Wednesday, January 02, 2008

MLS Surges

Things are looking good for America's premier soccer league. First this:

YEAR OF M.L.S. A watershed year for the league. David Beckham received most of the headlines, but the league has finally turned its attention to the quality of the game. In addition to Beckham, the acquisitions of players like Cuauhtémoc Blanco (Chicago), Juan Pablo Ángel (Red Bulls), Luciano Emilio (D.C. United) and Juan Toja (F.C. Dallas) brought a needed injection of skill and class. More international players are on the way, with the focus turning from older Europeans to promising players from Latin America.

Off the field, M.L.S. hopes to expand to 16 teams, and perhaps 18, in the next five years. There is no shortage of cities and investors. Many of the investors, however, may be drawn more by real estate possibilities than an interest in the game as the league pursues public/private developments that also include soccer stadiums.

An example:

The new Major League Soccer franchise in Seattle, due to start playing in 2009, is not going to settle quietly into the league.

The heavyweight consortium that includes Carey and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen want to establish the organization as one of the leading lights in MLS. Expect Seattle to make plenty of noise in 2008 and probably clinch the signature of a big international name before the end of the year.

Rogers is probably right that Seattle will take to the field storming out of the gates. Of course, that a brand-new franchise might plausibly enjoy considerable on-the-field success in their first season doesn't say much for the prowess of the other more established teams (ahem, FC Dallas) but I do believe that parity is a side-effect of a league trying to ensure stable but productive growth, and I think eventually the league's talent level will enjoy more disparity, not less.

Speaking of FC Dallas, they do get a positive mention in Rogers' article, in the form of GK and shining light Ray Burse:

Burse, 23, is improving fast, and he could be next in the long line of successful American goalkeepers. He should confirm his spot as the No. 1 keeper at FC Dallas this season, raising serious questions over Dario Sala's future in Texas.

Athletic and fearless, Burse reads the game well. If he ratchets up his play, European clubs will start taking notice.

FC Dallas has rarely lacked for strong goalkeepers, as in their short history they've been the home to shot-stoppers Mark Dodd, Matt Jordan, Scott Garlick, and (briefly) Shaka Hislop. Unfortunately as Rogers indicates, Burse is unlikely to be here for much longer if he keeps up the good play.

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