Monday, June 29, 2009

Limited Rosters, Limited Interest

During this past off-season, the powers that be in MLS decided to rethink the reserve system, and roster sizes. Coaches and GM's around the league were quite pleased with this, because there were some inherent flaws with the reserve system. They also voted to reduce rosters sizes to 18 senior players, plus 4 developmental players. This decision helped GM's better manage the talent on their roster, and It also allowed them to disperse cash better (within the salary cap) amongst the players on their roster. Theoretically, a 2.5 million dollar cap would bring you better quality players in a 24 man roster, than it would for a 28 man roster, simply by how much money could be distributed per player.

What MLS failed to really understand, was how much fixture congestion there is for some teams in MLS, especially the better teams. Before the MLS season even started, Houston had to play two matches in the knockout stages of the CCL. This past week 4 MLS sides began playing SuperLiga (your Revs being one of them). This ensured a minimum of 3 games for the participating clubs. MLS sides also participate in the US Open Cup this week. Then for four other MLS sides, some CCL qualifying matches, and group stages matches are looming on the horizon.

As a Revolution fan, we have seen what these competitions can cost a team. Last season, the teams deep runs in SuperLiga and USOC may have cost them a chance at the Supporters Shield, MLS Cup and the CCL, as the team was decimated with injuries, and fatigue come August and September. While SuperLiga was a novel idea at first, and the US Open Cup has nostalgia, neither put an MLS side in a good situation with their very limited rosters. Just this week, the Revs came into a game with 14 players on their roster for a SuperLiga match. Star players like Shalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston have been sidelined with injuries during these competitions. Even some of our good young players, like Kevin Alston, have been limited to watching from the sidelines.

Admitedly, some of the roster problems cannot be attributed to fixture congestion this season. Gabriel Badilla and Mauricio Castro have both failed to see the field this season, and Twellman and Albright have been in and out of the lineup. But all teams are going to have their injuries throughout the year. It is inevitable in sports that players will miss games. I just find it a bit absurd to ask teams who are limited to just 24 players, to compete in at the very least 34 matches for some teams (not including MLS Cup), and possibly many more for teams in the CCL or who make deep runs in other competitions.

With SuperLiga the problems run even deeper. The previous two seasons, the competition was held in July. This year SUM, in its infinite wisdom, decided to put the competition in the middle of June. At first glance I guess this could make some sense. It wouldn't be in direct competition with the CCL, or USOC. However, anyone that follows soccer in this country would have known that the most important tournament in three years was going on at this very time...and MLS players were playing in it. The fact that SUM, FMF and MLS decided to hold this tournament during the FIFA Confederations Cup, and actually have matches which were scheduled for the same day, just proves how little they actually get it. People may point out that the Brazilian league was playing at the same time, but I don't really care about that. I can almost forgive league games being played at this time, because this is our playing season. While I believe the schedules could be worked around FIFA dates, that is another discussion entirely. For SUM to schedule SuperLiga during this time, is an absolute joke.

I did not attend yesterdays Revs/Atlas clash. Why? Because I was busy living through the post mortem of a crushing loss to Brazil. The thought of driving down to Foxboro to watch this game never even crossed my mind. I was almost insulted that SUM had scheduled at SuperLiga match on the same day that our country was playing in its first ever FIFA tournament final.

With the ignorance of SUM, and the limited roster sizes, it is no wonder interest in this tournament has waned. Attendance for these matches has been laughable at best, and if not for the efforts of people in supporters sections and hardcore fans, I doubt anyone would even notice people in the crowds.

Let us call SuperLiga for what it really is, a cash grab. SUM wanted to capitolize on the Beckham mania, and try to endear itself to the Mexican community within the US. The first season, the tournament was a rousing success. CONCACAF had still yet to really get its act together by creating a quality intraconfederation tournament. I will even give SUM credit for almost forcing CONCACAF's hand to create the CCL last year. Attendances were high, and the atmosphere was electric. Even the quality of soccer was very high. Then last year we saw some of the inherent flaws in the tournament. Mexican sides playing in their preseasons, were more interested in being thugs, than actually playing soccer. Attendances dropped. All games were played within the US. Players got hurt, and missed portions of their league season. The problems were enhanced ten old this season when SUM decided to schedule the tournament during the Confederations Cup.

When you couple the problems of SuperLiga's exsistence and scheduling, with the fixture congestion it causes (along with the Open Cup), then factor in the limited rosters withwhich MLS sides are limited to, and the only road leads to an impending disaster.

The Revs now face an uphill climb in the league, with more games to play than anyone else in the second half of the league, injured star players, and potentially tired legs again coming this season. With that being said, there are something the team can do to get by. It was announced yesterday that the team brought in a player to replace Twellman up top. They still have more work to do, however. It may mean making some tough decisions, and cutting some players before July 1st (which is the date when players contracts become guarranteed for the year). Their roster is still littered with injuries, and if players are not replaced, the coming knockout phase games in the USOC and SuperLiga, plus league matches, could leave this team in a bigger rut than they are presently. I'm not trying to make excuses for this team, as some will know my dismay over how the Revs handle their roster each season, but these extra competitions could end up costing this team, as it did last season.

MLS needs to rethink how it allows its teams to structure its rosters. With the collective bargaining talks looming, one hopes that both sides can come to an agreement which helps the teams become profitable, but also increases cap spending and roster sizes, to ensure quality, and allow MLS sides to compete in a worthy competition like the CCL.

Glory Glory Revolution!

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