Let's face it, anyone who is not the LA Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls are going to be a little butthurt about this whole "MLS Ambition Rankings" thing written by well-known and otherwise-OK soccer writer for Sports Illustrated Grant Wahl.
Mostly because how does one even gauge "ambition" anyway? Is it by the willingness to build a new stadium? The Front Office increasing attendance numbers? Aggressive positioning for a quality shirt sponsor? Or is it just window dressing so that we can somehow just put the LA Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls somewhere at the top of some list at the beginning of preseason so that we can finally set up the "showdown that never happens."? You know, the fabled "LA GALAXY VS NEW YORK RED BULLS MLS CUP FINAL" which has never happened, and probably will never happen.
Anyway, Grant Wahl has really outdone himself here. Not only does he seem to make the list and then figure out reasons to put the teams where he put them afterwards, but his reasons for ranking the teams shows a lack of understanding about the teams themselves, and also a inexcusable lack of understanding about how the league actually works.
Nowhere was this more apparent to me than his analysis of the Colorado Rapids.
15. Colorado Rapids (+1)
Stan Kroenke continues to be an absentee owner for a team that is notoriously cheap when it comes to paying coaches and spending on players, but there have been some bright spots with the addition of president Tim Hinchey and a modest increase in average attendance to 15,175 in 2012. That said, the Rapids still don't have a major league buzz around them, and the soccer stadium in Commerce City hasn't delivered on expectations.
OK. Full disclosure: if you're reading Burgundy Wave you know why this is "nowhere more apparent to me" so don't bother telling me "well, you only noticed this because you're a Rapids fan".
Now, let's go through the first thing: calling Stan Kroenke an "absentee owner" is ridiculous and also ridiculously cheap. Calling Kroenke "absentee" only refers to his perceived lack of interest in the teams he owns and provides the backing for, but his lack of physical presence does not thereby mean a lack of fiscal presence. You picking up what I'm laying down? He still paid into the Major League Soccer franchise system, and he still built the only soccer-specific stadium that Colorado has. The kind of laziness and utter lack of interest Wahl has in the Rapids is apparent even from the get-go.The fact is: Grant Wahl demonstrates less interest in the Colorado Rapids than the accused Stan Kroenke, And it doesn't get better, it gets worse. Like, where did Wahl get the idea that the Rapids are "notoriously" cheap when it comes to paying coaches?
Where did he get that idea? Did he talk to Gary Smith? Fernando Clavijo? Oscar Pareja? How did the Rapids get this notorious reputation?
Because he certainly didn't talk to Gary Smith. According to the Denver Post:
Smith's contract expires at the end of this season. He is satisfied with the financial terms of a deal the club has offered, but said the situation in the front office must improve for him to accept it.
This took a Google search to find. And Clavijo? Fired mid-season, and I think we all know that it wasn't because of a dispute over his wages. So where did Wahl get this "notoriously cheap" thing? My guess: he's being lazy and just going by what "folks are saying" rather than by what you actually learn by doing real journalism. Either that or he's just making shit up to make the Rapids seem more interesting to himself.
Cheap in spending on players? Stop right there. Let's go over some ground rules. One thing Grant Wahl needs to realize is that Major League Soccer is a Single Entity. What does that mean? It means that all the "franchises" have agreed to pool their resources (i.e. money) in order so that they can all get profit in the case of a risky venture. So if one team isn't doing so well in their market, it's balanced out by another team doing well in another market. And another great thing is that you can fold up teams and then expand in other markets as well. We saw this happen with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion. Each of these franchises have agreed to abide by certain rules when it comes to using their collective money with regards to players. Those rules are available on MLS's website should you ever, you know, be a soccer journalist and have to write about someone's spending money or lack thereof in MLS (i.e. Grant Wahl).
Wahl completely disregards the fact that there are rules governing a salary cap in order to take a cheap shot. One could say Stan was cheap in "spending" in that the Rapids have very specific criteria for who they want to get for a Designated Player, or how they operate their spending above and beyond the Salary Cap. Again, you'd have to read the Roster Rules to understand, and also have talked to the Rapids about what their vision is for a Designated Player.
(Ed note: I'd like to point out as well that the Rapids have technically had a designated player since 2009, when Conor Casey signed a contract that was kept out of DP territory only because the Rapids spent $50,000 extra a season of allocation money to keep it in regular territory. Not exactly penny pinching.)
What I find kind of ironic about this is that Wahl frequently complained about Designated Players like Rafa Marquez (even as early as 2011) and yet at the same time dogs the Rapids about their own preferences which lower the likelihood the Rapids would ever have a Marquez incident.
"The addition of Tim Hinchey" happened in 2011 and he has been President since before the season began in 2012, and Wahl is writing this as if it's just happened. And this "modest increase" in attendance should be examined within the context of the facts: the Rapids were in a down year, and a huge rebuilding year after the firing of Gary Smith. The Rapids record was terrible, fan confidence and mood were at such terrible lows that threats of "burning my season tickets" were being thrown about every single week. And yet, the Rapids Front Office was able to pull together better average attendance.
As for the soccer stadium in Commerce City not "delivering on expectations" I can only guess at what he means. Does it not have a field on which to kick a ball? No seats from which you can watch said ball being kicked?
Wasn't DSGP just recently in consideration for a Hex game? Played host to Pia Sundhage's last game as coach of the US Women's National Team? Played host to Premier League up-and-comers Swansea? And that's just this year. How it's not lived up to expectations is possibly due to the fact that Grant Wahl perhaps expects DSGP to be the sight of the second coming of Christ. And since Wells Thompson has been traded to Chicago, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Wahl's rankings go on and on about different teams, and I know FC Dallas fans and Chivas USA fans and anyone who is ranked poorly will get mad about it, but what we ought to be more upset about is the reasoning for these rankings shows not only a lack of interest in most of the teams in Major League Soccer, but a lack of basic understanding about the league as well. Wahl basically took this as an opportunity to write about the teams he knows about and take cheap shots at the ones he didn't.
One might object "Well, if your club were more ambitious, maybe he'd be more inclined to research them." Sure, because that's how journalism works. You can fudge the facts as long as nobody calls you on it. Right? You can write whole articles that are sometimes based in complete fabrication as long as nobody cares! That's ridiculous. The biggest favor Wahl can do for the league it to just do research before he makes a claim. Even in something as trivial as "Ambition Rankings".
He may ask "well, what do you expect me to do?" Gee. I don't know. Either take an active interest in all the teams in Major League Soccer, learn the rules of the league, or just stop writing about it. Honestly? I'm leaning towards the latter. Even though I think Grant Wahl is a great personality, and certainly shows enthusiasm and engagement with the sport we all love, I would rather he stop writing about MLS entirely rather than come up with some shoddy rankings which make a mockery of most of the clubs in the league.
You get pissed that Sepp Blatter doesn't take Major League Soccer seriously?
You might want to start taking it seriously yourself.
You know, before you run for FIFA President again.