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Michael Sebold


The Eye of the Beholder?

Written by on April 14, 2011 | 2 Comments »
Posted in MLS

For football fans, when we hear our sport described as “the beautiful game”, it evokes a certain sense of pride.

With the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Sneijder, Bale, and so many others to dazzle us with feats of stunning skill and athleticism, it’s a well-deserved moniker, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. There are times when things look a little rough around the edges.

It might seem gratuitous, with this year’s MLS season in its infancy, to ponder things unsightly, but this isn’t limited to the “less sophisticated” parts of the world, as there is certain ugliness in the type of overwhelming lopsidedness that presently persists in La Liga.

Notwithstanding the quasi-heroic effort put on by Almeria in the first 45 at the weekend, being a Barca fan feels somehow tainted of late by the utter inevitability of the outcome, and the tones of El Cant del Barça ring slightly sharp.

At least a typical Real fixture this season still holds the uncertainty of a team that has yet more kinks to work out (what is it with that back line?).

But our part of the footballing world would surely be content if that were the only sort of issue they had – although it often seems that an abundance of fruit have been hanging low for an eternity.

For example, while the product on the pitch in MLS continues to make gains, in a number of cases it’s the pitch itself that detracts from the expected beauty. Venues like Buck Shaw, CommunityAmerica, and RFK have for too long injected an undesirable element of absurdity into the league’s image.

And this has opened the continuously improving North American game to rather underserved ridicule. Of course, this isn’t limited to MLS, as the atmosphere of a typical A-League match-up is lost in the hollows of an Aussie-Rules stadium.

Thankfully, the visual of a patched up baseball field is swiftly moving into the past – we can only hope that the remaining artificial turf will fast follow suit.

Other improvements, while perhaps less obvious, also hold the potential for boosting the league’s image.

For example, enforced standards for TV coverage are badly needed – Saturday’s broadcast of the TFC–San Jose fixture at the tiny high-school-bleacher-clad Buck Shaw wasn’t in any way improved by a director with a ridiculous penchant for ill-timed and pointless replays that seemed to alternate with inexplicably long close-ups of players uninvolved in the play that was quickly moving up the pitch.

And the fix here seems straightforward: a few H1B Visas for some borrowed German or English producers should enable the various broadcasters to get their domestic staff up to speed. But even broadcasts from venues like BMO Field would be significantly improved simply by elevating the camera platforms a few meters to give fans a better sense of the game’s tactical developments.

And it should go without saying that widescreen is the only format appropriate to frame our beautiful game.

CONCACAF also suffers from an acute form of an ailment that does pop up in every part of the world: inept officiating. Wednesday’s Revolution–Whitecaps fixture is a case-in-point, as “Tarjeta-Toledo” did his best to suck the life out of what was otherwise a highly entertaining game – that excludes the red cards, which were all deserved, but the match was otherwise simply not well-managed.

That isn’t to say that all MLS fixtures are poorly officiated, as the TFC–Earthquakes contest stands out as an example of where the tone set by the referee actually went a significant way towards overcoming the evening’s other notable deficiencies.

And to be sure, MLS officiating generally still doesn’t descend to the preposterous lows too frequently seen in other CONCACAF competitions.

In the Champions League and the Gold Cup, the all-too-pervasive play-acting still tends to benefit the cheaters – to the detriment of the game’s beauty.

Surely it’s just a matter of implementing effective and ongoing training for our officials, complemented by an equally effective performance management system, to achieve the desired consistency.

Football’s power-politics tend to make for slow progress on the resolution of issues like the imbalance in Spain, yet things do change – the EPL is certainly more competitive than it has been in some time, and the seemingly disinterested Italian fans have had to cede a Champions League spot to their more enthusiastic German counterparts.

We do have lower-hanging fruit on this side of the pond, though, and we ought to get on with the picking. It would be a shame indeed if easy fixes left unaddressed undid the good work done by forward-leaning ownership groups such as Seattle and now Vancouver.


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2 responses to “The Eye of the Beholder?”

  1. John Bladen says:

    Well said, Michael.

    I’ve been complaining about the camera angles at BMO (and other venues) for years. It is a problem for most leagues, though. You don’t even have to leave the top league in most countries to find a few grounds that would seem spartan even by MLS standards.

  2. Boris says:

    Each minute Torres spends playing on the field, he gets paid 75000 pounds. Wow.

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