RIP Ron Newman, US Soccer Hall of Fame coach and wonderful ambassador for the game. His most high profile successes came with the original NASL, and he capped his coaching career with an enjoyable, if checkered, stint with the Kansas City Wiz/Wizards. Had Newman coached one more year (and assuming he did as good a job as Bob Gansler ended up doing), he would have been the only man to coach champions in NASL, ASL, and MLS.
He was a Hall of Fame-worthy coach based on his outdoor career alone, and had the NASL not gone out of business, he would have been a household name in American sports, not just among soccer fanatics. During the indoor interregnum Newman coached the San Diego Sockers to ten, that's right, ten championships in thirteen years – two in the NASL indoor league, and eight in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Newman will be missed. We could use two or three of him today.
Josef Martinez setting the MLS single season scoring title as Atlanta becomes this year's entry in the All-Time Greatest US or Canadian Team sweepstakes is – well, it's glory, it really is. (Glory not available in Florida. See your local MLS dealer for details.) Wait, did I say "setting"? Dude just brickhoused that sucker. It's still August, for the love of Roy Lassiter. Atlanta still has eight games left.
The only downside of Martinez's accomplishment is how difficult it's going to be for Atlanta to avoid being picked over by European vultures. As I understand the deal with Josef Martinez, the smart play would be for Arthur Blank to buy him outright – but a lot of that depends on how much of his prime Martinez is willing to give to Atlanta and MLS.
Or not. I tend to overestimate player power, and Blank's day job with the NFL has no such concept. Maybe Martinez could hold out and/or implode the locker room FC Dallas-style, but part of the appeal of MLS milestones in Europe. Let's face it, even though their reign won't last beyond this autumn, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are still kings of MLS as we speak. That's not going to lift up any skirts across the pond.
The Third United are currently clicking at a little over two points a game, ahead by a neck over the Red Bulls at exactly two points a game. They're also, through August, the only two teams more than two games over .500 on the road. (There are only four teams above .500 on the road in the whole league right now, by the way – Dallas and Kansas City are the other two, both at 5-4-3.)
The cold, hard, ugly, sad reality of MLS is that we won't really know who are solid MLS Cup favorites until we find out who is healthy for the playoffs. The only reason right now to pick anyone outside Atlanta or Red Bull is if you're madly impressed by NYCFC's invincibility at Yankee Stadium.
NYCFC aren't a particularly lovable team, but compared to their landlords they're the Care Bears. I'm still hoping that Columbus manages to host and win MLS Cup this year, but a solid consolation prize would be NYCFC winning a title at the new Yankee Stadium before the Yankees do.
Unfortunately, the baseball team is probably going to play in October, at least for one game. And the only thing better than NYCFC bringing a title to Yankee Stadium before the Yankees? The Yankees forcing NYCFC to play a playoff game miles and miles from Yankee Stadium, costing NYCFC both their unbeaten home record and their title hopes.
The only thing better than that would be if the NYCFC home game were at Red Bull Arena.
And the only thing better than that would be if the playoff series in question was actually against the Red Bulls.
So, I guess in reality many things would be better than NYCFC bringing a title to Yankee Stadium. I'm glad we thought this through.
I know, NYCFC would schedule its game in Manchester before allowing that to happen…which would actually be kind of fun? I mean, as embarrassing disgraces to the game go? Don't rule it out, that's all I'm saying.
Well, it's not the first team to have a tree for a logo. Ever have to remind yourself that Robin Hood and his Merry Men did not make their headquarters in Nottingham Forest?
They're probably not, by numbers, the most hated team in the world, but let's talk for a moment about MK Dons. I have a soft spot for them.
I know, I know. Moving an existing team rather than starting a new one and slogging up the pyramid was the wrong, wrong, wrong move. AFC Wimbledon now plays in a division above Milton Keynes, and the Dons are now competing with Oldham Athletic for the coveted title of worst former Premier League/current basket case. Even their very name comes from the last letters of Wimbledon. (And not Dons, as in, the Spanish honorific used as a nickname by University of San Francisco's teams. Which until very recently was what I thought Milton Keynes was referring to. Because otherwise why call themselves that? Made no sense.)
To this very day, self-respecting fans of the English game refuse to acknowledge Milton Keynes Dons FC. And I think that's more than a little pretentious of other fans. It's been fourteen years, it isn't as if Milton Keynes is moving back, it isn't as if AFC Wimbledon fans want them back, it isn't as if AFC Wimbledon fans aren't technically better off now, and it isn't as if after all this time AFC Wimbledon solved the stadium issue that forced the move in the first place. All Milton Keynes fans want to do is cheer for their local. Would people really be happier if they cheered for a big-name international team like Newcastle Jets?
Which brings us, sadly, back to Austin. Ostracizing fans for a team move is unheard of in the United States for a bunch of reasons, but it looks like Austin FC would be an exception. Would this be fair? What makes Austin FC so much worse a move than the San Jose Earthquakes 2.0 moving to Houston? Or worse than any of the other moves to and from St. Louis, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and so forth?
Well…because the fans will accept it.
MK Dons is a ball pit, but it's because they turned out to be a lousy football team, not because they've wilted under the disapproval of pure-hearted opposing fans. They haven't gone out of business, and don't seem likely to. They're certainly not talking about moving again. There's not even anything that says, given a drastic reversal in fortunes and talent, that they can't fill their stadium given another ride up the elevator.
And that's in a culture that abhors team moves. (England, I should say, not the sport in general. Liga MX seems to have adjusted reasonably well to Atlante playing in Cancun and Necaxa leaving for first Mexico City, then Aguascalientes.) If England can't shame MK Dons out of existence, then Austin FC is safe on that front.
That doesn't mean that Austin FC can't be shamed while it exists, though, as well as its fans. The thing about Wimbledon moving, is that they tried to move anywhere. Dublin was a strong candidate until the Football Association of Ireland decided it would rather its league keep existing, thanks for asking. (This was back when Wimbledon was a Premier League team, of course. I'm not certain MK Dons would even beat Shamrock Rovers these days, let alone outdraw them.)
Had Austin held the line against Precourt Sports Ventures, though – and they still might, apparently county and state haven't given their approval/stuck their snouts in the trough quite yet – then the Columbus Crew would have been saved. I'm not an Austin resident or voter, so my opinion on whether the McKalla Place stadium deal was good for Austin residents and voters is not relevant. But it sure didn't look wonderful, even compared to what already existed in Columbus. Never mind what might be possible.
I'm of a generation where the idea of treating fellow soccer fans as pariahs was unthinkable, mostly because we didn't have the numbers to pariahize anybody. But I think this feels different because it is different.
I don't think moving the Crew to Austin is a good business move. But Precourt and the league think it is. Fine. Act like the NFL, get treated like the NFL. I don't pay for NFL games, attend watch parties at bars, or spend money on their merchandise. I can do the same for MLS. That doesn't mean not watching, but it does mean paying a lot less attention to sponsors than I did before.
(This might carry more weight from someone who isn't into his second decade of boycotting his favorite team merchandise on the grounds that its shirt sponsor is an illegal organization whose owners should be fined and imprisoned. Herbalife is a scam, stop me if I've told you that one.)
Same goes for fans. If El Tree fans want to act like Baltimore Ravens fans, then they should be treated like Baltimore Ravens fans. (If you, gentle reader, happen to be a Baltimore Ravens fan – make better life choices.)
I don't think Precourt and MLS have done their math correctly. I think Austin plus Columbus is a bigger sum than Austin minus Columbus. But if MLS really is in a position as solid as the NFL, then either they can put in the New Crew, or simply live without Columbus at the expense of new expansion teams.
Milton Keynes has survived, and they didn't have the prospect of England hosting a World Cup to boost their profile. The United States will host the World Cup, and therefore MLS is bulletproof until further notice.
But individual teams won't be. And the whole point of expansion is because there aren't enough teams. If Chicago and New England continue on their paths, they'll be candidates to move as well. And there's no reason to believe Precourt will do a better job in Austin than he did in Columbus. Unless you think this state capitol/college town with a stadium removed from downtown is so much better than the other state capitol/college town with a stadium removed from downtown.
MLS may or may not be a monopoly, but it's hard to see how Austin is Marvin Gardens while Columbus is Baltic Avenue.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a very famous and popular player who is at this stage of his career a constant injury risk. It would have been nice if he had been there to goose attendance in New England, sure. But Seattle draws well enough without the visiting team bringing potato salad. Your favorite player would do the same thing if he or she is famous enough to get away with it.
And you can't force someone to play if they don't want to, anyway. Lincoln freed the slaves.