Friday, October 03, 2008

League Of The Week: USA & Canada / MLS

By popular demand (sort of) League Of The Week travels to the US and Canada to check out the runners and riders in Major League Soccer.

If you don’t know anything about MLS then the first thing to explain is that the League is divided into two conferences as opposed to a single league ladder. Each conference is made up of seven teams. The top three from each conference goes into a play-off tournament along with two wildcards. The post season determines the Final, which will be played on 23rd November.

This year the Final will be held at the Home Depot Centre, a soccer specific stadium in Los Angeles and home to MLS sides Chivas USA and David Beckham’s LA Galaxy. A cynic might tell you that the choice of venue was informed by the fact that this was the first full season with the England legend and metro-sexual icon playing in MLS. What finer way then to spend all that hard-earned cash on the great man than by having him lift the Cup in front of thousands of adoring home fans. If there is any truth in this scurrilous accusation then it could backfire pretty awfully since Galaxy look unlikely to make the play-offs.

Galaxy started the season under new head coach Ruud Gullit. Unfortunately for them and despite the good work of Beckham and Donovan, “La-la land”, as they are less than affectionately known, have had a rotten season. The considered opinion by people who know a lot more about it than I do is that the whopping salaries paid to Becks and Landycakes has left very little from the salary cap to spend on other, better, players. The result is an unbalanced squad, which is languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference just above expansion team San Jose. Gullit plus the man who hired him, General Manager Alexei Lalas were both sacked and former US National Team coach Bruce Arena was hired to take on both roles.

The outcome has been pretty negligible frankly. Galaxy are still joint bottom of the table with San Jose Earthquakes who themselves pulled off a masterstroke in the transfer market by recruiting Darren Huckerby from Norwich City. The archetypal second tier flat track bully has scored a hat full of goals since his arrival and helped the Quakes go on a nine game unbeaten run which only ended last week against Kansas City.

Top of the Western Conference are the franchise that used to be San Jose Clash before they moved, Houston Dynamo. The current MLS champions are four points ahead of Chivas USA who in turn are ahead of Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake (who are about to move into their brand new stadium) and FC Dallas.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s been a disappointing season for Toronto FC. The League’s only Canadian club and second year expansion team have a great stadium in BMO Field and vociferous support. Yet their team are bottom of the pile with 28 points. Just above them are Kansas City Wizards who are a franchise in transition. They moved away from the cavernous Arrowhead Stadium to the Community America Ballpark Stadium. Being a baseball ground it looks a bit strange but the reduced capacity makes for a decent atmosphere and at least they don’t have to endure those hideous gridlines unlike teams who play on American Football pitches. A new stadium is under construction in Kansas and Some People Are On The Pitch tips them to be the team of the future.

Not for now, though, as this season belongs to Columbus Crew who are top on fifty points. This has already made them the first team guaranteed a play-off birth but also puts them in very good shape for the Supporter’s Shield, which is the award for the team that gains the most points over the regular season out of the two conferences. The winner gets an automatic spot in the CONCACAF Champions League along with the MLS Cup winners.

Immediately behind Columbus are the perennial losing MLS Cup finalists New England Revolution. Head Coach Steve Nicol has guided his team to three successive finals, losing to Galaxy, and Houston twice. In fact the Revs have been to four finals and never won. Third in the table are Chicago Fire who are six points above Red Bull New York and eight ahead of DC United.

There are four rounds left in the regular season. In the UK, there are no live games available on TV to the best of my knowledge although that may change for the post-season however highlights of ESPN’s televised Thursday games are screened in the wee small hours on Five. You can also watch selected games on the Bet 365 website for free and the MLS’ official site offers an online streaming service for around a fiver for the rest of the season. Otherwise, stayed tuned to Some People Are On The Pitch for further updates.

That concludes this week’s League Of The Week. Which league would you like to see featured in the weeks to come? Why not leave a comment and let us know...

SPAOTP is grateful to Dave at Football Watcher for the additional live coverage information. Cheers Dave.

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