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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

MLS teams are out of their league in exhibitions

Visiting European powerhouses have dominated in matchups, but the crowds and money are good for Major League Soccer, or so the thinking goes.

July 23, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • Cristiano Ronaldo lines up a shot for Real Madrid in the Spanish club's 4-1 victory over the Galaxy at the Coliseum.
Cristiano Ronaldo lines up a shot for Real Madrid in the Spanish club's… (Kelvin Kuo / US Presswire )

The annual rites of summer are in full swing in the U.S., with Europe's big and not-so-big clubs over here for a few weeks to play Major League Soccer's not-so-big and some-quite-small clubs, as well as a couple of Mexico's alleged giants.

So far, so bad.

Real Madrid thrashed the Galaxy, 4-1, and the most meaningful comment to come out of it was Jose Mourinho's remark that it is pretty to cool to come to America and be able to train in obscurity — or something like that.

"The training conditions are good," Mourinho said. "The freedom that we have is also good, because in Europe our lives are difficult. Socially, it is difficult. Here, players feel some freedom. They can walk in the street. They can be together. They can share some time together."

Want a translation? It means that very few of the people who might have run into Real Madrid's millionaires on the boulevards of Westwood or Marina del Rey could tell the difference between their Pepe and their Kaka.

The players were not bothered because they were not recognized.

Perhaps if Real had been training in or wandering around East L.A. instead of UCLA it might have been otherwise. Perhaps even Cristiano Ronaldo might have been spotted and hounded by fans and media.

Switch north, now, to Seattle, where Manchester United demolished the Seattle Sounders, 7-0, and the debacle — witnessed by a crowd of 67,052 — brought the admission from Seattle Coach Sigi Schmid that perhaps he should not have "rewarded" his bench by giving everyone a chance to say that they once played against Wayne Rooney.

Better from Schmid was his pregame observation that "every player hopes in the back of their minds, whether they say it or not, that this is their breakthrough game; this is their game in front of Cecil B. DeMille and they get discovered."

Well, Cecil B. is long, long gone and the Sounders were not discovered, they were exposed.

Of course, so was Chivas de Guadalajara, which was made to look downright ordinary by Marcelo and Co. in Real Madrid's 3-0 whitewash of Mexico's supposed powerhouse down San Diego way.

What applies to MLS apparently also applies to the Mexican league, except that the Mexican league occasionally produces a player such as Javier Hernandez, and MLS is light years away from achieving that. Landon who?

On Saturday, large throngs were expected in Chicago to watch Manchester United, and in Philadelphia to watch Real Madrid and in Toronto to watch Juventus and Sporting Lisbon.

On Sunday, Manchester City is in Carson to give the Galaxy a second lesson in humility, assuming, of course, that City takes the game seriously and that Mario Balotelli and friends are not in L.A. simply for some beach time before their real work begins.

Later still, Barcelona and Mexico's Club America will be making their annual pilgrimage to U.S. shores, the difference being that it is they who will be bowed down to rather than them doing the bowing. Soccer idols and all.

It is difficult to tell whether this annual incursion of European and Mexican teams is a good thing or not.

On the plus side, it does give U.S. soccer fans the chance to see in person some of the players they normally can only read about or watch on television. It also feathers the financial nest of MLS and its clubs, large crowds and fat television contracts translating into welcome revenue.

On the other hand it does expose the gulf that still exists between the best of MLS and the best of Europe, which in turn keeps fans from going to MLS stadiums and has them tuning in, instead, to the Premier League or Serie A or La Liga.

Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, argues that the rising tide lifts all ships, which is meant to indicate that if big crowds come out to see the world's top clubs, some of those same fans might be moved to sample an MLS game or two.

As trickle-down theories go, it doesn't hold a tremendous amount of water. Not enough to float a ship.

Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena has another theory, one he expressed in a midweek news conference.

"It's a lot more difficult in these games — the way they're set up in this format — for the MLS clubs than it is for the visiting teams," Arena said, "because the whole tournament is set up to accommodate them. Our needs are not addressed at all."

Sandwiching high-profile friendly games, whose results mean nothing but require effort and commitment if only to save face, between league matches that count in the standings, is not an ideal scenario.

Unlimited substitutions is what the European clubs want, but their roster depth (in numbers and talent) makes that an unfair fight when MLS teams go to their bench.

But that's the situation MLS has gotten itself into each summer. It wants the prestige of playing against top clubs. It wants the revenue from those games. It wants to foster relationships with Europe's and Mexico's powers.

But it's the league's players and coaches who pay the price.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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