Played right, Orlando City wins Molino deal

It’s been a few weeks — because it seems like the offseason lasts only a few weeks — since we’ve chatted up Major League Soccer. Training camps opened on my birthday, but I was too busy drinking wood grain alcohol and drowning in a pool of my own bitter tears to write then.

Speaking of bitter tears, let’s get to marginally disappointing Orlando City. In my opinion, if the Lions play their cards right, they will win yesterday’s trade that sent attacking midfielder Kevin Molino and a reserve goalkeeper you won’t remember to expansion Minnesota United.

Oh sure, former Orlando coach Adrian Heath needs experienced attack-minded players such as Molino. Heath has tended to coach with an offense-first mentality. Local fans loved the cherubic little dude for his unkempt shirt and how the blood pressure turned his face a near lobster red. They loved it because clearly, it showed Heath had passion.

Here’s the flaw: Passion diminishes intellect. Passion makes you overvalue people you like. An over-reliance on passion is a horrible trait in a coach or front office.

Minnesota gave up about $650,000 worth of salary cap relief for Molino, who probably wasn’t even the third-best player on the Orlando roster. The amount of help Heath just gave his former employers is a league record. Now, in the major team leagues across America, $650,000 isn’t a lot of money. In MLS, it’s really helpful.

We know a lot about Heath and passion-driven contracts. Orlando City SC made a splash before playing a single game by signing Brazilian superstar midfielder Kaka, who was the last player not named Messi to be regarded as the best player on the planet. Orlando City overpayed. The Lions have yet to reach MLS playoffs.

It bears repeating: Heath signed one of the best players on the entire planet and it still wasn’t enough to get a team to the playoffs in a league that is inferior to most of Europe, South America and possibly Asia.

You could also suggest the Heath-driven additions last season of Antonio Nocerino and Christian Higuita didn’t help, either.

Orlando City, under Heath, gambled on offense and gave up far too many reckless counterattacks. The Lions last year were third-worst in both goals conceded and yellow cards allowed. It’s a good idea to bring discipline to a team like that. It was s good idea to replace Heath with Jason Kreis.

Moreover, if the Lions use that cap relief and upgrade their defense, they win that trade.

Because they have enough offense-first players.

What the Lions need is some common sense to balance it out.

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.

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.