Friday, Southsider and blogger Michael McColl takes ALL CAPS “Away From
The Numbers” for a fan’s perspective on the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Major League Soccer released their 2012 Reserve League Schedule on Monday and for Whitecaps junkies everywhere, it meant more game to be penciled into our diaries.
Sadly, as last year, the schedule leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, it’s better than when MLS disbanded their Reserve League altogether, but only just.
The Caps play ten games, five home and five away, against Western Conference rivals Seattle, Portland, San Jose, LA and Chivas. Once again the games are a mish mash of days and times and the whole thing reeks of a missed opportunity, with the blame being firmly laid at the door of MLS and not the Whitecaps and other clubs.
The Whitecaps will play four games at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium (a precursor to the new training ground being built there?) and one at our old haunt of Swangard Stadium. Three Monday games, one Tuesday and one Sunday, with four 11am kick-offs and a juicy 3pm one against Portland on Sunday April 22nd.
MLS regulations for the League state that it is up to the individual clubs as to whether they make their games open to the public. Why would you not? Seriously, why?!
It’s as if MLS don’t want people to see their ‘product’. They should be insisting that the games are all open to the public, are all played as double headers where possible, and played on days and at times which would allow maximum attendance opportunities. Not just trying to attract whoever might be off their work or school that particular morning.
You just have to look at the four and five figure crowds that Portland Timbers got last season to see what a success these games can be if done properly.
There are a couple of bright spots for travelling Caps fans though.
Anyone making the Easter weekend trip to San Jose will be able to see the first team on the Saturday and the reserves on the Sunday, assuming they allow fans in.
For those of us making the Portland trip at the end of May, we can enjoy two trips to Piggy Park on May 26th and 27th. If you’re a real Caps junkie, and are planning on making a week of it down in Oregon, you can even factor in two PDL games on your way home, as the Residency take on the Timbers on Friday June 1st and then face Seattle Sounders in Tacoma two days later. That’s certainly my plan for a great footy week away.
Access to and scheduling of games aside, the whole Reserve League just infuriates me on so many levels.
This is a great chance for fans to see the fringe players in action, the rehabbers, the youth products who need tested against more adult opposition, trialists that the clubs want to have a look at. For many fans, it may also be the only chance that some will have of seeing the Whitecaps live, either individually or as a family.
I think the Whitecaps games last season were a huge success. They may not have brought in giant numbers, primarily due to the days and times the games were played, but those that did attend enjoyed them and many got a lot closer to their blue and white heroes than fans of other ‘Major League’ sports, as players mingled afterwards signing autographs, posing for photos and just chewing the fat.
These games provide great PR opportunities for the MLS clubs, especially those in crowded sporting markets, to show how fans can feel part of their team in a way that NFL and NHL fans will just never be able to. Being a football fan is a special feeling indeed, as we all already know.
Perhaps even more importantly, these games are the only real competitive opportunities for the depth and young players to try and impress the coaching staff in meaningful matches.
Let’s look at players like Michael Boxall, Michael Nanchoff and Russell Teibert.
Boxall and Nanchoff are not looking likely to be starters this season and will be mainly relied upon for injuries, suspensions and fatigue. How are they meant to keep themselves match fit and sharp from training alone? How are they meant to be able to try and stake a place in the starting line-up if they haven’t got adequate vehicles to do this and showcase their talents?
Ten games, spread unevenly over the season, will not fully allow these players to do this. They need more.
A player like Russell Teibert could go back and play PDL games, but not only could that be viewed as a backward step, it can deprive one of the next generation of Residency players the chance to show what they have, as their spot in the team has gone to someone who has already broken into the MLS squad, and was a starter. I’d rather he did this though than just sit and be wasted through lack of first team action.
Some players will be in the PDL squad, and rightly so. Long Tan certainly took his opportunity to shine there last season and Bryce Alderson earned a MLS contract from his performances. Omar Salgado should have been sent down there to work on his sharpness and team spirit. We don’t really know what he can do, because we didn’t see it, and if he’s restricted to mostly the ten Reserve League games this season, we’re not going to see it again.
These guys need more than ten games to continue their development. MLS needs a longer Reserve League season to try and add depth to the League as a whole and try and get more homegrown players into the League, instead of teams just turning to Europe and South America for their talent.
It makes no sense to me to have the League as it is. Either fully commit to a near full season of games, with weekend double header opportunities galore, or why even have it at all, when it looks like nothing more than an afterthought and a pain in the ass for MLS?
The extra costs of taking a team down to California for a midweek reserve game is ridiculous. Save money and help to build squad morale by taking most, if not all, of the MLS squad to these cities and playing games on both the Saturday and the Sunday. The current happy mood of the squad would just be bolstered by having them all together most weekends, and for fans, especially the travelling ones, it makes the whole weekend an event.
Was having the unbalanced schedule not meant to be cutting down on travel and costs? The current set up of the Reserve League undoes all that.
If Major League Soccer really does have aspirations of being one of the world’s top leagues in ten years time, then sorting out a proper development league for the fringe and younger players surely has to be one of the major places to start.
About the author:
McColl began writing about football in 1989 and has freelanced for
various newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK. He moved to
Vancouver in 2007 where he currently pens the “Away From the Numbers” blogs on Canadian Soccer News and contributes to Prost Amerika. Michael is also a member o the North American Soccer Reporters association.
a proud member of the Vancouver Southsiders supporters club, though his
views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the