- Posted by Drew Epperley
- On January 4, 2012
- 1 Comments
- 2012 MLS Season, Features
I feel like I am back, at least for the most part. The last month or so I’ve taken a slight back seat around here to enjoy the holidays, be with family, friends and others but most importantly to take some time for myself. I’ve never been great about that last thing either.
But here we are, in a new year and I feel refreshed. Sure this isn’t my first post of 2012 but it feels like it. I thought I’d kick the new year off with a list of things I’m hoping to get out of this year from MLS and US soccer. Some things will be obvious, while others may seem a tad random.
1. A final word on Beckham. So he isn’t going to Paris, that much we know. But will he be in LA or somewhere else? LA seems to think a deal with David Beckham isn’t final yet but the good news for the Galaxy in all of this is that when reports came out saying Beckham was dead, it was due to his family. Golden Boots is a family man as we all know and he has said time and time again how much he loves having his kids and wife in LA. It’s a perfect set up for him really. Hopefully this item gets resolved within the next week or so.
2. MLS in the CCL. This competitions seems to get a little more interesting by the year for MLS. Last year it was Real Salt Lake reaching the finals of the regional championship and this year MLS has three more hopefuls in the form of LA, Seattle and Toronto. LA and Toronto square off in the quarters while Seattle has a tough task in the knockout stages. All three clubs have been active so far in the transfer, trade and draft markets this winter and will have to continue to be. With 34 regular season games, USOC or NCC games, adding these CCL games in for each side both at the start of the year and towards the middle and end (though TFC will have to qualify again for it) will be rough. You’re looking at anywhere between 40-50 games this season for these three clubs.
Hopefully we can see another team go all the way through like we did last year with RSL. It takes a lot out of anyone who does it but all three do have a decent shot if things fall their way.
3. Will the schedule congestion be any better in 2012? Speaking of which, this sucker should be out later this week. I’ve been told by a few people that we’re looking at Friday afternoon.
This is always a topic of debate. Who will get a better schedule and who will have to deal with more than they can handle. We know that LA, Seattle, RSL and Houston all have CCL dates in the second half the season to deal with. Let’s not forget the NCC and the USOC as well. It has been reported that the USOC will be moved up in the calendar a bit to help out things, so hopefully that will become true. Then you also have to factor in the World Cup qualifiers this summer as well as the Olympics. Busy year for MLS folks. Busy year.
4. Rivalries in the new schedule. This is another thing that will be debated long and hard for a few years to come. With the unbalanced schedule, some teams won’t see their rivals more than once in a calendar year. FC Dallas and Houston – one of the league’s more underrated rivalries – will only be seen once this year. Yes, just once. Same goes for Vancouver and Toronto and sadly enough even LA and New York.
MLS has put a big tag on rivalries in the past couple of season and has claimed how important they are to the game. Will having an additional Portland-Seattle game or another New York-DC game on the schedule be bad for the league? In a way, no. A lot of trade off really for some folks. We’ll see less of one but more of another. Over time, it will be something most will be able to live with and probably something we won’t worry as much about in years to come. The only real debate will be about why a Philadelphia gets two home games against their rival DC when Untied only gets one. That sort of thing.
5. Will the man in the middle get any better? A huge topic for MLS fans. Will the officiating ever get better in this league? Yes, it will. We all just have to practice the fine art of patience here and it will come. We know which refs are decent and which are down right awful. Once the USSF – the folks in charge of the zebras – put a little more time and money into the officiating program, things should get better. Again, this kind of stuff just takes time. I know I will try my best to be patient with the officials this year but more than likely that won’t last long.
6. Will the 20th club please happen already? As most of you know, I am a huge geek of MLS Expansion. I always have been but honestly I am ready to get to number 20 and just put the expansion bus in park for a while. This will be a big make or break year for MLS in terms of expansion. Getting to number 20 in New York has been a high priority for them for a number of years now and this has to be the year they finally do it. I know MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said a few times that expansion isn’t a must anymore for the league but I do believe getting to number 20 within the next two years is an absolute must. Even numbers make the league seem a little more legit in some folks eyes.
7. Will AEG and the Hunts finally go to one single club? We know that AEG is actively looking for a big time group to take over as the majority owner of the Houston Dynamo. More than likely that will happen at some point this year, which is nothing but a good thing. AEG was great in getting the Dynamo their own stadium in the heart of Houston but it is time for them to step aside and let some other people run the club for a change. The same as to happen with the Columbus Crew or FC Dallas. The Hunt Sports Group has been looking for some time in Columbus for some minority owners for the club but at some point they have to find a way to focus on one single club. I think even the league has to get them to get to that point sooner rather than later.
To me, I think they’d have an easier time finding a soccer-loving person in Dallas with cash to blow rather than in Columbus but that is just me speculating. Both of the Hunts teams are near the bottom in attendance and neither show great promise in getting better in that department anytime soon.
8. Will this year’s playoff race be better than the last? I do have to hand it to the league, the 2011 playoff race was an exciting one. Sure it had it’s issues. Having the forth overall club playing the 10th overall club in a wild card round is laughable but we’ve all learned to get past it.
But this year we’ll see the top five from each conference advance with the forth and fifth seeds battling it out in the wild card round. It sound dressed up to be better but will it actually be is another story. Until we see the Eastern Conference suit up and be on the same level as the teams in the Western Conference, we’ll continue to beat this thing to death about how poorly designed it is. We sill have a chance at seeing a forth overall team be that forth seed in one of those conferences.
9. What USMNT guys will return to MLS? Last year we had the likes of Freddy Adu, Benny Feilhaber and Charlie Davies come to MLS. Every year we get two or three decent named players back in the league and 2012 should be no different. I think we’ll finally see Eddie Johnson return, at a cheap price too. Maybe some other names like Dominic Cervi, Michael Parkhurst? I’m just throwing names out there folks so don’t read into them too much.
10. Can the US bring home a medal at the Olympics? I am a huge Olympics nut and you can bet that this summer I will be all over everything involved in the Olympics from table tennis to water polo. I just love it all. Same goes for the Olympic soccer and what could be a unique year for the US. My gut tells me this could very well be a year that the US actually medal in the Olympics. It all comes down to two things, who Caleb Porter selects to go and who the three over-aged players are with the team.
11. What will MLS Cup be like in 2012? We know this is true, MLS Cup will not be at a neutral site in 2012. I know fans are dreading the thought of a MLS Cup at Buck Shaw Stadium or even at FC Dallas Stadium. But more than likely this will work out for the best for both the league and the teams involved. In 2011, we had an extra week between the Conference finals and the MLS Cup, something that worked out better than I thought it would. Having that extra week does allow the league to plan things out a little bit and will help get people to the game if they are needing to travel. It will be very interesting to see who takes the regular season a little more seriously this year with the thought of hosting the MLS Cup as a reward.
12. Will more clubs take their academies seriously? We’ve seen the benefits of the academy system so far in MLS. FC Dallas, DC United and the New York Red Bulls all have a host of players playing at the top level. Most clubs have also signed one or two players but other than guys like Andy Najar, Juan Agudelo, Billy Hamid and Ruben Luna, we haven’t seen a ton of young guys burst on the scene like we had hoped the academies would. This is another time and patience kind of thing though. I think this is a year though that we’ll see an even bigger emphasis on the academies by the MLS teams. Teams know the benefits of a Home Grown Player on their roster and it is only a matter of time before we’re seeing teams that regularly start HGPs.