Friday, July 6, 2007

Osorio en fuego

Talking about MLS with someone who specifically seemed nervous about getting mentioned in my blog, we discussed at length something that's a bit of a sensitive topic - the ethnicity of players and coaches in the league.

Basically, it's my contention that, (although I don't really know all the coaches of the league personally) no one is looking to discriminate. Soccer is the world's most international game, and both coaches and players are actually some of the most widely-traveled people who work regularly with a amazingly diverse group.

That said, I also believe that coaches feel comfortable with what's familiar. They're not going to stray too far from the roots of the style that they know and understand.

For many coaches in MLS, that style is that one similar to England's - an honest, direct and hardworking approach that emphasizes athleticism and a direct style on goal. The long ball or the work the ball up the wings and cross approach are both popular.

Slashing runs that break down a defense or tricky passes by a center midfielder are depended on less. Most MLS players are asked to multitask and play defense with at least the same energy given to building scoring chances.

On the other hand, the style emphasized by many Latin American squads is varied and often more creative. Argentina's Lionel Messi isn't depended on for his defense, for example.

Intrinsically, this makes it difficult for some players who don't play the English style to adjust to MLS, and they may find themselves benched a lot. A superlative player, such as a Carlos Valderrama or Marco Etcheverry, can overcome this, because they're good enough that a coach will throw caution to the wind and build a team around them and their skills - but otherwise, it's a bit of a square peg, round hole problem.

The coach is the one in charge, so ultimately, he'll pick the players that can best play his style. With so many MLS coaches influenced by the English game, that means certain decent, yet different players, never seem to catch on. That many happen to be Latino is mainly a distinction of style, not ethnicity.

Though Juan Carlos Osorio clearly has experience with the English game, having coached at Man City, and having received a coaching license there as well. Yet the Colombian-born coach has also coached in that country, as well as received a coaching license from Holland.

Hopefully, that all adds up to someone who is open to modifying the general MLS team template and putting something distinctive out on the field.

I realize that Chicago Fire fans are just hoping the guy wins, but to evolve the MLS game a bit, and to perhaps become a club that is unique and also welcoming an imaginative approach to the game, and players who fit in with that - that would be real progress.


Chris said...

could be a good change for Blanco's arrival as well; it should make his transition a bit easier.

Nick said...

I couldn't agree more. The British game needs to be thrown out the window, no matter how effective it has proven to be. We need free-flowing, skill-based soccer in MLS, not English footy nonsense. If our coaches got more concerned about skill and technique and less about tactics, we could develop a player pool that takes advantage of our superior athleticism by not only putting the best athletes on the field, but putting the best athletes on the field who are also very crafty and entertaining players. I hope J.C.O. is focused on that, and uses his knowledge of the South American players to bring in some ballers to the league as well...

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with your comments.

One can understand the temptation to import coaches with the same language and close cultural ties. However, for MLS to prosper and put an attractive product on display, it must not mirror itself on an English style game that is overly physical and mechanical.

Heck, the premiership itself has become more interesting due to the presence of a large influx of players and coaches outside great britain.

Hopefully Osorio can find enough players that will adapt to a more free flowing style of soccer based on short passes and technique.

Anonymous said...

Nice points Andrea. I wonder if the style of the league has been one reason Freddy Adu has failed to live up to the superlative expectations the league placed on his shoulders. In South America, he wouldn't be called upon to defend. Ever. Here he's expected to work like Frankie Hejduk running up and down the pitch. Thoughts?

SW said...

AC, that was probably the one of the most succinct and insightful MLS articles I've read in the history of the league.

And I agree with you full stop.

Were you talking to Alexi?

A.C. said...

I wasn't talking to Alexi, actually. He's mentioned reading my articles, but he's never said anything about the blog.

I hope it doesn't seem as if I'm against the English style, I just don't think it's the end all and be all. MLS has a chance to be something more than the EPL-lite, with a unique blend of influences.

I'd agree as well that the style, at least of some Premiership teams, has evolved due to other factors coming in and affecting the final product.

As far as Freddy goes, there were a lot of things stacked against him in MLS. The style of play was probably a hindrance as well, but not the only one and certainly not the biggest one.

Anonymous said...

I think A.C.'s commentary used to hold true ten year ago but things are slowly, slowly changing.

I remember seeing the level of play of MLS in its earlier form and it was quite scary, the emphasis was even more on the long ball and brute strength.

For a reminder of how things used to be go check out a USL game or NCAA game. USL in particular is god-awful and thats where you see on an emphasis on archaic concepts of football. I actually pay money to attend games because I support our only local football club(Portland) but it is painful to watch.

It's downright criminal to charge money to see that crap. Both teams usually pack it in, and fly at each other like ping pong ball at full speed, creating about 1-2 scoring chances a game. The goals are usually from set plays.

The question has to be asked why are the lower levels such as USL and NCAA playing such crap? Shouldn't the emphasis in the lower levels be on offense, flair, creativity?


A.C. said...


If you look around the league, many coaches are playing veterans of those early days of MLS that you mention. If that's the way they played, don't you think they might coach more to that style? It's what they know.

Anonymous said...

I agree with that statement and I did not think about how some of the veterans could implement the system they are most comfortable with; easiest for them to coach.

The more I think about it the more I think there needs to be a mandate from Don Garber and co. to promote a league wide emphasis on attack/offense--oriented football.

The NBA historically has tinkered with the game to produce more exciting teams like the Phoenix Suns and so forth.

I am at a loss of idea on how to do this effectively. Could it be you reward teams for wins by giving them 4 points? Even that sounds lame.

What I do know is when teams play for a measley point in USL that its a pretty lame fan experience.

JT (Chicago) said...

Interesting that JCO played with much the same formation (against Celtic) that Sarachan had used except that JCO had Blanco as his focal point in attack. Blanco controlled the flow of the match and shifted from side to side as he saw fit. It was a big difference in how dangerous the Fire looked and how much more pleasing to the eye the futbol looked.

Great points AC. Maybe it will take success for the Fire to change the "flavor of the month".