MLS and USL - How Big is the Gap?

I'd like to personally thank Dan for stepping all over the Vince Offer-Billy Mays riff I had scheduled for today. I'm considering writing a "David Beckham is a Big Fat Stupidhead" post in retaliation, but for the moment I'll just move on to greener - if not quite so amusing - pastures.

Tonight's CCL match in Montreal, in addition to being touted as some kind of A REBUKE TO MLS for dumping Montreal overboard, is also being talked about as another example of how USL1 is really not so very much different, quality-wise, from MLS.

Of course we've all heard the blather about how MLS teams didn't do so hot in the Champions League, with lowly Montreal getting to the quarters while only one of the MLS teams made it that far.

This fact, along with the several USL1 wins over MLS teams in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup supposedly prove that MLS really ain't all it's cracked up to be.

(In Toronto, where this kind of stings a little bit extra, they've settled on the fact that it's ALL JEFF CUNNINGHAM'S FAULT. The concluding sentence "TFC supporters will continue to curse the name 'Cunningham'." is, to say the least, unfair. To say the most, it's preposterous.)

The Impact, and USL fans in general, feel the game tonight shows that the Impact, far from being in a second rate league, are in fact a CONCACAF powerhouse, a team to be reckoned with.

Well of course in keeping with modern educational theory, which has us telling the kids that it's OK to think that 2 plus 2 equals a sack of rocks because making the kid feel good about himself is much more important than stupid old math, we don't want to dampen USL1's enthusiasm one bit.

(A theory which has resulted in THIS KIND OF SILLINESS but that's another tale. And if you haven't seen that clip yet, take a minute. It's hysterical.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, USL1's delusions of grandeur.

So I've been reading this hokum about the two leagues for a few days now and I recalled a couple posts from a while back by the always interesting THE BEST XI blog (and BTW today's post regarding all-access video is worth a look too).

Back about a year ago TBXI posted a list of FORMER MLS PLAYERS IN USL1 and, subsequently, a list of FORMER USL PLAYERS IN MLS.

It's an instructive exercise to say the least.

The players who moved from USL to MLSinclude:

Jon Busch, Brandon Prideaux, Brian Carroll, Bryan Namoff, Kerry Zavaginin, Carlos Mendes, John Wolyniec, Greg Sutton, Maykel Galindo, Herculez Gomez, Adrian Serioux, Dwayne De Rosario, Brian Ching, Alan Gordon and Joe Cannon.

The players from MLS who ended up in USL include:

Tenywa Bonseu, Stephen Armstrong, David Testo, Luchi Gonzalez, Eric Vasquez, Jose Retiz, Fabrice Noël, Adam Braz, Melvin Tarley, Chris Aloisi, Luke Kreamalmeyer, Marco Reda, Leighton O'Brien, Connally Edozien, Mike Munoz, Cameron Knowles and Dusty Hudock.

Now I'm not about to denigrate the guys on the second list. I only included players I knew a little about and all of them are decent (well, OK, I have no idea how Luchi Gonzalez could possibly still be making a living playing soccer), but nevertheless every one of them was tried and found wanting by one - in many cases several - MLS teams and was cut loose.

(Yes, the lists are a year old. Unless you're prepared to argue that all of a sudden the talent differential has swung the other way, who cares?)

Now if you believe OVER THE TOP LUNATICS LIKE THIS GUY the real problem here is that "MLS is in Denial", a condition they foster by actually censoring preseason results they don't want you to see.

I particularly love the Castro-Khrushchev picture.

Anyway, since they apparently abandoned the PUERTO RICO USL-MLS CHALLENGE tournament we're left with THE CAROLINA CHALLENGE CUP, for semi-serious competition outside of the Open Cup.

To which end THIS GUY went to a good deal of effort and came up with the fact that, since MLS began in 1996, their record against USL1 teams in US Open Cup is 70-32. Certainly good, but not overwhelming.

He compared Bundesliga1 vs. Bundesliga2 results for comparison sake and discovered that the higher league enjoys a 73% winning percentage over their less prestigious cousins. Better than MLS' 68% advantage, but not so very different, and few rational people would argue that Bund2 is anything like equal to Bund1. Yet lots of people are prepared to argue just that when the leagues are MLS and USL1.

His conclusion is, I think, a valid one, to wit:

"...the gap between the top teams in MLS and the top teams in USL-1 is smaller than the gap between the top teams in MLS and the bottom teams in MLS. In other words, the best USL-1 sides (Vancouver, Montreal, a few others) are better than the worst in MLS. If they played in that league, they wouldn't finish last."

Of course this ignores the fact that, particularly in early rounds, MLS teams tend to play their bench while USL teams, eager to prove their quality, send out the best they can muster. Which seems to me to be a pretty even match.

As for the match tonight:

The Olympic Installations Board (the bunch of bureaucrats in charge of Olympic Stadium) gave the official green light for the game to proceed as scheduled. There was the potential for real embarrassment if the game had had to be cancelled due to snow on the roof. As it is, this will be the first wintertime sporting event held there in over a decade.

In case you weren't aware, Stade Saputo is built right next door. The Quebec government, which is a part owner of the Impact and it's stadium, insisted that the thing be built there because, well, because nobody else wanted it.

Stade Saputo was built as a three sided stadium with the west end open for a view of the Olympic Tower:

The same west end, incidentally, where they had planned on building a fourth set of bleachers to bring seating capacity up to whatever ridiculous number Joey is spouting that particular day.

For comparison, here's what Olympic Stadium (or Stade Olympique, as the locals would have it) looks like today:

And not, as some would have it in honor of Joey's cheesemaking-and Mafia connected father, like this:

Finally, just to jump Dan's action, (see, Billy Mays was going to be MLS and Vince Offer was USL1 and, man, it was beautiful) I give you the BEST BECKHAM LINK YOU WILL SEE THIS WEEK

Eat your heart out, Loney.