MLS supporters take a crack at the top issues facing the league
Posted: Sunday October 3, 2004 8:47PM; Updated: Sunday October 3, 2004 9:24PM
Jimmy Conrad is a defender for Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards. He contributes regularly to SI.com.
I put out a new piece on Tuesday and Wednesday I hear, "When's the next one coming out? You know, you don't write enough."
Simmer down and let me fill you in. This isn't my day job, nor would I want it to be; deadlines, subject approval from the editor, and the pressure to entertain ... forget it. Believe me, I aim to please, but sometimes the toilet seat of life impedes even the best of intentions.
(And that isn't an excuse for prior or future work, but I would like to bring to your attention that I do have another job, and running around in small shorts with 20 other grown men for two hours a day is no small task. It's the only one I get paid for. Thus my priorities are a little more aligned to making sure food is on the table.)
"Where's he going with this? Is he calling it quits?"
Quits? From volunteering? Hardly. In fact, I am offering up my forum to the fans, the know-it-alls, the Monday-morning managers and giving them the opportunity to speak out against the tyranny levied against their favorite team.
"He's cracking. He can't even write his own articles now."
Perhaps. So for the moment, let's fill those cracks in with a roundtable discussion about the recent issues infiltrating the MLS world with my concrete cast of unusual suspects.
OK everyone, here's the premise: I, Jimmy Conrad, pledge to be a fair and balanced moderator with no bias attached to any issue I open up for debate. Any jabs directed toward me will incur my wrath, thus inspiring my team, the Kansas City Wizards, to beat the team you support in the playoffs. Understood? Good. Let's begin:
The First Issue: If you could be Don Garber for one day -- OK, two days -- what changes would you make to the league?
Sam Pierron -- Kansas City Wizards Supporter: Cut the playoffs down to four teams.
Dustin Christmann -- Dallas Burn Supporter: No. 1. Issue the following press release: "All of you people on BigSoccer.com are idiots." No. 2. Change the playoffs to single elimination all the way through. No. 3. Tell the Hunt Sports Group to stop doing stupid things.
Jay Hipps -- San Jose Earthquakes Supporter: Single table, fewer teams in the playoffs and no MLS games when the national team is playing. (Stop me! I'm channeling Bruce Arena!)
Brian Shea -- D.C. United Supporter: Get a deal with the union. We are just spinning wheels on so many issues until that happens.
Mike Segroves -- Chicago Fire Supporter: Six teams in the playoffs and move San Jose.
Jay -- Quakes: Mike is trying to wind me up with the San Jose stuff. MLS Cup scoreboard, Mike, scoreboard!
Steve Sirk -- Columbus Crew Supporter: I like two conferences, but the playoffs should be cut to two teams per conference. Four or five makes the regular season meaningless.
Brian -- United: Also I would like to add that it is pretty pathetic when the real fans of the league can't buy a team coffee mug. I am not looking for it to be in Wal-Mart or anything, but we need to have some damn merchandise on the shelves.
Mike -- Fire: Yeah! Let's get it in Target for God's sake.
Dan Loney -- Los Angeles Galaxy: I'm definitely in the minority, but I'd hand the job back to Don Garber. He's done a very good job for this little start-up league in this smoking crater we call an economy. It's even expanding!
Moderator: You should run for office Dan. We need "Yes" men like you. Or wait ... do we have those already? Here's an addendum to the issue above: Don Garber was in Kansas City for the Open Cup final and said to us the following day, among other things, that a single table has been considered but without promotion/relegation there wouldn't be much excitement for the bottom teams at the end of the year.
Jay -- Quakes: There's not supposed to be excitement when you suck. That's part of the incentive for not being one of the bottom teams.
Dustin -- Burn: Like the Earthquakes?
Jay - Quakes: I'd say "touché" or something, but you're a Dallas supporter. Let's talk in three weeks.
Mike -- Fire: You could fix the promotion/relegation issue by dropping first round draft picks for those teams at the bottom ... and getting strippers with big cans for the winners.
Dan -- Galaxy: Parity and expanded playoffs cancel each other out, excitement-wise.
Sam -- Wizards: Parity makes things more exciting ... how many teams would be eliminated from a six-team (or even four-team) playoff right now?
Mike -- Fire: MLS needs parity until we get to 14, 16 or 18 teams.
Brian -- United: The same people that complain about MLS's situation ignore the fact that it's what makes the NFL exciting. It's the playoff number, not the parity that's an issue.
Steve -- Crew: With parity then, the only drawback is when the playoffs roll around can there even be an upset?
Dustin -- Burn: I agree with a smaller number of teams qualifying for the playoffs. Both San Jose and Dallas should be on the verge of being out right now.
SECOND ISSUE: Which player do you absolutely LOATHE but would love to have on your team?
Mike - Fire: You.
Dustin - Burn: Kiss-ass.
Dan - Galaxy: Here comes seven people saying "Carlos Ruiz."
Brian - United: Ruiz. I know most people will disagree, but I would kill for him
Sam - Wizards: Carlos Ruiz. Though Landon Donovan would be my answer if I thought he would be around much longer.
Dustin - Burn: Ruiz, Taylor Twellman, Donovan and Amado Guevara.
Mike - Fire: Taylor Twellman.
Moderator: I liked your first answer, Fire Fan Mike. To know that somebody loathes me is a great honor because that means I'm doing something right.
Jay -- Quakes: No Carlos Ruiz for me, thanks. If I had to take someone from the Galaxy, I'd take Kevin Hartman.
Dan -- Galaxy: It used to be Ariel Graziani, but I'll say Troy Dayak. The guy works hard, came back from injury and the A-League, fan favorite, and he would slit his face rather than play in LA.
Steve -- Crew: I don't hate Steve Ralston except when he habitually destroys the Crew, but I've always wished he played in Columbus. So I will hate him if that's what it takes.
Mike -- Fire: Jimmy, I would trade for you and give Kansas City Orlando Perez.
Dustin -- Burn: Jimmy, you're worth at least Chris Gbandi to me.
Moderator: The Fans have spoken, and I'm worth a part-time starting left back.
Mike -- Fire: Buy low, sell high.
Dustin -- Burn: Gbandi was a No. 1 pick.
Sam -- Wizards: So was Tahj Jakins.
Brian -- United: So was Steve Shak.
Moderator: So was Chris Carrieri.
Brian -- United: I would only want Carrieri on my team to tell him 15 times a year what an egotistical moron he is.
Moderator: Moving on, here's the THIRD ISSUE: What is the best heckle ever heard or best heckle ever said?
Sam - Wizards: Ooh.
Dustin - Burn: Hmmm...
Moderator: And spare no feelings; SI.com appreciates honesty.
Dustin - Burn: The Revolution fans' "U.S. Reject" chant for John Harkes right after he was dropped from the 1998 World Cup team was absolutely brutal.
Brian - United: A guy came to a United game wearing a Tampa Bay Mutiny jersey this year, and he didn't like it when I apologized for the memo getting lost in the mail.
Dustin - Burn: "Half a man, half a man, Cobi, Cobi" is always fun.
Brian - United: I tend to drink at the game, so I am having trouble coming up with stuff.
Dan - Galaxy: I love Mauricio Cienfuegos, but whoever it was who sang the Oompa-Loompa song at him -- that hurt me watching on television.
Jay - Quakes: We got a good response to "I'd rather have a Ching than a Chung" this year, to the tune of "She'll be coming 'round the mountain."
Steve - Crew: I thought fans in Columbus that were waving the red plastic solo cups for Freddy Adu this weekend was interesting. (Keg cups, if you will.)
Brian - United: We got a rousing chorus of "Tisha Venturini wants her headgear back" for Ryan Suarez earlier this year.
Dan - Galaxy: When Steve Rammel was in the league, I shouted out "Rammel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!" No one got it.
Sam - Wizards: That's comedy.
Dan - Galaxy: Along those same lines, "Your book sucked" to John Harkes.
Moderator: Here is Part Two to the "heckle" question above. What would you heckle at me?
Dan - Galaxy: "Your column isn't as funny as Paul Gardner's!"
Jay - Quakes: "Hey Conrad -- I hear your column is ghost written."
Steve - Crew: "I was in it before I ever read it!"
Dan - Galaxy: "Bruce Arena called -- he said you're not as good as Bobby Convey!" (Probably not something I'd actually say to your face).
Moderator: You can have more than one if you're not satisfied. It seems Big Dan the Galaxy Fan gets the idea.
Brian - United: Is that a hint that the first ones weren't that good?
Moderator: I'm not naming any names.
Dan - Galaxy: "Freddy Adu gets more tail than you!"
Dustin - Burn: "Hey Conrad, your column is the first thing that comes up on Google whenever I type in 'crap.'"
Moderator: That's the spirit.
ISSUE FOUR: As someone who pays their hard-earned money on a ticket, what qualifies as "entertaining soccer" to you?
Mike - Fire: Winning.
Dustin - Burn: No. 1. Winning. No. 2. Beating the Fire. No. 3 Seeing Fire players writhe in agony.
Dan - Galaxy: Doug Hamilton lying about making the decision to fire Sigi Schmid.
Sam - Wizards: Chances. I just want chances. Goals I can live without.
Dan - Galaxy: In 1998 against the Fire, the Burn scored a goal in four seconds. I want people to play like that.
Dustin - Burn: You need to watch more Burn games because the Burn are nothing if not direct.
Dan - Galaxy: And good passing. The Galaxy used to control the ball so well.
Moderator: But then they fired Sigi.
Mike - Fire: And then you got a 3-6-1 formation.
Dan - Galaxy: Steve Sampson's never done me any wrong personally, and I'd hate for the guy to end up as the Ralph Nader of American soccer, but he's off to the worst start I've ever seen from an MLS coach, and I'm including Roy Wegerle.
Mike - Fire: With the Fire this year, I'll take any ugly win when I can get.
Steve - Crew: As long as there is good passing, some quality chances and the team looks like it's trying to win, I am happy. Games littered with easy giveaways and lethargy drive me nuts.
Mike - Fire: It's called the Kelly Gray Syndrome.
Jay - Quakes: The Quakes used to control the ball so well, too -- keep the thing on the floor, one or two touches, and diagonal through balls. Sigh.
Dustin - Burn: I could live with Bob's Country Bunker in Dallas if it got us a championship.
Mike - Fire: That's more like a town carnival with the bucktoothed carnies.
Dustin - Burn: Hey, I just said I could live with it.
Dan - Galaxy: No one's saying they love Kansas City's jogo bonito?
Moderator: What's not to love? Counter-attacking rules!
Jay - Quakes: I've got to admit, Kansas City's coach Gansler really makes his opponents earn their points.
Dan - Galaxy: Counter-attacking is fine in moderation, but when/if Kansas City wins a double or (God help us) a triple, next year no one will cross the midfield line.
Dustin - Burn: You're already seeing that with the Colorado Rapids this year.
Dan - Galaxy: Didn't the Rapids fold?
Dustin - Burn: Colorado is the worst offender in the league for crap boring soccer.
Brian - United: No points for style, but if you're going to play negative, you better win.
Steve - Crew: And of course, winning makes everything awesome.
Moderator: That won't make Sigi feel any better.
NEXT ISSUE: There seems to be a lot of preconceived notions of soccer -- whether it's low scoring or boring, etc. -- and I think at the end of the day these comments come from people who don't understand the game or don't want to understand the game. So how do we get fans of other sports to enjoy ours?
Dustin - Burn: Don't take them to Burn games.
Sam - Wizards: You can't make anyone like a sport ... sports are inherently boring and ridiculous until you decide otherwise.
Brian - United: By not killing ourselves with infighting. People have got to stop arguing over whether European games on television are better than MLS in person. Start being a fan of the sport and not just someone who says they like soccer. Until that gets sorted out, people outside the sport won't want to jump onto such a fractured bandwagon.
Dustin - Burn: Seriously, MLS needs a glowing ball for their TV broadcasts. It did such wonders for the NHL, and who am I to argue with such success?
Jay - Quakes: You can't force people to like something. It's a long-term project.
Dustin - Burn: Really, seriously, I think it would go a long way if American soccer fans were less like Trekkies and didn't have such a huge inferiority complex.
Dan - Galaxy: Tradition plays a big part in separating a respected sport from Arena Football or the XFL, so it's going to take some time.
Steve - Crew: Soccer is the anti-basketball, and since basketball is hugely popular, it's tough. But basketball bores me to tears ... any one basket means nothing until the very, very end. In soccer, the game-defining moment can come at any time.
Mike - Fire: Stop being geeks.
Jay - Quakes: The World Cup was what hooked me -- a team sport, a true world champion, all the nations expressing themselves through this one sport. That should be more visible in MLS.
Moderator: It's hard to be visible when the only time you see commercials for MLS is on MLS Wrap at 12 a.m. ET.
Dan - Galaxy: Who died and made you moderator?
Dan - Galaxy: It is perception. There's other ways to sell a sport besides billing it as the very top of the line. I used to be a big NFL and MLB fan, but soccer cured me because it's more exciting. Those sports have all those timeouts. Boring is in the eye of the beholder.
Sam - Wizards: MLS and its fans need to just worry about themselves and let the rest come. No need to proclaim how great we are. Just be who we are.
Moderator: Good points everyone, but can we take a moment to talk about MLS Wrap ... anybody have any comments?
Dustin - Burn: It sucks.
Steve - Crew: Have you ever counted how many times John Harkes says "as well"?
Dustin - Burn: There's a pool for it for Burn fans.
Moderator: Harkes says "brilliant" quite a lot as well ...
Sam - Wizards: MLS Wrap gives me everything I want. I'm not going to quibble with their slips into British English.
Jay - Quakes: England's favorite adjective is "brilliant." He's just showing off his experience over there.
Moderator: ... but yet I still watch.
Steve - Crew: I counted 30 "as wells" in one episode. Next time, if I feel up to it, I am going to count how many times he says Sean.
Dustin - Burn: Somebody counted two weeks ago, and Harkes got up to 58 times using "as well."
Dan - Galaxy: It's the only game in town in terms of a highlights show.
Moderator: I'm drawn to it.
Mike - Fire: And that Chris guy with his English accent, trying to pronounce Spanglish.
Sam - Wizards: Chris Sullivan ... yeah, that's even more irritating, but he was a heck of a player once.
Jay - Quakes: I actually enjoy Sullivan. He's full of crap a lot of the time, but at least it's crap I haven't heard before.
Dustin - Burn: My problem with MLS Wrap is that it feels too much like a cable access show.
Mike - Fire: And what's with Sean Wheelock raping Harkes with his eyes?
Sam - Wizards: Sean does that to everyone, it's not just Harkes.
Dustin - Burn: Excuse me, I was wrong, there is one good thing about MLS Wrap: No Max Bretos.
Sam - Wizards: Max Bretos is the absolute worst thing.
Dan - Galaxy: When Max cares about the game, he's perfectly good. When he decides to run patter, well, turn the sound down.
Brian - United: I remember the first time I heard Max Bretos. He did a men's U.S. national team match on pay-per-view. I had heard how he was so much better than Jack Edwards and Ty Keough and when the game started it sounded like a kid doing a game in his bedroom.
Mike - Fire: It was ... and he was naked.
Next Issue: To appease the appetite of the Powers That Be, any comments on 15-year-old Freddy Adu (who allegedly was spotted at a college party on the campus of the University of Maryland this past week)?
Mike - Fire: Freddy who?
Dustin - Burn: I think that Freddy Adu will be the next Jennifer Capriati.
Mike - Fire: Oh that guy, well, he has not been a bust, but he's not the man-child anymore either.
Dan - Galaxy: I'm still a Freddy Adu believer. I think he's a terrific kid, and I think it's totally understandable that he had a peer-pressure night out. If you're 15, don't you jump at the chance to hit on college chicks? I do, and I'm 35.
Brian - United: He's the perfect poster child for MLS. His arrival hasn't made the league an instant success, yet his downfalls haven't ruined the league either. He's just part of the process.
Jay - Quakes: I just hope he can cope with the bizarre situation he's been stuck in and go on to reach his potential. I'll probably hate it when he's torching San Jose defenders in 2007, but I'd like him to be that good for the U.S.
Sam - Wizards: Look, he's going to be very good. I think that's pretty evident. He probably shouldn't have played quite so much this year though.
Moderator: I heard he was doing keg stands in his tighty-whiteys. That's just a rumor though.
Dustin - Burn: I don't really have a problem with Freddy being at that party. If I was 15 and I got the invite, I would've been there. Overall though, in sports, this "child prodigy" thing too often ends badly.
Brian - United: Santino Quaranta being Exhibit A.
Dan - Galaxy: Did we think he was never going to taste a beer and chase a girl? He's not running for Jesus.
Steve - Crew: I'm impressed with Freddy's maturity ... after the game Saturday when the Crew played D.C. United, Crew fans hung around the tunnel and chanted "overrated" at him and Freddy waved and smiled and signed autographs.
Moderator: And finally, THE FINAL ISSUE: I know you like me even if you don't want to admit it, but be honest, how many times have you read "Conrad's Corner"?
Mike - Fire: Four to five times ... when I see the link.
Brian - United: A handful. I don't troll for every bit of soccer info as much as I did when I had a job I hated. Plus, since they cut so much coverage, I don't visit SI.com much at all.
Jay - Quakes: It's tough to track down sometimes.
Dan - Galaxy: If SI.com wouldn't hide the damn thing like the aliens at Roswell!
Moderator: I know you're stealing my ideas Dan.
Dan - Galaxy: I resent that. I'm stealing Beau Dure's ideas.
Dustin - Burn: I have read it once by accident. It occurred when I was looking for nude Halle Berry pictures; needless to say, I was disappointed with Google.
Moderator: Well guys, you have been great ... I will now edit all of your stuff as I see fit to make it funny; any last things to add or questions to ask before we go our separate ways?
Brian - United: Make me taller in my quotes.
Dustin - Burn: Can you change my name so that my wife doesn't find out I have been talking to strange soccer players on the Internet?
Dan - Galaxy: Do you and Carlos Ruiz double date?
Jay - Quakes: What? No rapid fire round?
Dustin - Burn: Seriously, how did you manage to throw down the escaped convict look in your SI.com picture so convincingly?
Dustin - Burn: Wait. They got rid of the picture!
Brian - United: How much beer will you pack in your suitcase for the trips to Salt Lake?
Mike - Fire: And will you wear the secret underwear?
Dan - Galaxy: How many keggers did you attend as a rookie?
Brian - United: Does Richie Williams really have incriminating pictures of Bruce Arena?
Mike - Fire: Is your mom hot?
Dustin - Burn: And for that matter, what does your mom yell at you at soccer games?
Dan - Galaxy: Why isn't Brian Bliss in a head coaching spot yet?
Steve - Crew: Brian Bliss has been bald since age 24.
Moderator: OK, it's one thing to talk about my mom, but when you start making fun of Brian Bliss, I have to put my foot down. Thanks for your time, but the party is over.
That means you too, Freddy.