Good morning folks and happy Friday. I’m sleepy at my desk because I stayed up to watch El Traffico—which started at 10:45 ET. Time zones are hard, man, but they didn’t do us East Coast denizens any favors!
The game, however, lived up to the hype: an eight goal slugfest, with a requisite dose of PRO controversy on a goal where Diego Rossi appeared to be well offside in the buildup (we may never know for sure because ESPN didn’t have an angle parallel to the players involved). And of course, the game had Zlatan saying crazy sh*t.
Zlatan wasn't holding back after potentially his last MLS game... pic.twitter.com/GFT0LXTyz2— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 25, 2019
A rather breathless Taylor Twellman proclaimed the match a potential turning point for MLS during the broadcast, which on face value seems nothing more than hyperbole. But further review of the situation shows it is a pretty compelling visual for how far the league has come.
El Traffico, for better or worse, is now MLS’ most recognizable derby for casual fans. This iteration had two of the league’s biggest stars: Carlos Vela and Zlatan. And the stage could not have been bigger—a spot in the Western Conference finals was at stake.
All of these factors led to an impressive drumbeat of coverage in a sports media ecosystem that often thinks of MLS as an afterthought (El Traffico had its own section on the ESPN ticker, something usually reserved for only the biggest sporting events). It is a spectacle, filled with drama in a way that few MLS matches are. It is not hyperbole to posit that the eyes of the global soccer world were on Banc of California Stadium last night.
The difficult part for MLS, of course, is duplicating this elsewhere. The fact of the matter is that most matches simply do not carry the gravitas that this rivalry does, although the league’s decision to transition to a knockout-style playoff format helps in this sense. Unfortunately, the easiest way for the league to get more matches like last night is to loosen its spending limits to allow the biggest teams to get even bigger. It is a cruel truth that few neutrals turn on the EPL to watch Watford-Brighton or flip on La Liga to see Getafe-Eibar. The Manchester Derby, El Classico—the matches between the biggest teams are what drives viewership. People watch them because they love the teams involve—or hate watch it instead. I love MLS’ parity but it hurts in this sense, it blocks the ability of the media to build up the big players and teams.
Now, MLS’ parity is in part why it is successful in other ways—every fanbase can be engaged because their team can, with the right framework (cc Caps’ front office) be successful. Dumping that doesn’t seem like the right move. But only soccer has the kind of built-in dramatic scripts that we saw play out last night. We all should be rooting for more moments like last night—where those scripts play out on an MLS stage and the stars align and eyeballs from around the world settle on it, even if only for a fleeting moment.
Onto the links...
Shameless Self Promotion
Plenty o’ content here this morning from your friendly 86F staff. Caleb runs down whether Donneil Henry should/will be back in Vancouver next season (its more complicated than you might think).
Best of the Rest
In other news, I learned LAFC releases a falcon before every match, which is pretty badass
Houston Dynamo made a massive move in hiring their next manager, nabbing US U-20 coach Tab Ramos. If given even a little bit of resources, Ramos certainly has the know-how to help the Dynamo punch above their weight—he was rumored to replace Bruce Arena as the next USMNT coach back in the day