Giorgio, il Bruce and Where We Spend the Money

The most astute soccer writer in the US of A, JACK BELL of The Old Grey Lady, thinks the talk of Henry, Ze Roberto and every other overage, out of form, out of favor, out of contract, looking-for-a-golden-parachute world footballer pulling on the jersey of the Smooching Bovines and trotting out onto the Harrison New Jersey pitch is missing the point.

If you're looking for a player who might make an actual contribution to making the team better, as opposed to a slightly graying show pony, he thinks Ronaldinho is the man.

He makes a good case, as is his wont, and I admit I'd find the player formerly known as Gaucho less embarrassing than a good many others currently populating the ever-lengthening list of potential swaybacked plugs whose names once meant something to football fans everywhere and who one website or another claims to have "confirmed" is headed stateside.

Overall though, now that MLS is firmly established in the minds of the European footballing world as a retirement league (why doesn't Cohiba Don ever mention that when he's listing all the successes that followed in the wake of the Beckham Experiment?) we're edging ever closer to replicating the North American Soccer League v 1.0.

Uncontrolled expansion for the sake of the money (even shiny new owner Joey Saputo was saying this right up until he too forked over the dough), plastic grass fields, American teams bidding against each other for the right to stitch some formerly illustrious name on the back of one of their shirts for a couple of years while Europe sniggers at our stupidity.

All we need now is porn stashes and tight shorts.

I have never objected to the idea of MLS serving as a so-called "developmental league" for the next 10-20 years. If we're half as sophisticated as "footie fans" as we all like to think, then we understand bringing along young players and peddling the best ones to massive world powers is an honorable role in the overall scheme of things.

Maybe it doesn't get Mom, Dad and their Saturday Morning Sandbox League Demonspawn into the stadiums for their once a year "tell-me-when-it's-over" visit on discounted group sales night, but I thought we had moved beyond the low hanging fruit of ticket peddling and were now going for actual soccer fans.

Maybe a guy like Ronaldiho, at 30, is a decent bet. Probably some of the others as well.

But if we're being honest we all know good and well that 2/3 of the names we keep hearing over and over will contribute nothing, treat their teammates like somebodys' reserve players, suck up all the US dollars they can and then jet back to their place in the South of France to cuddle with their latest WAG and forget the whole thing.

Like pebbles in a pond, their impact will last but a moment.

If attendance is the goal, guys like Ze Roberto ain't gonna feed the bulldog, at least not for long. David Beckham doesn't sell many tickets any more either, although he'd have to show up in uniform and actually play once in a while for us to know for sure.

(The whole thing reminds me of Year Zero, 1996, when MLS, in all it's wisdom, decided that South African Superstar "Doctor" Khumalo was the perfect headline player to send to Columbus, Ohio. They, since nobody - and I mean nobody - had ever heard of the guy they then had to run a campaign telling everyone that Khumalo was "The Michael Jordan of South Africa".

Which was a good theory except that a) he wasn't b) he couldn't outplay your sister and c) nobody cared who the Michael Jordan of South Africa was.

Point being, if you bring in a "big big star" and have to then explain to everybody who he is - then you haven't brought in a "big big star")

And as Beckhams' "coach" (when DBecks isn't swanning around the globe kissing Sepp Blatters' heinie and posing in the clothes his wife laid out for him that morning) Bruce Arena is busily proving - to everyone who's paying attention - you don't need these tired old Euros anyway. All you need is an eye for talent, a decent game plan and some defenders who know how to hold a mark and you can kick all the MLS ass you want.

MLS says they understand that "quality of play" is the key to success. If that was actually true instead of something they peddle to us morons, they'd refuse to kick off a single game on artificial turf and spend 1/10th of what just one of these has-been players would cost and hire 25 referees from Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK.

(We keep hearing about referee development in the US. If that's the case then why is it every time you turn on the TV the guy with the whistle is Kevin Stott or Terry Vaughn or Baldomero Toledo or one of the other guys who've been making the league look idiotic for the last ten years? Are these guys going to somehow, magically, become competent?

That's going to happen right around the same time I finally develop the formula for turning dog crap into platinum.

I saw an MLS player yesterday leap high into the air, reach his right hand high above his head and swat a goal-area bound ball down to the ground like Misty May-Treanor (only without displaying anywhere near as much skin, thank God) and NOT GET A CARD. In Italy I believe the referee is required to pull out a 9mm Beretta and shoot one of your balls off. Or maybe that's Spain. Can't recall)

Then they can use the rest of the dough that they're dying to hand over to some arrogant superstar to provide the kind of absurd signing bonuses it will take to finally convince our Academy players to forgo four years of college and sign up to play in MLS.

That way we can start developing the best of our own talent instead of watching it squandered playing for a glorified gym teacher at Enormous State University. A few more bucks to field USSF2 sides from the kids we saved from the grips of the NCAA, and we're on our way.

All of which could be done for a lot less than we're going to spend on some tarnished old "name" player in an effort to make the fatass baseball fan who's running the local sports section pay attention for five minutes once in a while.

Where have you gone, Giorgio Chignaglia, our nation turns it's lonely eyes to you.