Op-Ed: Interpreting Di Vaio’s Words On MLS

DiVaio’s debate.

James Grossi writes from Toronto for The Shin Guardian


Bare quotes are always dangerous without context.

In what amounted to a vain attempt at researching the actual source of the attributed quotes, only to discover that the Gazzetta Dello Sport website has a pay-wall – though it must be admitted that comprehension would have been a problem anyways – the problem of what to make of snippets from a player or manager who has been asked for their view on MLS has reared its head again.

The comments – roughly that MLS lacked tactical discipline and needed to bring in new managers to augment the brain-trust – echoed something Branko Boskovic tried to elucidate on the Capital Soccer Show a few weeks back.


Boskovic was discussing his trouble finding the fitness required for a full ninety minutes in North America and commented that in Europe when a team takes the lead, each and every player on the pitch uses their lifetime of tactical training to stifle the opposition, letting the ball do the work, suffocating the match, allowing the team protecting the lead to conserve energy and see out the result without much fuss.

Here however, that simple act of shutting down the opponent does not – perhaps, cannot – happen with such efficiency; unless the club in question is Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy of 2011, who were quite fond on the 1-0 score-line, even excelling at it.

The extra running that was required in the more frantic play of MLS was the cause of Boskovic’s lack of fitness. In essence, he felt he was probably good enough for entirety of the cooler atmosphere of a more-controlled European match; here, more was required of him – something he vowed to get on top of now that he was healthy and getting time on the pitch.

Some simple numbers back up the assertion that teams lack the ability to tactically close down a match: At the time of writing, 224 MLS matches have been played so far this season, removing the 14 that ended as scoreless draws – thereby focusing on those contests where there was the possibility of a comeback – the team that opened the scoring has lost 36 matches and tied a further 31. Just shy of 1/3 of matches witnessed a reversal of the destination of the points after either team had taken the advantage.

587 goals have been scored in those matches, 118 from minutes 60-to-75 and 128 from minutes 75-to-90 – San Jose accounts for 29 of those goals, but that doesn’t matter at the moment – more than 40% of goals have come in the final third of the match: clearly a disproportionate amount.

Some of that disparity can be accounted for by the ticking clock, necessitating the taking of risks, the effects of exhaustion, leading to poor decision making or mistakes, plays its role too, as does the potential that defensive substitute’s are not as good as starters, or that the desperate throwing on of additional attackers leads to increased scoring chances.

Regardless of cause, leads are not safe in MLS; they change hands, players get sloppy.

Whether that trait is a bad thing is a matter of taste.

The same criticism is often applied – by those who favour the continental-style – to the English game, where the bloodlust of the crowd often overpowers any tactical discipline preached by the managers.

MLS: No tactical monotony?

One could argue that Di Vaio was stating that this is a league that lacks the tactical monotony that has plagued other leagues; his homeland, Italy, in particular has often been branded with the label of being a defense-first system, a nomenclature not necessarily always true or derogatory, but an accusation all the same.

Really, it comes down to a matter of taste.

In is entirely possible that this trait is one of the many side-effects of the enforced parity in MLS – in which case it should be tolerated as a necessary evil – added bonus: it can be pretty dramatic and therefore fun to watch.

In virtually every league on the planet there is a hierarchy of clubs. Those that challenge for the title, those that hang around near the top, those who stay well clear of the relegation and those for flirt with it or drop.

When Barcelona scores that first goal, more likely than not, the match is done; in MLS, where no clubs stands too high above the rest, this domination does not happen.

If the side-effect of the reduction of the chance of financial doom is that the game is less predictable, very few would shed a tear.

It must be considered that the lack of tactical discipline is in no way a reflection on the level of coaching or even the ability of the players, but in the insane turnover rate at which rosters shuffle.

It comes as no surprise that the best teams – and the most tactically organized – are those where a core group has been allowed to play together for an extended period of time.

Di Vaio has only been here for a short while, and it is high dubitable that such a grand sweeping statement was meant to offend anyone or to be a condemnation of the league.

If the quotes are interpreted as trying to explain the style of play to the Italian fan – presumably the target of the article in an Italian paper – who would be used to the more controlled nature of their game, it is a fairly apt description.

But really, why care about what someone has to say about the league. If is enjoyable, then it is; if not, then it’s not.

This is a young league; it has its strengths and weaknesses, and the desperate search for validation – the fretful waiting for someone to say something negative – or the constant search for a comparable level as reference, is needless.

The business of match analysis through quotation is a tired trend.

At times, one wonders whether the overreliance on the words of the professional is the best way to observe the game – alas, that seems a more pertinent subject for another discussion altogether.

Of course their opinion is valid, but much as the best players seldom make the best managers, does the participant make the best observer?

Take words for what their worth and don’t recoil at slightest hint of criticism from an intelligent source. Understand the critic – get at what they are actually saying, respect their expertise and experience, and decide for oneself the merits of any statement.

For this league to truly grow, it cannot let itself be governed by the fear of what others think.

The salary cap, a necessary tool for the stability and growth of the league, once seen as a ridiculous peculiarity, is now an investigable safeguard by clubs, leagues and countries who find themselves in debilitating mountains of debt.

Perhaps in the future, the perceived lack of tactical discipline that increases the entertainment value to a still nascent fan base will be another facet of MLS that others seek to emulate.

During this, the summer touring season, there have been a lot of platitudes about the growth, quality, facilities, etcetera, of the league, and there have been a lot of defeats, some of them heavy (actually, not that many, but the point stands). It is essential that both imposters – praise and discouragement – be met the same.

MLS is doing fine; enjoy the rest of the season.

What do you think?

Would you rather MLS was more tactically disciplined? Or do you enjoy the “it-ain’t-over-‘til-it’s-over” action? Did anyone enjoy watching all those 1-0 LA score-lines or does it get tedious? Has the comeback-kids, never-say-die vibe going on at San Jose made the season more vibrant?

31 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joe on 2012/08/20 at 4:15 PM

    Did you ask Ives to give you a good list of questions to add to the end of your story?? lol


    • haha, yeah sorry about that. I take full responsibility for the weak attempt at spurring conversation; but hey, it sort of worked.


  2. Posted by Eric on 2012/08/20 at 6:49 PM

    I for one wouldn’t change a thing about how unpredictable MLS tends to be. I agree that it’s the parity and the fact that our league still puts a high emphasis on fitness and athleticism which leads to this. However, I think it just makes everything fun to watch.


    • One of the many benefits of the parity in the league – unless of course you’re the betting type or a Toronto fan, neither of whom for which it does any good.


  3. Posted by Osager on 2012/08/20 at 7:05 PM

    I would like very much to see the MLS team I support be able to protect a one-goal lead. And I think all the other teams in the league need not change a thing.


  4. Posted by LA G on 2012/08/20 at 8:44 PM

    Great points. When MLS fans stop listening to European players/coach’s neagitive opinions on the league is the time when we know MLS has succeded. I, for one, still listen to them but could care less.


    • There is much that can be gleaned from listening and learning from their experiences, but that shouldn’t determine the best course of action.

      A slightly thicker skin and an open mind will serve the league – and its fans – well.

      Take the best facets and fit it into the framework that works here.

      Agree that when MLS no longer looks for qualifiers – comparisons, praise, etc – it will have arrived, but should always keep an open mind – and ear.


  5. Posted by Hal on 2012/08/20 at 10:05 PM

    you lost me with the salary cap business. There should be no salary cap in MLS. It just weakens the league and weakens teams for when they face other CONCACAF teams.

    If MLS didn’t have these silly salary cap rules they would dominate the Champions league.

    Soccer is the global game. MLS is the only league on the planet with a salary cap.


    • The salary cap in the only reason the league exists and thrives at all.

      Caps also exist in much of Australian sport, including the A League – who similarly struggle in the Asian Champions League, but are getting better – as well as in a bunch of rugby competitions and Aussie Rules Football.

      Agree that It is a detriment to competing with the Mexican Clubs in CONCACAF, I would argue that is as much about roster restrictions as actual cash – the two go hand-in-hand – but give it time.

      Some clubs in Mexico are a century old, and count their television revenues in millions of dollars.

      Comparing MLS to the Liga MX is like comparing the CFL to the NFL – that being said, Salt Lake was a goal away from beating Monterrey, not bad for an eight-year old (six at the time) club all while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

      If it wasn’t for the peculiarities of European Law, surely there would be a movement towards such a restriction in Europe, and Financial Fair Play is something of an attempt at such measures.


      • Posted by Jared on 2012/08/21 at 6:24 AM

        If MLS removed the salary cap then New York and LA would win the Champions League followed by MLS disappearing. Best case scenario would be that it turned into a La Liga/SPL situation where there was a top two followed by everyone else. There isn’t enough money in the game right now including Concacaf Champions League to remove the salary cap at this point. MLS isn’t that far removed from having to 2/3 of the teams owned by Anschutz and the Hunts.


        • Don’t forget Toronto, consistently the third-highest spender in the league – guess money doesn’t solve all problems.


        • Posted by Hal on 2012/08/21 at 6:22 PM

          not true

          those teams already spend way more than other MLS teams and they aren’t even on top of their conference tables.

          there’s not enough money in MLS to where you would have a La Liga/SPL scenario.

          without a cap you would just have better balanced rosters and not so much inconsistent play because of lower quality players making starting 11’s because teams can only spend their $$$$ on DP’s


      • Posted by Damon on 2012/08/21 at 6:58 AM

        Personally I still can’t see why financial fair play is legal and isn’t thrown out of the European Courts as an illegal price fixing mechanism. The same thing would be highly illegal in the US without the players agreeing to it. The only analysis I have seen says that its also likely illegal in Europe. I do find it interesting so little has been written about it.


        • Let me stress I’m no financial or legal expert by any means and haven’t spent much time investigating FFP, but could it have something to do with the fact that the ECA (European Club Association) eventually and after long negotiations agreed to the terms, thereby making it more an accepted code of conduct than an actual rule?

          Then there is the fact that it only applies to international club play under the UEFA umbrella – Champions & Europa leagues – meaning it is a less a restriction of business than the regulations of the competition.

          The penalties for any transgressions are very nebulous and each situation is apparently to be dealt with on a case by case basis. Clubs who can demonstrate long-term goals to correct any temporary imbalances or transgressions will skate by – for a time.

          Whether any punishments would hold up to a court challenge – should it come to that – is an entirely different question.

          I think everyone is waiting to see how it is enacted before commenting.

          I may be totally off base here, just conversing really.


      • Posted by Hal on 2012/08/21 at 6:18 PM

        there are a lot of things that people believe to be true. Just because they believe them to be true it doesn’t make them true. And on the surface they sound like they might be true. But when you look into them, it turns out they are not true. They are just assumptions people believe to be true without any evidence.

        One of these assumptions is that the league needs the salary cap to survive. I’m not sure why people believe this. MLS probably doesn’t even believe it. But they probably want their fans to believe it.

        You already have clubs going way over the salary cap because of the DP rule. NY Red Bulls spend around 14mil a year on salaries,the bulk of which go to just 3 players.The league hasn’t folded because of this. LA Galaxy also spend way more than other teams. Neither of these teams is on top of their conference table

        If you removed the salary cap you would see teams with more balanced rosters. Rather than having 2 DP’s paired with players who would be lucky to get a game in League 1, you would have rosters filled with a higher quality starting 11 with football quality at every position. More Americans would start their careers off in MLS rather than jump to some Scandanavian league.

        if anyone has evidence to back up the claim that the salary cap is needed to prevent the league from folding then please present it.


  6. Posted by crazymike366 on 2012/08/20 at 10:07 PM

    Athleticism plus insane fitness and determination – what the English call “workrate” – is something American players seem to be renowned for having the world over. It would therefore make sense that MLS would, as a league, have this quality in spades as well.

    Call me biased, but as an American I don’t think MLS needs to slow down to adapt to the tactics abroad…much to the contrary, I think MLS tactics need to be adapted to exploit the blistering pace and workrate with which the game is played here.

    When MLS gets to the point that technique and tactical decision-making are on a par with Europe, MLS and the USMNT will be the best in the world because it will look like all of our opponents are playing in slow motion by contrast!


    • Yeah, this, right here. MLS tactics are evolving to emphasize the crazy levels of fitness around the league. The vehemence of the pressing in this league is getting crazy, for example.

      One of the side-effects of this is that the average game features much fewer of those moments where a player can really get into their bag of tricks; it’s absolutely routine in, say, La Liga for an attacking midfielder to collect the ball and turn cleanly; if that happens in the average MLS game, no matter what minute, you’ll hear hoots from the opposing bench as the coaching staff says “STEP INTO HIM!”


    • I think San Jose is a perfect example of that very tact.

      The use of speed and width, getting full-backs into the attack, pairing a natural finisher – Wondo – with a big tenacious body to cause distractions and open space.

      Cronin playing a simple, but effective role in the middle. Nothing to flashy, very athletic, good honest work.

      Their result in Montreal, after Lenhart went off and with Gordon unavailable, speaks to the limitation and reliance of such a system – and perhaps to the lack of a plan B – but hey, it’s worked pretty well so far.

      Not sure if I agree with domination – I am Canadian, not sure I could handle that – soccer is a game that can take many faces, speed is only dangerous if one can apply it – but it is definitely a worthy and useful tool to add to the arsenal.

      I think the tactical knowledge is there – MLS has a lot of smart folks out there and it’s a relatively simple game – but decision making, comfort in a system – which I witnessed as a problem first hand here in Toronto – and technique – first-touch, precision, all that – could and should all improve in the coming years.


  7. As an Earthquakes fan, I love that you can never count them out no matter how late in the game it is. I would actually love to see more of that in other leagues. However, I do still fall in the trap of feeling that I need to defend the league and American soccer in general. I’m going to make a point of NOT defending it, and just let people deal with it! If they like it, great! If not, they’re lame. Just kidding. But seriously.


    • I’m all for defending the league, it gets a bad rep and there is a lot of misinformation out there – the clandestine rules don’t help in that regard.

      There are a lot of factors that affect the league that are often overlooked. I’m always harping on about the travel, the temperature, the time zones, roster sizes and scheduling.

      What’s the temperature and climate difference between Manchester and London – a few degrees and more-or-less rain? Going from Portland to Dallas is shocking to the body.

      Travelling across North America is like having to play in Russia or Turkey weekly for the Western Europeans – they sure harp on about that when it happens once.

      And playing every three days isn’t so bad if you can replace class with class – having a large squad full of internationals.

      In MLS depth after the first 15-18 roster spots is dicey – a few injuries, extended gruelling schedules – I keep harping on TFC’s: they have played ten matches in addition to the league fixtures already, with three more to go and would have had more in CONCACAF had they not removed the play-in match and made the groups smaller.

      Could have been as many as 17 additional games without those changes – can’t succeed with such a small, thin roster under those conditions.


  8. Posted by Austin Coover on 2012/08/21 at 9:09 AM

    I find the salary cap to be the single most important aspect of MLS. From a fans perspective, I am personally getting tired of watching other sports in the US, like basketball for instance, dump money into top players in order to make multiple runs at the championship. It takes the fun out of the game. This nation is plagued with it (just look to political campaigning). If a game is not a contest, there is little fun in watching it. For those that play the MLS fantasy; would it be any fun if you had unlimited funds?
    More importantly, from a player’s perspective, it has to take some of the wind out of an athlete to know that your championship silverware was largely paid for and hardly earned. The salary cap makes it a fair fight. Victory comes at the behest of the team that came to fight harder, play better, work together to achieve greatness in the face of fatigue. The bench gets to play because they are needed and just not because of injury or stoppage time wasting – and they have to play hard. There is competition for who gets to start.
    On a side note – and several posts have eluded to this – MLS requires exceptional travel, climate and time zone change, and for some teams requires playing in three different events simultaneously. Lets also not forget that the fan base in this country for soccer is a unique, organically grown crowd. Teams are competing not just with other soccer teams, but are vying for fans from other sports. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, but in most countries this is simply a result of it being the default big business arena event. Perhaps this is a tangent, but I feel that the salary cap is a crucial piece that is building a fervent and healthy fan base for MLS .


    • Posted by Jared on 2012/08/21 at 9:30 AM

      The NBA has a salary cap. It’s just that the essentially designated players in the NBA make more of an impact because it’s only 5 guys on the floor at one point. It has more to do with the freedom the players have in moving teams because the contracts aren’t owned by the league.


    • Posted by Hal on 2012/08/23 at 7:26 PM

      soccer is a global game. The salary cap prevents MLS teams from doing better in the CCL.

      it’s pretty unnecessary. Parity just leeds to mediocrity.


  9. Posted by Rad Man on 2012/08/21 at 9:49 AM

    I love watching MLS games…I don’t even bother with any others…Keep MLS on this track and we’ll be the leaders rathers than followers!


    • Posted by thomask on 2012/08/23 at 12:39 PM

      “Take words for what their worth” mmm.

      I love watching MLS because it consistently confounds the traditional US sports fan. Just as there is more than one way to play – and win – a game, there is more than one way to build a successful league.

      The development of a unique style is essential if US league and national teams are to be successful on the international stage – nobody wins consistently by beating an opponent at their own game, you have to do better by doing it your own way.

      I don’t like the way some MLS players take unfair advantage, but I really like the way players who gain bad reputations (for flopping, cheating, physicality, time wasting etc) are addressed tactically and don’t tend to prosper, allowing those with real skills to shine.

      The salary cap is interesting, but as long as some players are earning $40k it is too low. If it is to survive there must be a higher minimum salary. I’d also include coaching staff under the cap

      And while one good player will improve a bad team, a championship-winning team is the one with the fewest weaknesses – meaning performance becomes more important than reputation and only the true stars prosper… fakers complain.

      US soccer isn’t about PR nor is it decided by agents and executives, it is a true sport – the first true sport in the US.


  10. […] the MLS reagrding Marco Di Vaio's comments that the league "lacked technical discipline" Op-Ed: Interpreting Di Vaio?s Words On MLS The Shin Guardian __________________ Operation "hunt Shea Weber down" CANCELLED …. Im going […]


  11. Posted by Soccernst on 2012/08/22 at 7:55 PM

    Due to the photo evidenve: Since when did Apollo Anton Ono start playing for Philly?


  12. Posted by Clyde on 2012/11/05 at 12:37 AM

    The salary cap should be at least be triple and clubs should be run like clubs not as a single entity and some teams need to be relocated like Chivas, and Columbus


    • Posted by dikranovich on 2012/11/06 at 1:36 PM

      clyde, im not sure if you are aware, but next to houstonm a team that was in MLS cup last season, no other team in MLS had as great an increase in attendence this season as the columbus crew. i guess chivas could move to some place like albuquerque, nm, but that would take away a very nice derby from the fans.


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