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MLS Grab Bag, Week 8: The league lawyers up and Patrick Vieira wonders whether you can ever go home?

Friday 20th April 2018
The State of Ohio will test its Modell Law against MLS and Columbus Crew in court in an effort to keep the team from moving to Austin, Texas.
The State of Ohio will test its Modell Law against MLS and Columbus Crew in court in an effort to keep the team from moving to Austin, Texas.

Welcome to the 2018 season’s eighth edition of MLS Grab Bag. Each Friday we’ll review midweek news, preview key weekend matches, and explore other interesting developments.

You think VAR is bad?

Columbus Crew and Major League Soccer have filed a motion in Ohio State court to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the government on behalf of fans who don’t want their team to relocate to Austin, Texas. Precourt Sports Ventures is the corporate vehicle for businessman Anthony Precourt. Although he is now arguing otherwise, Precourt’s PSV owns the Crew.

When Precourt purchased the franchise, he secured the right to move the club to Austin within ten years. He and the league kept that clause secret from City of Columbus officials until Precourt announced his plans to seek a publicly financed ground in Columbus or leave for Austin, where he is willing to obtain private financing for a stadium.

Ohio sports fans have been through this before, however. Art Modell, deceased Baltimore Ravens owner, moved that team from Cleveland, where they were the original Browns. When he did, the state legislature passed a law restricting conditions under which another team could be uprooted from its community. When Precourt revealed his intent, the state sued him under the untested Modell Law.

The legislation states a team cannot move at will if it is receiving any government support or tax relief. PSV has a sweetheart lease for MAPFRE Stadium. MLS and Precourt make two arguments.

  1. They claim PSV doesn’t own the club, merely operating rights as a franchise in a single entity league. The real owner, MLS, does not receive any government aid. Therefore the law doesn’t apply. If that corporate shell game doesn’t fly with the court, then...
  2. The law is unconstitutional because it prevents PSV from conducting interstate commerce.

It’s possible the second argument may carry weight. Unfortunately, as a willing party to the motion to dismiss, the league has taken a stand against its own customer base. For a competition struggling to gain greater relevance in the United States, that may not be the best idea.

Nothing is ever easy

The CONCACAF Champions League had been going so well for MLS clubs. League champions Toronto FC were in the final and dictating terms to Liga MX opponents. The Reds would play the first leg at home on BMO Field. Greg Vanney had rested all his key players on the weekend. TFC were prepared.

Yeah, about that.

In the third minute, Ashtone Morgan inexplicably allowed a cross to roll past him from the end line into the box, where Rodolfo Pizarro drove the ball home to give Chivas de Guadalajara an early lead. When I say allowed, I mean Morgan stepped aside, almost politely, to let the ball into the danger area. When I say inexplicably, I mean WTF?

On 20 minutes, TFC struck back. Jozy Altidore angled a ball between two Chivas defenders for Marky Delgado. The winger slotted across the goal mouth. Jonathan Osorio met the ball at the far post to level terms.

In the second half, the Goats’ Alan Pulido served up a golazo from a free kick near the left touchline. His inswinging delivery sailed over Alex Bono then dipped just under the bar inside the far post.

Down 2-1, Toronto has it all to do in Jalisco on Wednesday evening. They must score at least two goals against Matias Almeyda’s well-organised defensive corps.

TFC has carried MLS’ honour in this tournament. While that is not the heaviest burden considering the Columbus fiasco, the league is eager to draw level with Liga MX in the CONCACAF region. Vanney has rotated heavily in the season’s early doors to deliver the trophy. So heavily, in fact, his team is languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.

They have put their title defence on the line chasing continental glory. Failure at the final hurdle represents more than just the league going back to the drawing board. The Reds will have to dig deep to muster the resolve for the long, arduous climb back into the playoff picture.  

What would Fergie do?

Even when a moment is anticipated for so long that everyone knows it will inevitably occur, it is still a shock to the system when it finally does happen. It was that way when Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as Manchester United boss. It is again now that Arsene Wenger has finally decided to end his Arsenal career.

There are some similarities between the two bosses but also noticeable differences. Sir Alex went out Premier League champion. Wenger might manage to claim one last trophy if he can get past Atletico Madrid, then either Marseille or RB Salzburg in the Europa League. When SAF stepped aside, he recommended the United board hire David Moyes as his successor. According to some reports, Wenger has suggested New York City FC boss Patrick Vieira as his replacement. Richard Keys has reported the Gunners hierarchy is “split down the middle” regarding the idea.

Moyes was and Vieira is well-respected as a coach, although neither has won anything. The difference is the Scot earned that respect in the Premier League over an 11-year stint at Everton. The Frenchman is only entering his third season in MLS. That’s a tough sell.

The former Arsenal captain and destroyer deserves consideration. His City side has improved in every season he has managed. In 2018, they are unbeaten with the league’s best record. Vieira would be forsaking his chance at a first trophy to take a major step up in class.

On the one hand, you have to think he’d be crazy to turn the offer down if it comes. Why should he wait on Pep Guardiola to leave Manchester City? There are no guarantees he will be next in line regardless any promises made. Ryan Giggs can tell him as much. On the other hand, the man who could say no would be the more worthy candidate. Loyalty, honesty, humility. Arsenal have lost too much time to Wenger’s final years to allow his successor to learn on the job. Vieira should know that.

On Tap

Sporting Kansas City v Vancouver Whitecaps -- It’s a first-v-third Western Conference battle at Children’s Mercy Park in the only Friday night MLS match this week.

SKC enter as best in the west while the visiting Whitecaps have dropped to third. Neither side has been especially strong in the back. Both have conceded 11 times in seven games. Sporting nearly doubles Vancouver's goals, however, 14:8. This match is an excellent opportunity for the erstwhile Wizards to pad their lead atop the West table.

Weekend Fare

There are ten matches over the weekend, eight on Saturday. Here are the three most compelling contests.

Montreal Impact v LAFC -- Country music songwriter Robert Earl Keen penned a gritty little ditty called “The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends”. It was about a gold-digging waitress with a gun but the title applies to three MLS teams who began the season with extended road trips while their stadiums’ construction/renovation was completed. Portland Timbers played their home opener last week. DC United have hosted two games at alternate venues to break up their long stretch without a home. Next week, LAFC can finally put the road behind them when Banc of California Stadium hosts its first MLS match.

Meanwhile, their last trip is a doozy. The new Angelinos travel cross-country then into Canada to face the struggling Impact. The Wings are fourth in the west, their hosts sixth in the East. Montreal is rumoured to be in talks to sign Atletico Madrid and Liverpool legend Fernando Torres.

The Spaniard won’t arrive at Stade Saputo in time for this one, but the French Canadians could use his help. As it is, their defence will be hard put to stop Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi. The former has begun to make a habit of cutting across the top of the box and burying shots in the upper 90.

LA Galaxy v Atlanta United -- Zlatan Ibrahimovic now has three goals in as many MLS matches. Two are game-winners. The third was an equaliser. He has a chance to face a former Barcelona manager [although not that one] when Atlanta United invades the Stub Hub Center. United boss Tata Martino expressed respect for his opponent even though he wouldn’t sign the Swede.

Ibrahimovic is a world figure. I don’t think I can add anything to that. However, a signing like that wouldn’t really fall in line with the policy of our club.

The Argentine’s remark wasn’t a slight on Zlatan’s ability. He has built a team with a more long-term vision. The Galaxy are always in win-now mode.

It will be interesting to see how LA’s older, wiser, but markedly slower defence handle Atlanta’s rapid-fire attack.

Portland Timbers v New York City FC -- Portland won its home opener last week. The league’s best team visits renovated Providence Park. A winning streak may not be in the cards.

That said, new Portland boss Gio Savarese arrived from New York Cosmos, where he watched MLS continually block his former team’s top flight ambitions while allowing the Manchester City group to just walk right into the league. Can he coach that resentment into his new team? Can the Timbers stop City now that David Villa is healthy and back in the lineup? Does this match begin the countdown to Patrick Vieira’s departure for the Emirates?

Race for the MLS Cup

Here are the top five favourites to be crowned 2018 Major League Soccer Champions following five weeks’ play:

5. Orlando City -- Jason Kreis’ new Lions are roaring. Off-season acquisitions Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram, and Will Johnson are clicking with striker Dom Dwyer to form yet another potent attack in the Eastern Conference. One of three teams level on 10 points and battling for third in the East, City host San Jose Earthquakes, third from bottom in the West, tomorrow. It should be three points but the California side are well-named. They have a propensity for rocking opponents unexpectedly.

4. LA Galaxy -- Ibra has made an impact already, delivering six points in three matches with the club. Outscoring Atlanta is the type of challenge he relishes but even if he stumbles in this one, the Galaxy are playoff bound.

3. Sporting Kansas City -- Peter Vermes side should continue to boss the Western Conference even though former striker Kei Kamara might be out for a bit of cold supper when he returns to Children’s Mercy Park with the Whitecaps tonight.

2. Atlanta United -- Josef Martinez. Miguel Almiron. Hector Villalba. Darlington Nagbe. Zlatan may find himself outnumbered in this tilt.

1. New York City FC -- MLS is not the Premier League. That doesn’t mean Patrick Vieira can’t coach. He has David Villa, Maxi Moralez and new signing Jo Inge Berget at his disposal and knows how to use them. His side has won five and drawn two in seven matches. They’ve scored 16 while conceding sixth, which are league best and joint third-best respectively this season. City has eked out two draws in hostile environments already. Can they do it again in Portland?

Enjoy the full slate this weekend. See you on Monday with the MLS Weekend Review.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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