him – but it’s worth wondering how much longer this kind of, arguably, lateral move makes sense for MLS players. Or, to come at that from the other side, how big does MLS have to get before the still-clear upside of Europe shrinks to irrelevance?

Expansion Update
When it comes to the question of which U.S. cities will receive an MLS franchise as the league expands to 28 teams (the 12 candidates)…whenever the fuck that’s gonna happen, I’m neutral as they come. That could have something to do with already having a home team. Also, it’s not like MLS has plans to drop a franchise in Olympia, Eugene, or…Bend(?), and that means my road game opportunities won’t look much different, either.

That said, is it too much to ask that all people involved behave decently in these things? Can’t we have just one sphere of activity in the cultural landscape that’s not gross and duplicitous, where people don’t fuck one another over as a daily practice? Yeah, I’m talking about the weird crap surrounding the Sacramento bid. If I’m being honest (of which, I do try), Sacramento quite probably tops my personal list of expansion candidates. And there’s a theory for that: as much as sports leagues expand in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons, when it comes to MLS, two competing considerations seem to top the list/logic (that’s after the primary considerations: stacks of cash and decent place to play games): geographic representation versus geographic proximity to promote rivalries.

Personally, so long as the top-line considerations are present (e.g., whatevs, Miami), I lean toward the proximity thing. I think that’s why (shenanigans aside) I like the Sacramento bid. With that in mind, here’s where I want the other five franchises to go:

Raleigh/Durham (near DC, near enough to Atlanta, inches toward the South)
Cincinnati (tightens the Lower Midwest grouping; plus, my hometown)
St. Louis (OK, somewhat sentimental, also inches toward SKC, near enough Lower Midwest)
San Antonio (also fills in the South, makes Texas more fun)
Phoenix (my one nod to the representation thing; the West needs more teams)

I’d also be fine if MLS just went nuts in the Midwest, adding Detroit and Indy, even Nashville.

Day-Trips to Utopia
I put much time or thought into the whole promotion/relegation thing. It’s a little like raising llamas – i.e., people do it, but it’s also sort of a boutique project in a world (or metaphor) built around cows, pigs, and chickens. This segment isn’t meant to join that debate (though, this old* post on RSL Soapbox does a tolerable job of mapping out the debate, and it does so with tolerable fairness (* it went up in 2013, which, in internet years, means it may as well be written on papyrus)), but there was a passage in a profile of Sebastian “Da Boy” Lletget that pulls the neat trick of the specific addressing the general:
“West Ham traditionally pride themselves on playing flowing, attractive soccer and were managed by Italian wizard Gianfranco Zola when Lletget arrived. But as they slipped out of the Premier League and into the Championship under Avram Grant, the desperation to climb back into the top flight led them to Sam Allardyce, a specialist in quick turnarounds known for bruisingly direct long-ball tactics and reliance on veterans.”
While I don’t mean to dismissive about promotion/relegation – like most soccer fans, I think it’s a cooler, cleaner system – but one gripe sticks to that model in way that will take some critical mass of Leicester City titles to shake: it’s a hyper-capitalist/oligarchical model that, by its own nature, winds up sending the wealth and resources to the same small set of teams. Sure, some nouveau riche arriviste swine will crash the party now and again (e.g., Chelsea), but that team’s entry provokes another team’s exit (e.g., Liverpool), so it’s like the most relevant pro/rel system operates at the top, and with the cast rotating slowly. Under that system, teams like West Ham will forever be one Russian oligarch away from glory – at least, that is, till they find one - and, too often, desperate and ugly to watch. Keep in mind, that's a significant part of all teams but the elite ones. And sometimes even them.

That’s a competitive beef, but economic arguments exist as well – that establishing a pro/rel system will, of itself, create more interest and investment in soccer - even as I’m not yet convinced that they hold up as well as the processes behind trickle-down economics. I mean, how many investors will take a flyer to not only set up a club, buy team, and create the supporting infrastructure (e.g. stadium, parking, etc.), in the hope that they will one day reap the mad MLS riches in the American soccer market?

Again, I’m less interested in those details (then why’d you dig in? um…), than I am of a more basic argument. It’s just…there are no perfect systems. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to improve things – I came across this pro/rel life-(/MLS-)hack, for instance (is it plausible? in a league with 20 teams and 12 of them making the playoffs, why the hell not?) – but, based on everything I know about life and the world, every Utopia has, say, its slaves if you look closely enough.

OK, done. Sorta loose topics today. Guess that’s what interested me. Back later.

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