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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MLS Problems

No, this is not another column posted on the Internet about the housing crisis. The MLS I'm referring to stands for Major League Soccer.

There are a lot of American soccer fans, but very few of them like American soccer. I'm an American. I'm a soccer fan. I like to watch the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup. But I am not a fan of MLS.

Major League Soccer is disliked by both groups they are trying to reach. The rest of the world's leagues don't respect MLS because they play by a different set of rules. Plus, the players aren't as good. The American sports fan doesn't like MLS because he can see a higher quality game overseas on his satellite dish. If he wants to watch soccer, he'll watch the good soccer in Europe or South America.

While MLS has found a niche with a certain hardcore type of fan in America, it is also caught in the middle of two worlds. They have tried to create a style of soccer that is similar to the rest of the world, but is also American enough to be liked here.

That approach is not working. The MLS season takes place from spring to summer. The best of the world's leagues play their seasons from fall to spring. The MLS has a draft and free agency which accounts for most of the distribution of players. A draft is an American-made event and is unknown to the most respected soccer leagues overseas.

On top of this, the MLS has accidentally become a training ground for the rest of the world. As they continue to grow and develop young players, they have run into the European leagues, which are plucking away the best players. The head coach of the US national team has encouraged his players participating in MLS to join a European league to play with the best in the world. That can't make the MLS establishment very happy.

I have tried to like MLS. Last year, when David Beckham joined the league, I watched every game that was nationally televised all the way to the MLS Cup. I tried to get excited, but it was forced. I just can't do it. I can't get into MLS. And as long as they try to be all things to all fans worldwide, they will not be able to find a permanent home in America, or with me.

No no soccer in USA

I have a different take on why Major League Soccer will never be popular in the United States and it has nothing to do with coaching, star power, or the fact that you cannot use your hands.

Soccer, as wonderful of a sport as it is, just is not designed for American television audiences. Soccer does not support the :30 second commercial format which has long dominated American television advertising. Soccer supports the sponsorship idea where companies sponsor an entire half of play or chunks of the half or a billboard some place within the soccer stadium.

The sponsor way of advertising is perfect for Europe where their television stations display long blocks of commercials and then long blocks of programming. European television audiences are used to watching commercials that last longer than :30 seconds or are shorter than :30 seconds.

In the United States, all of our commercial television programming is based around the :30 second commercial. This is particularly true for most of our sporting events. Both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association have incorporated the "commercial time-out" into the usual play of almost all of their games. This commercial time-out allows companies to place advertising between key moments of play when they suspect that a large audience is watching.

All of the money that the major television networks make comes from advertising. Therefore, it is in their best interest to encourage commercial time-outs during the play of any sporting event. Without real television coverage, coverage on one of the major networks, during a viable time-slot, most sporting events will fly under the radar.

The major networks will fight over broadcasting Major League Soccer, the same way they continually fight over broadcasting the National Football League, once Major League Soccer shows them that advertisers can make money by placing commercials between key moments during the game.
The chances of that becoming a reality are quite slim. One of the great things about soccer is that there are very few time-outs. The beauty of the game is predicated upon strategy. This makes soccer quite different from the two most popular American sports, basketball and football, where every single play can determine who wins or loses.

In soccer, movement is the key, from space to space, from goal to goal, from side to side. Soccer is truly a ballet and for anyone to mess that up by making the game friendlier for advertisers will diminish what makes soccer different and special.

That means, of course, that Major League Soccer will eventually disappear, like all of the soccer leagues before it. Sorry, soccer fans, that's just the way it is here in the States.

Top Ten Breakout Runningbacks of the future

Jonathan Stewart-OREGON

Drafted 23rd overall by the Panthers, Stewart has 383 yards rushing on 103 carries. With Deangelo Williams finally breaking out for the Panthers it looks as if Jonathan will have to wait his turn. He has carried the ball effectively when given the ball and will no doubt be a starter in the league. Stewart is a power back and there is always a need for these backs in the league. Will he be a star? It all depends on his work ethic, but as of right now he is going to be a solid back that you can give the ball to 25 times a game. With Jake Delhomme passing and Deangelo getting the rushes, Stewart will have to wait though.

Matt Forte-TULANE

Forte, drafted 13th in the second round is putting up big numbers in his rookie year rushing for 713 yards already. If you are a fantasy guru you know how great this guy is. Forte is on pace to break 1000 yards rushing and only a handful of rookies have accomplished this feat. Look for this guy to have a long career running behind the Bears offensive line. If he stays healthy he is a legitimate threat to gain over 1200 yards rushing year in and year out. He is very reliable and was a serious diamond in the rough.

Felix Jones-ARKANSAS

Do we dare say this guy is better than arkansas teammate Darren Mcfadden? We will have to wait and see to answer that question but Felix has made his argument. Felix rushed for 266 yards on only 30 carries for the Cowboys after being drafted 22 overall, an injury ended his season but look for this guy to be a huge star in this league if he comes back as strong as he started. He is an explosive back that reads his blockers well and gets yards in chunks.

Darren Mcfadden-ARKANSAS
Mcfadden was chosen number 4 overall by the Oakland Raiders. At this point it is really not fair to be able to judge Mcfadden at all, with the whole Raider organization one big mess Mcfadden has fared well considering the circumstances. Mcfadden has rushed for 341 yards on 67 carries which is an average of 5.0 yards per carry so no argument here. Mcfadden was expected to be the best back obviously in this class drafted at number four but with the emegence of the rest of the class he will have an enormous amount of pressure the rest of his career to live up to the hype.


Steve Slaton, drafted 26th overall in the 3rd round has been a steal so far, he has had a breakout year as a rookie and has shown he is a threat to not only rush the ball (545 yards) but also catch the ball (198 yards). The question is whether he can take the beating of the NFL week after week and have the durability to remain a threat throughout his career. At this point it looks like he may just be a back that can carry the ball 10-15 times a game and be a good third down back to dump the ball to.

Tim HIghtower-RICHMOND

Hightower of the Cardinals recently received the starting job from Edgerrin James. Drafted 14th in the 5th round, Hightower, alot like Slaton has shown the ability to run the ball effectively and catch it out of the backfield. Hightower is a strong back and durability doesn't seem to be a problem with him. In his only start of the season he rushed for 109 yards on 22 carries. Hightower has 242 yards rushing and 145 yards receiving to go along with 7 touchdowns. Everytime he has been given the ball inside the 5 yard line he has not been denied and has scored everytime. Hightower looks to be another back to come from a small college and turn heads. Look for him to have a successful career possibly the long term back for the Cardinals, you could see him in the backfield with Matt Leinart in the future.


Kevin Smith was taken with the first pick of the 3rd round by the Detroit Lions and is sort of in the same boat as Mcfadden. Smith has done an amazing job running the ball with what he has to work with. The lions don't have a great offensive line and Smith should be a great running back for many years if a line is created in front of him. He has rushed for 401 yards and 5 touchdowns as the primary running back for Detroit.

Jamaal Charles-TEXAS
Charles was drafted 10th in the 3rd round to the Kansas City Chiefs. He has rushed for 274 yards and an average of 5.5 yards per carry. He also has almost 100 yards receiving. It's not for sure if Charles will ever be an every down back in the NFL but has great breakaway speed and is excellent at cutting back against the grain. He will definately be a running back you will want to keep an eye on in the future because anytime he touches the ball on offense he is a threat to break for some big plays.


Well, first of all what can you say about this guy? GREATNESS. Chris Johnson was drafted 24th overall by the Tennessee Titans. He has rushed for an amazing 723 yards and caught 26 balls for 179 yards. How about another word to explain him. EXPLOSIVE. Chris Johnson is going to be around in this league for a long time. He is one of the fastest running backs in the league if not the fastest. He will no doubt break 1000 yards as a rookie barring injury and he is a game breaker running back. If you haven't had a chance to watch this guy play, make some time.


Mike Hart- Got injured too early in the year to really have an idea of what he will bring, so mark him down as a rookie again next year.

BenJarvuc Green-Ellis- With Lawrence Maroney hurt he has gotten the carries for the Patriots and has done a fine job, don't look for him to be a star in this league but could possibly be a reliable 3rd down back for his career.

Ray Rice- Rice has 356 yards rushing and could possibly emerge as a star if given a chance to be a starter week after week, he is currently in the shadow of Willis Mcgahee but has the potential to be a bruising back for years to come.