No, Not Soccer, Too


I have to admit, like most of America, I don't pay attention to Major League Soccer. Recently, however, a statistic caught my attention. If you can believe it, the MLS actually outdraws both the NBA and the NHL in per-game attendance. Weird, I know.

However, until the MLS can get the same number of people to tune in to their games on TV as those other leagues do, they are still going to be routinely ignored - even though ESPN broadcasts their games (which should be a red flag warning for what follows).

Perhaps the MLS is learning a bit from its rivals...as in, how to fix a game for ratings purposes.

Matt Agosta writes about soccer in the U.S. (check out his blog here). He sent me the following [with my additions in the brackets], and it is food for thought on the eve of the 2011 MLS Finals:

1. MLS is paying David Beckham unheard of amounts of money [Beckham is making approximately $6.5 million a season] even when a lot of MLS teams are just eeking out profits. They pay Beckham so much because he helps television ratings and gives the league legitimacy [as he is the biggest name in soccer, bar none, in the U.S. Well, in men's soccer that is.].

2. Beckham's team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, are owned by AEG (Philip Anschutz). AEG also owns the Houston Dynamo, which is playing against them in the final [that's right, one company owns both teams playing in the Finals].

3. The final game is played at Home Depot Center, a stadium owned and operated by AEG [what a coincidence].

4. Beckham is in his last contract year with the Galaxy and might choose to play in Europe.

5. Beckham has never won a championship with the Galaxy and his team has already scheduled international friendlies in places like the Philippines, Hong Kong or Malaysia (they do this all the time, it's how they get extra cash).

6. Landon Donovan just told the U.S. soccer federation he won't play for the national team; he wants to play in this final game.

7. One of Real Salt Lake's best players, Fabian Espindola, (who beat the Galaxy last year in championship) missed a wide open shot (the goalie had almost zero chance of saving the ball) in the semi-final against the Galaxy. The score was only 3-1 and RSL still had a chance of competing. Instead of being angered, Espindola laughed and hugged the goalie.

8. ESPN hates MLS ratings and hopes that people would watch more soccer, they want Beckham to win and come back to the league [being a champion - with perhaps a few more promised tied to a multi-million dollar contract - would do that, no?].

As Matt also wrote to me, "Now ... doesn't it make sense for MLS to have Beckham win this last game so they can sell more jerseys and hype up the upcoming Asian friendlies? Houston is the underdog anyway, don't you think the Houston players will lie down and take a loss if they get paid extra money to not win? My prediction: A Galaxy win is beneficial for the league that's what's going to happen, but they'll make it seem like a close game (which is way easier in soccer). "

Considering that, as pointed out above, both teams in the Finals are owned by the same company, would anyone be surprised by a contrived result? As my colleague Delcan Hill has shown time and again, international soccer is routinely rigged. Not just the "friendlies," but Hill has proved both Olympic and World Cup games have been rigged. What be would so difficult about doing it here in the U.S.?

The MLS Cup Finals were played on November 20th. What happened?

The sell-out crowd of 30,000+ saw a game that played out like Matt predicted above. The Galaxy won a tight one 1-0 (bet ESPN loved that). Who was involved in the game's only goal? The Galaxy's three biggest stars: Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan (who scored), and of course David Beckham (I'd guess ESPN loved that, too).

After the game, Beckham claimed in an article posted on the MLS website, "The hamstring, I tore it on Tuesday." In other words, Beckham played a full 90 minutes of championship caliber soccer on a torn hamstring (or it may have only been pulled, depending on who was speaking about it). This was an injury which occured 4 days prior to the finals.

If you believe that, then ask yourself where was the Galaxy's opponent's leading star, the Houston Dynamo's Brad Davis? Davis supposedly tore his quad in the Eastern Conference Championship game played 14 days earlier. He couldn't go. And if you're wondering how severe that injury was, check out the video below which shows it as it occurred.

Many were quoted as saying that the Galaxy's superstar lineup could not be beat. Many felt the same way about the Miami Heat's "Big 3" in the NBA as well. But look what happened in the NBA Finals this past seaon. But would the Dallas Mavericks have won the NBA title without Dirk Nowitzki? Don't know, but that's the handicap the Dynamo were left with minus Davis.

I'm sure the ownership of the Dynamo - which is the same ownership group that owns the Galaxy, by the way - couldn't have stepped in and told Davis to stand down, wanting a Galaxy win considering all that was on the line in this one. Because if they had, well, then Sports Illustrated's Steve Davis wouldn't have been able to write this the day after the game:

"The symmetry of it all was simply outstanding, almost too storybook to believe it could occur by happenstance.

"For all the hullabaloo over designated players in Major League Soccer, none of these salary-exempted luminaries had won an MLS Cup before Sunday. Beckham's arrival in 2007 marked the beginning of a new day in MLS. The so-called "Beckham rule" delivered big names to MLS, and that helped deliver ever bigger crowds and fatter TV contracts to a burgeoning league. But none had been able to deliver a championship to their employers.

"Houston won in 2007 with no DP on the roster. Since then, Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Colorado claimed MLS Cups, all with no DP services.

"That changed on a raw and rainy night at the Home Depot Center, were Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and, of course, David Beckham finally pounded out the DP breakthrough. All three Galaxy DPs had something to say about the outcome, each playing a part in the 16th MLS Cup's only goal."

Just a bit o' luck for the MLS, no?