Donovan may help Galaxy, but not MLS

If you’ve heard of the law of diminishing returns, know that I don’t take as much pleasure in sports as I used to. Only recently have I come to grips with sports as an addiction, like heroin or the music of U2. I often find myself watching sports not because of love as much as a function of the autonomic nervous system. I watch because the feeling of “must do” overrides the feeling of “ought to do.”  

For those rare occasions when an athlete does something truly thrilling, I love the guy for that fleeting moment of reintroducing the love of sport. This was the last time I honestly lost my composure watching a sporting event.

So know I love that Landon Donovan, who retired too early in my opinion, returned to the Los Angeles Galaxy last week and played in his first game Sunday in a 4-2 victory over Orlando City SC.

Overall, though, I have a sinking feeling this is a bad idea for MLS. The reason is that the league, while telling us repeatedly about its improving quality of play, rarely acquires an elite soccer player who is still in his physical prime. Indeed, there is a global reputation of the league handing out golden parachutes to international players who want a final decent paycheck before bowing out.

Consider that Donovan is currently the greatest American-born player. He isn’t the most recognizable player in MLS history. That would be David Beckham, who joined the Galaxy at age 32. Beckham’s arrival rang in a rule change for a league that was known for being miserly — the designated player rule. Basically, it’s a financial workaround to bring in a limited number of free agent talent. And other teams responded by bringing in international superstars that were a bit past their prime, such as the New York Red Bulls did with Thierry Henry, who was 33 when he signed.

Orlando City SC and NYCFC made multiple designated player moves to excite a fan base for their first seasons in 2025. Orlando signed 32-year-old Kaka. NYCFC added David Villa, 33, Andrea Pirlo, 36, and Frank Lampard, 37. Lampard’s ballyhooed arrival last year fizzled thanks to age-related injury.

Even when the league debuted, it touted as one of its main draws Colombian star Carlos Valderamma, who was 35 at the time.

Understand, I haven’t much of a clue how to make MLS on the same level as Serie A in Italy or the Premiere League in England. Heck, I wouldn’t know how to lift MLS past Liga MX.

But signing players on the downside of their careers isn’t a solution. If you name your MVP award after a guy, you shouldn’t ask him to play again and expect it to work.

On a personal level, as a fan, I’m glad Donovan is back.

But what’s left of my sports-fried addicted mind knows that this is simply the latest hit of bad heroin.

Where passion gets confused: Orlando City had no choice

Fans love the coach or manager who looks horrible in business casual, the guy who gets so worked up on the sideline it looks like he’s about to pull off his disheveled dress shirt, run-wobble onto the field and strangle the ref with his poorly knotted tie before collapsing in a heap from a stroke.

Yep, fans think. The guy who cares that much, who cares as much as I do. That’s who I want to lead my team.

Here’s the problem: That rarely works, and as such, Orlando City SC had no choice but to cut loose manager Adrian Heath.

And yes, guys, I did tell you so a couple of months ago but you didn’t want to hear me then.

There is a fundamental disconnect between fans and franchises as to what the role of their field manager is supposed to do. The reason I’m choosing the words “field manager” is because it relate’s more to the fan’s real life. You hopefully have a job. In that job, you have a manager.

Do you really want somebody out of control, screaming bloody murder over everything, in charge of signing your time card? Your employee review?

No, a good manager puts you and your coworkers in a position to succeed for the good of the company. Heath simply did not put his employees — his players — in a position for the company known as Orlando City SC to win. And that was despite having one of the greatest players on earth, Kaka, on the roster. That was with last season’s rookie of the year on the roster.

Only three teams have conceded more goals this season than the Lions this year. Only two have earned more yellow cards. Last year, Orlando City was dead last in goals conceded and red cards, which for the uninitiated is an automatic ejection for the player. I would compare it to an NBA player getting a sixth foul, only it’s even worse. You get to replace a basketball player who fouls out. In soccer, you play short-handed.

In other words, in almost two seasons it became abundantly clear to Orlando City’s management that the Lions play horrible defense. That’s not Kaka’s fault.

Heath’s job was an extremely difficult one. There are few analogies to football and futbol, but an effective coach is asking 11 people to function as one unit. That’s discipline. The Portland Timbers allowed the fewest goals in MLS last year and won the title for the first time.

But now, Orlando City’s swelling fan base is looking for a scapegoat. Throughout their entire MLS existence, the Lions fans and announcers have targeted the refs. That’s silly. If you slide tackle opponents from behind because you’re out of position, you’re forcing referees to make decisions.

Some fans are targeting players for lack of passion. If you are so silly as to demand Heath stay and Kaka go, there are 19 teams across the country willing to take the Brazilian mastermind off your hands.

The screaming, frumpled coach looks compelling in movies. The screaming coach works in high school because he’s an adult and teens can be intimidated.

But adult to adult, it doesn’t work. Adults tune out managers who constantly gripe. You know this as well as I do because you’ve worked with managers in your job like that.

Today is a great day for Orlando City SC. If they hire the right guy to replace Heath, that will make two great days.

And that will lead to happier days ahead for the franchise itself.  

Watching Orlando City soccer, the lion’s share is in rule-breaking

I’m an unusual person. I not only like soccer. I really like Major League Soccer.

It’s not as good as the Premiere League, Bundesliga or Serie A. Hell, Liga MX is a superior product, but MLS is the only thing we’ve got going without getting up insanely early for televised games or moving to Europe.

So I’ve sung with the Angel City Brigade in support of the Los Angeles Galaxy. In my travels, I’ve seen games in Portland (an amazing atmosphere) and Dallas (an inspiring collection of alcoholics) and now that I live in central Florida, I’ve seen a lot of Orlando City SC.

I don’t want to mince words. Watching a 90-minute Orlando City soccer game is comprised of about 75 minutes of pointless mind-numbing brutality and 15 minutes of excellence.

The excellence comes from Brazilian legend Kaka, the onetime best player to walk the planet. Tonight in a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Impact, it was Kaka who left the imprint on the Canadian team with two assists to Orlando’s second-best player, Cyle Larin.

Larin might not be long for the team. When you excel in MLS, foreign leagues come calling. Kaka might not be long, either. He’s in his 30s.

Which leaves Orlando City in a bit of a pickle because the rest of the roster isn’t nearly as good as its swelling fan base thinks it is. The Lions play with no discipline whatsoever, and the result is that they have allowed the most goals in MLS since they debuted last season. They also collect yellow and red cards at an alarming rate — including five yellows Saturday.

But that is not an accident. One could even say it appears to be part of the plan under coach Adrian Heath.

An expansion team in any sport lacks the talent level of established franchises. In soccer, as in the NHL, expansion teams lack defensive talent and usually make up for it by playing a physical brand of defense — tugging on the jersey, extra contact, and so on.

When you are constantly making contact, you will be called for more fouls. It becomes important that — if you lack the speed to keep up with superior opponents — you make up for it with good positioning so that you can disrupt their flow without drawing fouls. Soccer television analysts call it “keeping their shape,” when the defense keeps good positioning.

Orlando City’s positioning is poor. They let so many opponents slip past them, particularly the vastly overrated Breck Shea, that its shape may as well be an amoeba. The consequence is that the Lions are constantly chasing down their opponents to foul from behind, which will draw not only the ref’s whistle, but his yellow and red cards as well.

When you foul somebody that is facing you, it doesn’t look as bad as tackling somebody from behind. That’s just logic.

But good luck trying to find common sense on the Orlando City back line. Of the five yellow cards OCSC earned Saturday, one player picked up a yellow card in his first game back from a suspension. Not exactly a lesson learned from time off.

Yet when Larin was interviewed at halftime about the game’s growing foul count, he said he didn’t have a problem with it. Instead, he urged the team to play with even more aggression, more physicality.

That’s foolish. If you keep getting fouls and cards, a thin roster will be further hollowed out with suspensions. Instead of playing with more aggression, Orlando has to play with more discipline.

So where does discipline come from? The coach? Perhaps, only Heath was suspended by MLS earlier this year. The game he missed out on due to suspension, Orlando lost a winnable game against a struggling Sporting Kansas City.

How can you expect the defense to play with composure when the coach is getting suspended?

If Orlando City played with discipline, look out.

But you can’t tell that to an Orlando City supporter, because when I’ve gone to games they’re too busy complaining about the referees. Look guys, those were fouls. They really were.

For a few moments in Saturday’s game, Lions fans were throwing objects on the pitch.

On the plus side, at least that means those fans have something in common with the players and coach — lack of self-control.