THIS WEEK IN FOOTBALL
On a week when Michael Bradley one-upped Clint Dempsey in returning to MLS, Toronto shot out of a franchise-long monotony of losing, Allardyce’s West Ham embarrassed, and Manaus received another compliment.
– MLS appears set to announce its new television contract at the SuperDraft in Philadelphia on January 16th. While the deal is not done, and finer points are still being negotiated, only two bidders for two packages remain, and a deal is imminent.
With MLS’ dismal ratings, the new TV deal was of some consternation to people inside the league, with some even predicting that MLS would make a deal with Google, or another primarily non-television entity to show games.
In the end, MLS’ saving grace was the USMNT. MLS and US national team games are packaged together, and the national team’s average ratings for World Cup qualifiers were more than ten times the average ratings for MLS games.
In the end, it’s familiar faces, not new crossover platforms that multiple media sources are reporting will get MLS rights until 2022. NBC is out. With poor ratings and a new investment in the Premier League, NBC didn’t want to commit enough money to keep the MLS rights.
In its place steps FOX, which didn’t exactly shine as a rights-holder for MLS in the early days of the league. However, with FOX Sports 1 and a clear focus on soccer in advance of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, production value should be greatly increased. ESPN is back – that was never really in doubt, they’ve been involved with MLS since the league’s inception – but what’s new is online rights that ESPN is rumored to have picked up for MLS games, and FOX could also be involved with online streaming rights. The scope of those rights, and how they will be applied, is unclear.
In the end, MLS will almost double its rights fees to around $70 million over the next eight years. TV money is the lifeblood of a league, especially in the US. Now, MLS has to figure out how to get people watching national TV games.
– By inking Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe – surely the best double-signing in MLS history? – last week, Toronto FC and their ambitious management group MLSE vaulted themselves into what now can be considered a “big four” in MLS, joining the LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders. But one of the biggest reasons MLS appeals is that the biggest clubs, the clubs who spend the most, almost never win anything in the league. LA is the exception, but New York broke a franchise-long trophy draught last year, Seattle have never made MLS Cup despite winning the US Open Cup three times, and Toronto is usually thrilled with not finishing in last.
The final four last year – Real Salt Lake, Portland, Kansas City, and Houston, all are low-budget teams with few DP’s, and few big names. They were the best managed/owned teams in 2013, not the most expensive. At some point very soon, the big teams in MLS are going to hit a wall with the three designated player restriction. TFC will have to jettison or rework the contract of the promising young Matias Laba to fit Bradley into the team, and LA – constantly linked with big names, and on the verge of signing Frank Lampard last summer – would have to make room by dumping either Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, or Omar Gonzalez.
That’s a problem. Star players and teams drive TV ratings, and TV ratings – which are terrible for MLS in a TV rating “contract year” – drive leagues as a whole. By restricting teams who can obviously spend huge money to only three marquee players, you’re restricting the league itself.
Adding another DP spot makes sense. But MLS has to avoid getting carried away. When the new CBA is negotiated in the coming months, the salary cap and player contracts will almost surely rise, but they have to be kept at a size where the smartest team will always be a contender in MLS.
That’s the advantage the league has. Every year, you can honestly say that Columbus has as good a chance as New York to win the title. MLS has to strike the right balance between letting its big teams get league-changing players – Toronto is out of the market completely right now – and keeping that parity and competitiveness. Last season, not a single team won over 50% of their games. That’s good for a league. But so is Michael Bradley.
– It may be time for Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones to come back to MLS. Jones is on the fritz at Schalke, initiating a “here we go again” reaction from Jurgen Klinsmann, while Edu so far out of the picture at Stoke it’s possible the Potters have forgotten he’s on the team.
Jones is almost a sure-fire starter this summer in Brazil, while Edu has fallen out of the USMNT discussion as well. DC United, the team at the top of the allocation order, could use either one of these players in the center of midfield. But a DP contract for either player would render the allocation order null and void.
– Sam Allardyce: Big win this weekend, but the week past has not been forgotten: You can lose 6-0 to Manchester City. Everyone does. You cannot lose 5-0 to Nottingham Forest if it’s not 1979. That’s an embarrassment, and to do that in the third round of the FA Cup is even worse.
And by the way West Ham, how can Big Sam possibly be making so much money? He’s the 13th highest paid manager in the world, and as one radio caller said after the City shellacking, “He’s the 13th-best paid manager in the world… He’s not even the 13th-best manager in London.”
– Manchester United haven’t been bad when Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie have played together this year. There was that opening day 4-0 victory at Swansea, and an easy win over Arsenal at Old Trafford later in the season.
Without RvP especially, United would not have won the title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge. His goals and swagger added an air of loft to United’s challenge that couldn’t be overcome by bumbling title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. Certainly United is underperforming this year, but four of their rivals have gotten immeasurably stronger between this season and last. United’s inability in the transfer market was not David Moyes’ donig, but Ed Woodward’s, the man who has taken over from David Gill.
Indeed, United bid 90 million pounds for Gareth Bale, but the Welshman preferred to go to Real Madrid. Had United stayed healthy the entire season, they’re probably hovering around the top four. Moyes has had some bad luck. The problem is, he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence there on the touchline. He’s not a terrific game manager, and he’s always lacked the creativity and ability to evolve that was one of Ferguson’s greatest strengths.
Moyes’ overall lack of creativity is his biggest split from Ferguson, and one that the former boss might not have considered when he all but appointed him as his successor. It seems Ferguson spent a lot of time on the similarities between himself and Moyes, and not as much on the differences. The rest of the season is vitally important, as failure to qualify for the Champions League would be catastrophic with Wayne Rooney out of contract and a back-line and midfield in need of rebuilding. But a run of luck, and some fast learning by Moyes could make the run-in very interesting in Manchester.
– So Ottmar Hitzfeld seems happy about having the chance to visit the rainforest of Manaus before his retirement: “In Salvador it’s very hot, Manaus is much worse because you are playing in a humid, tropical climate, with 95 percent humidity, and a temperature between 30 and 40 Celsius,” Hitzfeld told SWR Radio. “I find it almost irresponsible that one has to play football in such a place, in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the Amazon region.”
This Week In Football is a weekly piece that runs every Monday on Soccerlens, focusing on news, opinion and features from US, British, and International football.