Saturday, February 6, 2016

Last Night: Mediocrity, by MLS

The argument for sports in the US goes; "Well, that's to keep it fair." Which is true! But the resulting effect is mediocrity. Over time, say 20+ years, and you get what we saw last night.


The US Men's National team wrapped up the month long "B-team" camp last night with a largely uninspiring 1-0 win over Canada. The one goal was scored by Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore and assisted by Columbus Crew SC's Ethan Finlay.

The game was filled to the brim with MLS players last night on both sides. January camps are usually this way because the better players are playing important soccer right now while MLS is in the heart of her offseason.

There was a graphic early in the match last night that said around 30 players between the two teams were playing in MLS. In years past this might have stirred a sense of pride for those close to the league. For those that have been watching MLS closely, though, it was more of a disclaimer.

"Professional Driver, Closed Course."

"Don't try this at home."

"Rated MA. Ages 18 and Up."

Those are the thoughts that went through my head when I saw the graphic. Sure enough, a game filled with MLS players... looked like a MLS game. Actually, sort of worse than a MLS game. Imagine taking out the foreign talent for a normal match - that's what it was last night.


On a philosophical level, last night is exactly where MLS wants to be. What do they expect to happen when teams cannot build a roster of even 11, let alone 18, above average players?

In general, people do not become great by being surrounded by mediocrity. Nowhere in life does this happen and I don't get the argument otherwise.

Imagine the London Philharmonic Symphony only being allowed to have a certain number of good musicians or elite military units fighting on the front lines being forced to place Army personnel in their ranks. Sessions change. Training changes. Do it on a large scale and the overall level of quality declines.

Think of it in terms of your own personal experience. Where you work, even. If an important job needs to be done and you are tasked with completing it, do you want to be forced to include poor performers? What is the result if you are? Contrast that to the result you get with the best folks.

For the past 15 years, I've worked in a pure performance based business. A place where careers are made and destroyed by output. By numbers. Manufacturing, Distribution, Production. You need to have an environment where you are putting the best people with the best people to get things done. If no such environment exists? You're done.


For whatever reason, "sports fans" in the US largely accept mediocrity. What does greatness look like in your favorite team sport? We've never certainly never seen it in MLS. Check the record books.

How about in the NBA? Maybe when Team USA gets together? It's been generations since we've seen it in the NFL. Step back and watch objectively. The sport you are watching isn't what it could be. College sports, the freest of markets in the US... Imagine being able to see a league made up the best programs every year.

Last night was a showcase of some of the better US and Canadian MLS players. The result might not be the product MLS wants but it's what their process creates.

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