SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Bratislav Ristic  of the Chicago Fire dribbles the ball against Geovanni  of the San Jose Earthquakes during an MLS game at Buck Shaw Stadium on September 29, 2010 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

by Robert Jonas - Center Line Soccer

Normally a mid week game at tiny Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara attracts a small crowd of diehard fans to watch their San Jose Earthquakes in action.  However, this past Wednesday night saw a nearly full house turn out to watch the Black-and-Blue take on a struggling Chicago Fire side that was winless over their last seven games.  Instead of a comfortable win over Chicago, as many commentators — myself included — predicted prior to kickoff, the Earthquakes were taken apart by the Fire 3-0.  Matching their worst loss of the season, the Quakes did little on the field to impress the many new faces that sprinkled the Buck Shaw crowd.  Nowhere to be seen was the club that had played with poise and confidence during a 5-1-1 streak this month and last.

Hype, big stinking piles of the vile stuff, were heaped upon the Earthquakes over that time, as they became everyone’s sleeper club to qualify for the playoffs and make a strong run at the MLS Cup.  I certainly contributed to that mess these past couple weeks, based not just on match results, but from watching the team at training numerous times.  The inclusion of Jamaican midfielder Khari Stephenson and designated player Geovanni transformed the look of the Quakes offense to one that didn’t rely solely on the efforts of wingers trying to break down defenses.  For all intents and purposes it appeared that San Jose had finally made the moves to distinguish themselves from the middle of the MLS pack.  And then, we were witness to the debacle against the visiting Chicago Fire — a team that had every right to roll over and die.

How could this possibly happen? Two teams that were obviously following opposite paths as the season drew near to a close instead saw their respective momentums thrust into reverse. The Fire starting XI was filled with unfamiliar faces Wednesday night, especially in the defensive half, while the Earthquakes sent out the same squad that had dismantled Toronto over the weekend. Players with something to prove versus tired legs? Or was the 3-0 result for Chicago just another example of the ugly side of MLS parity.

Let me be clear in saying that I am a strong proponent of the current league salary cap and the execution of rules that ensure competitive balance for MLS.  When I claim that parity ain’t pretty, I could easily substitute the word "unpredictability" instead.  Knowing that MLS does not suffer from a class system of rich and poor clubs like professional basketball or baseball often makes it exciting to see how the regular season will shake out.  Where I don’t enjoy the current MLS situation comes when attempting to make educated predictions on the way games will play out.  Selfish to say, for sure, but frustrating to someone with a strong understanding on how the game is played.

And yet, that is why they play the games.  Unpredictability is just another wildcard that allows the weaker of two opponents a reasonable chance to come out on top.  In MLS it ensures that no match result is certain and any club can aspire to success.

However, I believe that absolute parity will ultimately harm the league’s long term ability to engage ardent supporters of teams across the globe to follow MLS with the same level of intensity.  Without teams that distinguish themselves from the crowd season after season, casual observers of our domestic game don’t have those lynchpin clubs to recognize among the league table.  A basis for talking points about MLS and how the best clubs here stack up with the best clubs overseas cannot occur.  The more market savvy club owners in MLS have realized this and instituted the “Designated Player” rule to shake up the still waters of league parity. Now, we have a chance for teams that take advantage of the DP rule to make waves both on and off the field.

Until this season, signing a DP was not necessarily a predictor for league success — rather, it acted more as a barometer of hype and attention.  But the current crop of highly paid players is beginning to find enough success on the field to create an imbalance among the league’s 16 teams; at no other club is that more the case than with the San Jose Earthquakes.

After the loss to Chicago, and the Colorado Rapids dismantling of the Philadelphia Union on same evening, the Earthquakes reside in eighth place in the MLS Cup playoff qualification standings — six points clear of their closest rival the Kansas City Wizards.  San Jose’s seeding has not changed much throughout the season, but was given a boost by the signing of the first DP in the club’s history, Brazilian midfielder/forward Geovanni.  When he is on, like in the big 2-1 win at the Houston Dynamo to start the month of September, San Jose looks capable of challenging for the MLS Cup.  When he has an off night, as was the case against the Fire, the Earthquakes look more like the average side that MLS parity policies decree.  While I realize that Geovanni was not the only player at fault for the Earthquakes lackluster performance, he didn’t show the necessary spark you expect from your DP to elevate the players around him.

So, the Earthquakes will look to rise above the mediocre this weekend when they visit a proven top-level MLS side in the Columbus Crew.  With a DP-quality midfielder in Guillermo Barros Schelotto leading the way for the Crew, the Quakes will need Geovanni to rise above his mid-week performance if his club has any chance at taking points away from the Eastern Conference leaders.  No more coasting at the median level for San Jose — they need to look at this game in Ohio as an opportunity to regain the trust and admiration of the league’s supporters.  Fail to rise above mediocrity for the second straight match, and expect to see the Wizards drawing closer in the rear view mirror.  Most of all, dispatch of the ugly unpredictability so evident around the team these past two-and-a-half seasons and prove to all that the San Jose Earthquakes are ready to make some noise in the MLS post-season.

Failure to do so, which will inevitably lead us to belief that the Chicago result was not an aberration, and even DC United will be licking their chops for the visit of San Jose to RFK Stadium next weekend.

That cannot possibly be good for MLS.

Robert Jonas is a writer and podcaster at Center Line Soccer and a frequent contributor to CSRN’s Around The League MLS show. He can always be reached on his twitter @robertjonas.
blog comments powered by Disqus
    KKTC Bahis Siteleri, Online Bahis



    Privacy Policy