A View from Afar / Commentary

Some MLS clubs are everywhere, some are not

Photo: Earl Gardner

While walking through City Creek Mall in Salt Lake City last Friday, I saw a guy wearing an FC Dallas polo shirt. He appeared to be in his 20s, was built like a winger or fullback (short, lithe), and was speaking with two friends.

I immediately decided, “Those guys play for FC Dallas. I bet they’re in town tonight.” Never before had I seen such a fashion statement on behalf of FCD: It wasn’t a jersey, more like gear that club personnel would wear. I didn’t see FCD fans making that fashion statement; FC Dallas support isn’t exactly the stuff of legend.

Sure enough, Dallas was in town to play Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

The next morning, I walked into the The Park Cafe across from Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park. The first people I saw were a guy and his two kids wearing RSL jerseys. A girl walked in sporting an RSL cap. The walls inside the cafe bore framed jerseys for RSL icons Kyle Beckermann and Nick Rimando. (They also featured Italian language posters for the original Star Wars trilogy. Brilliant!)

When our waiter walked up wearing a Justen Glad RSL jersey, I asked him how easy it was to just show up to Rio Tinto stadium on gameday and get tickets. I had a wedding to attend Saturday night, but if it ended early, maybe I could make the second half of the RSL-Dallas game. (A guy can dream, right?) Pretty tough, the waiter said, and as if to rub it in, he mentioned that I had just missed someone trying to sell some tickets for a good price.

On Sunday, I walked into a bagel shop wearing my old Philadelphia Union training jersey. The cashier immediately struck up a conversation with me about MLS.

This is MLS fandom in one city.

In some cities, like Utah’s capitol, the local MLS club has become ubiquitous.

In other cities, clubs still fight for relevance, whether they’re in first place (like Dallas) or not.

Ken Tribbett’s eventful night

Philadelphia Union center back Ken Tribbett scored a ridiculous goal Saturday against Toronto. Too bad the center back was on the hook for three going the other way.

It’s easy to make him the sole scapegoat for the game but quite another to call for his permanent benching, which is what some Union fans have predictably done.

Unfortunately, this is what happens with young players in their first year of top tier professional soccer: You get peaks, and you get valleys. When that player is a center back, that means he surrenders a goal (or three), especially if you’re dealing with team-wide defensive breakdowns on at least two of those three plays, as PSP’s ratings/analysis piece covered.

There’s something being overlooked here, however.

If there was a game to rotate Josh Yaro in at center back, this was it. Toronto features the league’s best attacker, who happens to be just 5’4 — i.e. not an aerial threat — but quick as lightning and deadly in space. Yaro’s weakness is his lack of height (and therefore aerial ability), but his strength is that he is as fast as any center back in MLS.

Union head coach Jim Curtin’s choice to yank Tribbett at halftime says as much about Tribbett as it does about the team’s lineup choices. Basically, it was an admission that the coaching staff got their lineup wrong from the outset.

This isn’t to say that it’s an easy call to start Yaro in that match. If you rotate a back line too much, you can damage chemistry. If Yaro started and had a bad game, some Union fans would pillory Curtin for messing with a good thing. It was a tough call. Hindsight says Curtin made the wrong one, but hindsight is easy.

Tribbett and Yaro are both young, talented players, but Curtin doesn’t believe in squad rotation. Perhaps the Toronto game will change his mind. To permanently bench Tribbett for a bad half is to overlook his aerial excellence, both defensively and on offensive set pieces, and his generally solid play this season.

Both deserve playing time. Both will, again, have peaks and valleys. If the Union can rotate them to tilt match-ups in their favor without sacrificing chemistry, perhaps they’ll get the best out of both players.

Toronto’s forthcoming success is good for MLS

Toronto looked like a very good team Saturday. They showed great ball movement, were solid in defense, and featured the league’s best player, along with a few other stars. Their young guys have stepped up, Jozy Altidore appears to be entering beast mode, and Michael Bradley and Will Johnson may be the best deep center midfield tandem in the league. Their fullbacks are outstanding, and Drew Moor has steadied the back line.

With six of their final nine games at home and the most points per game in the conference, Toronto looks like the favorite to take the Eastern Conference title and could win the Supporters’ Shield.

Equally important, this team has enough talent that, if they can keep the squad together and healthy next season, they could go far in the CONCACAF Champions League.

They’re exactly the sort of team MLS needs: Legitimate star power, solid youth foundation, real international experience, and very high quality.

39 Comments

  1. Interesting thing about team jerseys…. I wonder how many more people would sport Union kits if they didn’t have BIMBO pasted across the front. That’s been a sticking point for me, though I’m generally not a jersey guy.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      I’ve been pretty particular with sticking with my original Union jersey with no BIMBO on it throughout the years. Finally broke down and used my Union Dollars to buy a new one and had it on when I was picking up some food for the game. Some old lady was giving me major stink eye for no apparent reason and it wasn’t until I left the store that I realized that she was probably offended by the BIMBO on the front of my shirt…or she was a Red Bull fan.

    • My wife wanted to go to Acme wearing my Union shirt because you save 5% if you’re wearing Union gear on a game day. Until she remembered it said “BIMBO” in large red letters. I gave her a Union hat to wear instead.
      .
      I myself only wear it if I’m going to a match or somewhere that will have other Union fans there. It sux, but to most non-soccer fans, BIMBO isn’t a brand, it’s an insult. I would probably wear mine all the time if it wasn’t for that.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Granted, I was on my way to the Open Cup game, but I loved the opportunity to walk through Harvard Square a few weeks ago wearing a shirt that said BIMBO.

    • Scott of Nazareth says:

      +1 No interest in Union jersey until they lose BIMBO. I would never wear it and I certainly wouldn’t want my daughters to either. I get that the company has a history with the sport in Mexico, but it will not overcome the negative connotation it has as a slang word in the near future.

      I do wonder how much their giving up in sales because of it…

    • You guys really need to get over this.

      • +1

        I can’t believe this is still a thing. Nobody under the age of 50 has even used the word bimbo as an insult in their lifetimes.

      • Chris and buzzkill-ed – Get over yourselves. Those above just expressed their opinions. If you have different opinions, you’re free to express them: “I like wearing Union gear and I don’t mind the Bimbo logo and no one has ever looked at me funny.” But don’t criticize others for reasonable and honest opinions and preferences. (I happen to agree that it’s not a big deal, but would nevertheless prefer that the kit not feature the word “Bimbo” if the team can find another sponsor.)

      • Ben, get over yourself getting over them. They’re expressing an opinion that the previous opinions werent good opinions. Just like I’m expressing an opinion that your opinion on their opinion expression wasn’t a good one. But I may have made your point while also refuting it! Aha!

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    Enjoyed the read.
    .
    Couldn’t disagree more about Tribett. He’s fair to average regardless of experience. Yaro has prototype skill set I’m not remote concerned about height or heading ability…..and is clearly the first choice CB.
    .
    I don’t want Tribett permanently benched… I want him to be the back up CB because that is what he is.
    .
    I want a ridiculously high back line pinching the field with CB capable of closing down play and able to play verticals passes.
    .
    I see Tribett too often not doing that….he’s MLS 1.

    • While I agree that Yaro should start I disagree that Tribbett is MLS 1. Ethan White is MLS 1. Tribbett can play in this league and should be a very good backup for us. There is no reason to think he can’t improve either. He is a rookie and still relatively new to the position. I don’t think he’ll ever be an all star or anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns into a very solid starter.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      As long as we are dreaming, convert Yaro to an outside back, a left one.
      .
      The personality he tends to show on the field is proactive. CBs are proactive in reading likely developments in play and adjusting positioning to anticipate them. But physically they are not creators.
      .
      Somehow I get the feeling from Yaro that not only does he have the skill set to be a creator, he has the mentality to be one as well.
      .
      That Ken Tribbett is slated to be a back-up ideally, I get. But we are one and a quarter seasons away from even thinking about center backs reaching the first team starting line-up, let alone that actually happening.

      • I really go back and forth is we should move Yaro to CDM (or even Tribbett honestly, but that’s a different topic). Part of me thinks he’d be amazing, but the other part of me wants that speed and passing range in the back. Although if the goal is the shift to a 3-6-1 in attack then our 6 should really be a 6/CB hybrid.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Kevin Kinkead’s interview with Curtin on Philly Voice where they break down all three Toronto goals is worth a read.

      http://www.phillyvoice.com/talking-tactics-curtin-goes-record-union-film-breakdown/

  3. Love the title topic — it’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while, why is MLS entrenched in some cities, but not others. I’ve been to a bunch of cities as a tourist around Union games. Some (Columbus, Orlando, Montreal) you saw MLS ads and shirts everywhere. Some (Houston, Chicago) — nothing. I wonder how much effect an NFL club has on MLS’s visibility. If an NFL club feels that MLS publicity takes away from theirs, I could see them kind of ‘suggesting’ to talk radio and the big sports bars not to mention MLS. Seattle is the obvious outlier, of course. But it’s the only common thread I’ve seen.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Now we are getting somewhere… not necessarily a conspiracy theory but sound reasoning.
      .
      The game for whatever ridiculous reason is in the hand of US sports model suits trying to carve out a niche doing the same shit the other professional sports teams do.
      .
      It is beyond ludicrous to borderline insulting this has happened and been allowed to happen.
      .
      The very framework of a table model and the very uniqueness of soccer allows for its own model….. But noooo.
      .
      The Fanboys think this attitude is euro snobbish and it’s just a totally inaccurate assessment.
      .
      None of this is new from the view of this elephant.

      • Zizouisgod says:

        Who are the Fanboys in your scenario?

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Those who think argue and defend the model in its current format.
        .
        Don garber speaks with formed tongue and most aren’t paying attention.

      • Zizouisgod says:

        OK, gotcha. I’ve never met someone who thinks that the current MLS/American soccer set up is perfect. Most want single table while thoughts on pro/rel and playoffs are mixed.

        I’ve always thought that a balanced schedule with a single table made sense. Celebrate the winner of the regular season as a major accomplishent and keep the end of season playoffs as a cup competition. Pro/rel is way off in the distance as we’re just not ready for that.

      • My problem intrinsically with MLS has just arrived more recently as I’ve come to see more clearly what is really happening… which I believe has been the intention all along… saying one thing but secretly planning another.
        .
        I believe it was early summer 2012 when Mr. Garber spoke about the possibility of pro/rel for the league but that he thought the league needed a bit more stability which at the time I was okay with…
        .
        …the narrative now, though– has shifted to there not being a realistic chance pro/rel EVER comes to the MLS as the GAME itself is not stable enough to support it… and now the shift in franchise fee to $200 million verifies the claim that MLS is sealing itself off from an entire nation and enclave after enclave of organic growth…
        .
        The suits of MLS are snakes. Period. I cannot nor will I ever cow-tow and say “oh hey thank goodness we have first tier soccer”… the advent of media would have brought that about anyway- maybe it would have taken a bit longer but soccer was bound to boom… especially now that the game is global.
        .
        This is about protection of assets and ROI only and making a very few power brokers… which is totally counterintuitive because in opening the pyramid the windfall of money would eventually eclipse NFL.

      • Zizouisgod says:

        I hear you and you make some very valid points, but you’re starting to sound like someone who wears a tinfoil hat…or maybe that’s just you hyperbolizing.

      • Jim Presti says:

        Preach El P. Once MLS ownership groups realized they can be the gatekeepers of D1 soccer in the US, they made strategic moves to shut down any and all pro/rel movement. I guarantee there are still some owners and coaches that want to see the pyramid opened, but until there is a power change in the USSF, MLS & SUM will continue to dominate and stifle the game in the US.

      • forked tongue or its opposite? I assume forked.

      • indeed — nubby thumbs.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Even in the worst NFL market(Jacksonville), they would not be worried about soccer getting too much publicity in their market.

      The gambling aspect (and I include playing fantasy football here) is just so enticing for even non-core football fans to want to follow the NFL avidly. That pull is so huge as even little kids who follow the NFL gamble.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I argue all the time the single most important thing to happen to the modern NFL was Fantasy.
        .
        Which is fine…. just stop trying to copy it or even remotely draw that crowd…. there are 45,000,000 footy first families in this country…most shaking their head at a league destined and intended to be average.
        .

      • Jim Presti says:

        Shaking their head? More like completely ignoring…

      • Except they’re not ignoring it everywhere. That’s kind of Dan’s original point. Why is the MLS model acceptable to the suburban families in Sandy, Snoqualmie and Lake Buena Vista, but not Katy, Downers Grove or Havertown?

      • Jim Presti says:

        The soccer first families in the US are ignoring MLS. They spend more time following Cen and S. American clubs. This is the incredibly large Latino and Hispanic populations, not the major city suburb causal amateur soccer population.

    • I wonder if lack of an MLB team also makes a difference. The teams mentioned by Dan and czack4 (Salt Lake, Columbus, Orlando, and Montreal) don’t have an NFL or MLB team, only NBA/NHL. The MLS season complements the indoor leagues’ season well. Portland would also fit this profile. Other “major league” US markets with only NBA/NHL teams currently include Sacramento, San Antonio, OKC, and Raleigh. Any others I’m missing?
      Seattle and even Cincinnati seem to be exceptions- although both of those have NFL and MLB but no NBA/NHL(RIP Supersonics).

      • Lack of competition from other pro sports is a big part of it. I’ve written about it in the past, but many of the best soccer markets don’t have many other pro sports.

      • Adding (piling?) on to that, they’re second/third tier cities. Not saying they aren’t lovely places to raise a family, but it’s not a far leap to think a SL (Utah has it’s own inferiority complex /chip on their shoulder) would think of a MLS team as a point of civic pride. They’ve had the Jazz and what else? Skiing? CMB have a couple of pro teams with the Blue Jackets and OSU football, but as a college town, gotta be a cheap night out for an MLS game, right? So besides no major NFL presence, there just isn’t as much going on media wise. And who is hungrier for content?

  4. Agree that Toronto is very good – in addition to their 3 DPs, they have solid players across the pitch and some very quick guys in midfield. My main takeaway from last weekend was that they are currently better than we are. The recap correctly highlights mistakes but my seat mate made the same comment as Adam – Giovinco’s 1st touch on the first goal was ridiculous. Once they were ahead (both times) they were content to sit back and let us have the ball, organized enough to see the game out. Their big players mattered but it was a complete effort. As with amplifiers, we need to “go to 11”.

  5. Early in the season Tribbett had really fine passing range, as though he realized that he needed to develop/showcase that if he wasn’t going to lose his job to Yaro. Of late that has disappeared.

    That, along with his recent defensive breakdowns, are enough to bench him and promote Yaro. Doesn’t have to be permanent, but for the time being. I agree with el Pachyderm that he is a perfectly serviceable backup CB.

  6. At this point in time, our problem is not aerial. Tribett, wile being a threat in the air, is not a good passer and gives the ball away too much. He also is responsible for a lot of the goals allowed, leaving Blake in a tough position to make a save. Tribett also has no speed to catch up to the opposing players, and is also too afraid to throw in a tackle. Yaro has speed, is (for the most part) vocal, and is physical.

    .

    On converting Yaro to be a left back, i dont think he has the ability for that. While he is fast, he does not have the skill to avoid opposing players, or the stamina to make a recovery run. I think in the next transfer window, we need to make a move to bring a true left back into the squad as a backup for Fabinho. Gaddis is suitable, but we need more depth in the back line. For instance, the open cup. We had most of our starters playing and had no depth, and as a result lost that game and the league match after that. I don’t think Tribett should get another start, and let Yaro get another chance.

  7. I know I’m a day late on this, but I’m currently on vacation in Disney World. Anyway, I know it’s DW, but I have seen a fair amount of MLS teams represented down here. I can remember seeing Orlando, Montreal, LA just yesterday. Now that is nothing compared to the EPL & Barca / Real Madrid jersey’s I’ve seen, for sure. I agree with the thought that the other so called “major” sports in that city play a huge role in MLS popularity.
    .
    Anyway just thought I’d share since I’ve been unable to watch and/or attend games for the past week. I did have a SOB season ticket holder behind me on the flight down… so that was cool.

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