Good morning, Don Garber,

I doubt you feel much better than I do after the United States men’s national team was inexcusably eliminated from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup last night. Frankly, if you got a good night of sleep I would be surprised, because losing to Trinidad & Tobago exposed more than just how flawed the national team was.

It revealed that progress from Major League Soccer in 21 years might just be a fraud, too.

As commissioner of MLS, this should make your blood run cold.

Last night, in the midst of a take-no-prisoners rant that should be played in a loop in your office until every syllable seeps into your being, ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman included your league as part of the reason for this unacceptable collapse. And he’s right. He’s right because MLS fed this team the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta, Brad Guzan, et al. All of whom and many other MLS “stars” vanished on the world’s stage.

Hell, the USMNT was coached by a man plucked from your league’s glamour franchise, the Los Angeles Galaxy.

I could list the all of MLS contributions to the national team, but why rub your nose in it? I simply want to drive that point that players who honed their skills in your league just can’t cut it in international play. That is an ugly reflection on MLS. If the United States has regressed in soccer, which it has, then it must follow that MLS has not progressed in skill level, either. Clearly, it hasn’t.

The other item Twellman mentioned that sank like a bowling ball in the esophagus was the billion dollar investment Americans have made in soccer. We’ve made the investment in infrastructure for U.S. soccer, its youth program, and certainly in Major League Soccer. You have insisted on soccer-specific stadiums for franchises, and in most cases tax dollars have come in.

The thing about us ever-lovin’ capitalists, we expect a return on our investment. If we don’t get it, the wallets close. Philadelphia taxpayers foot the bill for most of the Union’s stadium snd nobody shows up because the team stinks.

So when we drop a billion dollars on a sport and this is the best you can do, oh immediate changes have to be made. I travelled to multiple USMNT qualifiers. I also have travelled to see MLS in Los Angeles, Portland, New Jersey, Dallas and Orlando. You think I want to climb aboard another plane for this?

Americans are looking at all those USMNT uniforms — why did they come out with five new jerseys in the last year, by the way? — with MLS player names on the back and thinking “these players are our best?”

Why would I want to see Nagbe and the Portland Timbers if Nagbe falters on the national team? Right now, Toronto FC is far and away your most exciting team. Why watch them play? Bradley and Jozy Altidore are outmatched against the rest of the world, even countries like Trinidad & Tobago. Hell, we don’t even know if Trinidad or Tobago have professional soccer.

This is not to say MLS is the problem, but it has to take an active role in being the solution. The future of your league depends on it. And U.S. soccer needs MLS to exist. FIFA doesn’t award a World Cup to a nation without a top-flight pro league.

If you haven’t already called the U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters and demanded the immediate resignation of president Sunil Gulati, you will become part of the problem. He has to answer for where that billion dollars went.

Gulati’s ouster is not a one-step fix to a systemic failure. It is a needed first step. It is one you must insist upon, because his failure is your failure. Last night’s failure, which marked the first time the USA didn’t reach the World Cup since 1986, indicates MLS has not progressed, either.

Which makes every other sport look pretty damn good right now.

For MLS, San Diego is the right place, wrong time

Full disclosure: I don’t like San Diego sports fans that much. Their fan base seems to be completely fueled by envy of all things Los Angeles and Oakland. If you don’t believe me, ask about the Padres chances and you’ll get a 30-minute screed about how much they hate the Dodgers for their wealth.

The Chargers? Ask a San Diego fan about them and you’ll get an even longer gripefest about the team moving to Los Angeles. Funny thing, San Diego has a lengthy history of losing games and teams to Los Angeles.

But I willingly concede that San Diego is a soccer town. I can’t explain why, but the city used to fill Qualcomm Stadium — a feat the Padres and Chargers couldn’t do — with a soccer team back in the 1970s-80s. The San Diego Sockers kept the old North American Soccer League afloat for years.

San Diego, in my opinion, could support a Major League Soccer team in its sleep. The town should’ve gotten Chivas USA back in the 1990s, only the team and league made a foolish decision of sharing a stadium with the LA Galaxy. Chivas stunk, lost its fan base because LA wasn’t going to support the worst of two soccer teams, and folded.

But San Diego would have enthusiastically supported mediocre soccer. It did before.

MLS has been expanding at a clip that I think is way too fast. Next year, Atlanta United and Minnesota United jump in to grow the league to 22 teams. A year later, the league will try to shoehorn a second franchise in LA again. David Beckham has supposedly been promised an expansion franchise for playing here. He wants it in Miami. That’s 24.

MLS envisions 28 teams eventually in the fold. Keep in mind how stupid this is: the English Premier League, arguably the elite league in the world, has only 20 teams. Serie A in Italy has the same. Bundesliga in Germany has 18.

That leaves four slots left with groups in Tampa, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Detroit; Nashville; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Sacramento; St. Louis; San Antonio and San Diego wanting in.

San Diego would, in normal circumstances, be a wise choice. To be frank, I still believe the city should’ve gotten the second Los Angeles team. The rivalry would have been amazing. San Diego would have drawn fans not just from the area, but neighboring Mexico. The Galaxy are to MLS what the Dallas Cowboys are to the NFL.

It’s not happening.

I don’t see California getting five teams, and Sacramento Republic FC already leads the lower-division United Soccer League in attendance with plans for a larger stadium in place if MLS OKs their plans.

The league has been wowed by the fan base for Orlando City SC, which makes the Tampa Bay Rowdies bid intriguing. And obviously I’ve no way to give a first-hand account, but a lower-division team in Cincinnati is averaging about 18,000 fans per game.

San Diego, meanwhile, has a reputation — a well-deserved one — but it’s not enough compared with the ticket stubs that these other cities can provide. According to a recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the hearty souls who want a team will have to pony up a $150 million franchise fee and build a $250 million soccer specific stadium before 2020. MLS, as it turns out, won’t settle for Qualcomm Stadium any more than the Chargers will.

Or even better, somebody at MLS will come to his senses and say “Wait a minute, we’re going to have eight more teams than the best league on earth,” and stop expanding before it reaches 28.

The upshot is this: Major League Soccer has made more than its share of idiotic decisions, but they are decisions the league will have to live with. It’s nothing personal. It’s just stupidity. For professional soccer, San Diego is the right place at the wrong time.

There has to be more from the Galaxy

I read an authorless column from the Los Angeles Times this morning about how the moves made by the Los Angeles Galaxy were much ado about nothing because the team draws about 20,000 fans per game and the television ratings aren’t stellar.

I’m not sure that’s the point. Major League Soccer has mostly followed a slow-growth business strategy since its inception because it knew it wouldn’t surpass the NFL no matter what Fox News tells you about Colin Kaepernick. At some point, MLS might get ambitious and try to pass the NHL, but where club soccer ranks on the national landscape hasn’t been a factor.

Instead, Tuesday’s moves for the five-time champions appeared to be much ado about nothing because there is nothing to suggest the team will be any better next year. Even worse, it’s hard to tell if the team will qualify for the playoffs next year. Ultimately, that’s what matters to those 20,000 fans per game — which, I might add, is an attendance average that exceeds at least three Major League Baseball teams.

New coach Curt Onalfo is probably a good idea, despite what the afore-mentioned column suggests. True, the Galaxy have excelled at attracting internationally known soccer commodities. In my eyes, though, the least important star should be the coach. The U.S. men’s national team tried that approach with Jurgen Klinsmann and it didn’t exactly help.

In addition to four seasons as an MLS coach, Onalfo has served as the Galaxy’s USL coach. “Los Dos,” as fans like to call the team, has played pretty efficient soccer. To me, letting him run the big club is a sign of continuity. The Galaxy have earned that right to ask for fans’ trust there.

But the incoming players so far are underwhelming, at best. It seems to me the Galaxy have a trustworthy defense that doesn’t need addressing. Midfield and forward, though, are cringe-worthy at the moment. We already know about the departures of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Steven Gerrard and Nigel De Jong. What might be under the radar for fans is that dependable scorers Mike Magee and Alan Gordon are no longer under contract, either.

The Galaxy acquired the rights to two midfielders yesterday. Jermaine Jones is a name MLS fans have heard of. He’s also a 35-year-old reserve. Miguel Aguilar is a guy who couldn’t regularly crack the lineup for his last MLS team. It’s hard to believe either of them will make an impact.

The team has two designated player slots for next year. For the uninitiated, it’s basically a way to circumvent the salary cap to acquire top-level talent. The rule was created so that the Galaxy could add David Beckham back in the day.

The sooner those slots get filled, the more likely we’ll be impressed.

There has to be more… Shouldn’t there? 

Galaxy seeks continuity with Vagenas

About two days ago, it hit me that Monday’s “press conference about the Galaxy” had to include a front office hiring. I would have updated my blog, but hey, football.

It’s somewhat common for sports franchises to call press conferences without being specific. The idea is to get the press gossiping and create buzz. The problem is, with mass layoffs coming in waves in print journalism, there aren’t that many people to buzz about anything, especially pro soccer in America.

Anyway, former Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas was named general manager Monday, replacing Bruce Arena, who left to rescue the United States men’s national team from the abyss. Vagenas previously oversaw much of the Galaxy’s operations, from youth academies to the big club. The promotion feels like the right thing to do.

Vagenas’ first step is to find a manager who can get more out of the roster than smugness. There was a perception by MLS fans that the Galaxy underachieved the last two seasons. If continuity is a goal, Vagenas already knows Dave Sarachan is off the market. The assistant quit with an eye on joining expansion LAFC next year. That leaves Curt Onalfo of the Galaxy’s lower-level affiliate, nicknamed “Los Dos.” Onalfo has previous MLS experience with Kansas City and Washington D.C.

Where it gets uniquely curious is the roster. The Galaxy had been adept at luring foreign superstars — albeit at the back end of their careers — to the U.S. Arena was presumably their salesman for that. What could Vagenas offer in a rumored bidding war with two other MLS clubs for Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira?

The Galaxy lost two, possibly three, offensive weapons in the last month. Steven Gerrard retired and Robbie Keane is looking elsewhere. Vagenas’ first call might be to gauge Landon Donovan’s interest in continuing his comeback.

Ultimately, the path might depend on how much growth Vagenas saw in their academy teams. FC Dallas tried a similar approach and became surprisingly powerful. The question then becomes if youth — with Emmanuel Boateng and Gyasi Zardes — are what gets matched with midfielder Giovani Dos Santos. Arena never could solve the conundrum of matching Dos Santos with Gerrard and Keane. Perhaps speed becomes more valuable than guile.

It’d be nice to read something hopeful about the Galaxy soon

I don’t expect opinions on Major League Soccer to lead to a spike in page views, but I find the LA Galaxy right now to be far more interesting — and troublesome — than anything social media has to say about the president-elect. That would be because I know virtually everybody’s opinion on the president-elect.

But what the hell is going to happen with the premiere franchise in MLS? I have no idea.

In less than two weeks, the winner of five MLS Cups — and possibly the only club that anyone overseas even notices about American soccer — lost two of its biggest names and its coach/general manager. One of those big names, striker Robbie Keane, is a former MVP and won three titles. Bruce Arena would have been in charge of filling multiple major holes in the roster, only he left Tuesday to rescue a confused and unmotivated United States national team.

We also have no idea if Landon Donovan, likely the greatest player in U.S. history, will return to the team or if he’s content having made a curtain call comeback so his family could see him play.

This is a talent drain both on the field and in the front office that couldn’t come at a worse time, especially after that foolish decision by the league to insert a second team in Los Angeles. Keep in mind: the league tried that before with Chivas USA and that team tanked so bad the league had to pay to keep the franchise afloat.

It’s hard to understate how important the Galaxy is to soccer in the United States. When the league struggled out of the gate more than 20 years ago, Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz purchased multiple teams to keep MLS afloat until it got its financial house in order. The Galaxy also brought welcome international attention to the league when it signed British legend David Beckham, which inspired average sports fans to give the team and soccer a chance.

Losing Arena, Keane, Donovan and Steven Gerrard is — admittedly on a much smaller scale — akin to the Pittsburgh Steelers losing Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethelisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. But for MLS, it’s a headache. It’s one thing for a signature franchise in the NFL to struggle. The NFL isn’t going anywhere if the Cowboys, Packers or Steelers stink for five years.

But MLS might become the fourth most-popular team sport if it continues to grow a fan base. In order to do that, simply put, the Galaxy can’t afford to suck.

The offseason isn’t particularly lengthy in MLS. Baseball ended at the start of this month. Opening day in the major leagues comes about a month after MLS kicks off.

The clock is ticking in Carson, Calif.

Major changes loom for the LA Galaxy

To say the pieces simply didn’t fit is an understatement. The names the LA Galaxy assembled were cornerstones for any franchise in Major League Soccer. The task was to mash as many cornerstones onto the pitch as possible.

The Galaxy couldn’t, after being eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoffs last week. Now, the marquee franchise of the league has no choice but to change.

I didn’t approach the subject last week because let’s face it: most of us were all worked up over the presidential election and its aftermath. But I’m tired of reading about that stuff, so here goes.

When the Galaxy first started playing a version of fantasy football instead of soccer, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The problem is that doing so suggests the franchise figured piling on international stars would simply overwhelm the rest of a league full of North Americans. As international fans will tell you, every continent has a fundamental different style of play. European clubs don’t play the same as South American clubs, for instance. Here in North America, the Galaxy took a sort of European/Mexican/American approach and as a consequence, I think there was little cohesion.

Put another way: Who was the go-to guy for the Galaxy? Robbie Keane? Giovani Dos Santos? Jelle VanDamme? Steven Gerrard? Hell, was it Landon Donovan with his brief comeback?

Consistently successful franchises have a plan, find the talent to fit the plan, and execute. The Galaxy was that type of franchise. Now it isn’t, so it’s incumbent upon the front office to simplify. Change is necessary.

Gerrard is likely the first to go. The former Liverpool midfielder suggested as much in a social media post that stated he will miss the city of Los Angeles. I don’t hate Gerrard. Seems like a great guy. He’s right. He didn’t fit.

This may sound absurd, but I think Keane might be next. He’s a free agent and the former MVP has suffered significant injuries the past two years.

The gut feeling is the team might purge older players and rebuild the team around Dos Santos, who is entering his physical prime, is among the leaders of a pretty damn good Mexican National Team and as a Latino, would blunt the competition for fans that expansion team LAFC will try to swipe.

A Galaxy team that returns next season with a healthy Gyasi Zardes with Emmanuel Boetang becomes lightning quick on offense, instead of one that chooses moments to counterattack. And an effective designated player signing, perhaps at midfield, would make up for the losses of two Europeans who are past their prime. Perhaps if Donovan is committed to a full offseason of training, that would be the guy to take.

I wouldn’t change a thing on defense. The Galaxy was effective there.

In the meantime, time’s a-wastin.’ Anyone who thinks the seasons in baseball or basketball is long hasn’t seen enough soccer to understand that we’ll be talking MLS sometime after Valentine’s Day.

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.