James Grossi writes from Toronto for The Shin Guardian
Bare quotes are always dangerous without context.
In what amounted to a vain attempt at researching the actual source of the attributed quotes, only to discover that the Gazzetta Dello Sport website has a pay-wall – though it must be admitted that comprehension would have been a problem anyways – the problem of what to make of snippets from a player or manager who has been asked for their view on MLS has reared its head again.
The comments – roughly that MLS lacked tactical discipline and needed to bring in new managers to augment the brain-trust – echoed something Branko Boskovic tried to elucidate on the Capital Soccer Show a few weeks back.
Boskovic was discussing his trouble finding the fitness required for a full ninety minutes in North America and commented that in Europe when a team takes the lead, each and every player on the pitch uses their lifetime of tactical training to stifle the opposition, letting the ball do the work, suffocating the match, allowing the team protecting the lead to conserve energy and see out the result without much fuss.
Here however, that simple act of shutting down the opponent does not – perhaps, cannot – happen with such efficiency; unless the club in question is Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy of 2011, who were quite fond on the 1-0 score-line, even excelling at it.
The extra running that was required in the more frantic play of MLS was the cause of Boskovic’s lack of fitness. In essence, he felt he was probably good enough for entirety of the cooler atmosphere of a more-controlled European match; here, more was required of him – something he vowed to get on top of now that he was healthy and getting time on the pitch.
Some simple numbers back up the assertion that teams lack the ability to tactically close down a match: At the time of writing, 224 MLS matches have been played so far this season, removing the 14 that ended as scoreless draws – thereby focusing on those contests where there was the possibility of a comeback – the team that opened the scoring has lost 36 matches and tied a further 31. Just shy of 1/3 of matches witnessed a reversal of the destination of the points after either team had taken the advantage.
587 goals have been scored in those matches, 118 from minutes 60-to-75 and 128 from minutes 75-to-90 – San Jose accounts for 29 of those goals, but that doesn’t matter at the moment – more than 40% of goals have come in the final third of the match: clearly a disproportionate amount.
Some of that disparity can be accounted for by the ticking clock, necessitating the taking of risks, the effects of exhaustion, leading to poor decision making or mistakes, plays its role too, as does the potential that defensive substitute’s are not as good as starters, or that the desperate throwing on of additional attackers leads to increased scoring chances.
Regardless of cause, leads are not safe in MLS; they change hands, players get sloppy.
Whether that trait is a bad thing is a matter of taste.
The same criticism is often applied – by those who favour the continental-style – to the English game, where the bloodlust of the crowd often overpowers any tactical discipline preached by the managers.
One could argue that Di Vaio was stating that this is a league that lacks the tactical monotony that has plagued other leagues; his homeland, Italy, in particular has often been branded with the label of being a defense-first system, a nomenclature not necessarily always true or derogatory, but an accusation all the same.
Really, it comes down to a matter of taste.
In is entirely possible that this trait is one of the many side-effects of the enforced parity in MLS – in which case it should be tolerated as a necessary evil – added bonus: it can be pretty dramatic and therefore fun to watch.
In virtually every league on the planet there is a hierarchy of clubs. Those that challenge for the title, those that hang around near the top, those who stay well clear of the relegation and those for flirt with it or drop.
When Barcelona scores that first goal, more likely than not, the match is done; in MLS, where no clubs stands too high above the rest, this domination does not happen.
If the side-effect of the reduction of the chance of financial doom is that the game is less predictable, very few would shed a tear.
It must be considered that the lack of tactical discipline is in no way a reflection on the level of coaching or even the ability of the players, but in the insane turnover rate at which rosters shuffle.
It comes as no surprise that the best teams – and the most tactically organized – are those where a core group has been allowed to play together for an extended period of time.
Di Vaio has only been here for a short while, and it is high dubitable that such a grand sweeping statement was meant to offend anyone or to be a condemnation of the league.
If the quotes are interpreted as trying to explain the style of play to the Italian fan – presumably the target of the article in an Italian paper – who would be used to the more controlled nature of their game, it is a fairly apt description.
But really, why care about what someone has to say about the league. If is enjoyable, then it is; if not, then it’s not.
This is a young league; it has its strengths and weaknesses, and the desperate search for validation – the fretful waiting for someone to say something negative – or the constant search for a comparable level as reference, is needless.
The business of match analysis through quotation is a tired trend.
At times, one wonders whether the overreliance on the words of the professional is the best way to observe the game – alas, that seems a more pertinent subject for another discussion altogether.
Of course their opinion is valid, but much as the best players seldom make the best managers, does the participant make the best observer?
Take words for what their worth and don’t recoil at slightest hint of criticism from an intelligent source. Understand the critic – get at what they are actually saying, respect their expertise and experience, and decide for oneself the merits of any statement.
For this league to truly grow, it cannot let itself be governed by the fear of what others think.
The salary cap, a necessary tool for the stability and growth of the league, once seen as a ridiculous peculiarity, is now an investigable safeguard by clubs, leagues and countries who find themselves in debilitating mountains of debt.
Perhaps in the future, the perceived lack of tactical discipline that increases the entertainment value to a still nascent fan base will be another facet of MLS that others seek to emulate.
During this, the summer touring season, there have been a lot of platitudes about the growth, quality, facilities, etcetera, of the league, and there have been a lot of defeats, some of them heavy (actually, not that many, but the point stands). It is essential that both imposters – praise and discouragement – be met the same.
MLS is doing fine; enjoy the rest of the season.
What do you think?
Would you rather MLS was more tactically disciplined? Or do you enjoy the “it-ain’t-over-‘til-it’s-over” action? Did anyone enjoy watching all those 1-0 LA score-lines or does it get tedious? Has the comeback-kids, never-say-die vibe going on at San Jose made the season more vibrant?