There is a wearisome feeling swirling around Europe, yet Major League Soccer (MLS) powers into the home stretch with its head held high.
The Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga will always be contested by the usual suspects, no matter how many surprise results wow the crowds.
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Naturally, there is much to be proud of in England, Spain, Germany and beyond. That lack of title winning unpredictability though was blown away with the introduction of exorbitant spending by the biggest of guns.
Here in the US, however, almost every MLS side came into this past weekend’s fixtures with all to play for as the regular season draws to an end. It’s not uncommon.
Over its two decade existence, there have been nine different winners. Two-time titleists Sporting Kansas City have proved there’s hope for the lesser lights.
That’s not to say the whole season has been riveting. The restriction on the amount of superstar talents which litter the League means the quality levels are sporadic and not covered with enough glitter to keep viewers in one of the most saturated sporting markets glued to their seats every week.
MLS will forever cower in the shadow of the NFL, MLB and NBA behemoths.
Yet while there is much to work on, there are notable pluses to a rigid organisation which is unique in its structure and methodology.
The single entity system is designed to guard against a situation similar to England, where the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City are allowed to spend billions while other lesser lights face a weekly battle to stay afloat.
The American way isn’t perfect. Indeed, I have used this column more than once to advocate the use of promotion and relegation. The super-slick US marketing men would have a field day pumping up crunch battles to avoid the dreaded drop. It would be a novel way to bring new fans, something MLS is desperate for. The demographic is encouragingly young, yet the more hardened sports watcher has proved tougher to entice.
Ultimate Destruction Sunday or Certain Death Monday night football would suit Americans down to the ground.
It will, sadly, never happen.
Yet the parity which commissioner Don Garber and the rest of his associates are so desperate for, at least ensures no team is cut adrift. They should be applauded for steadfastly sticking to their guns and watching the League grow into a slick multi-million dollar machine.
The way MLS top brass stood firm at the start of the season and refused to wilt when large swathes of players threatened to strike because of the lack of a free transfer market, said a great deal about their business ethics.
Garber doesn’t want MLS to be the Premier League or La Liga. It doesn’t attempt to copy their bigger European cousins. With the spending power equally shared, the playing field is level ensuring different coaching and playing tools need to be employed.
Young homegrown coaches are preferred to big money mercenaries searching for that final gargantuan paycheck. Jason Kreis at NYCFC and Jesse Marsch at the Red Bulls are two good examples of rather unheralded, up-and-coming managers given the opportunity to prove their worth.
Bruce Arena in LA is perhaps the most experienced boss in the American game. Yet, despite his reigning champions adding Steven Gerrard, their recent slump has proved that the chasing pack are not to be discounted.
The Galaxy should qualify for the post-season bar an absolute catastrophe. Yet, where they finish in the Western Conference will serve as a marker for what lies ahead. Vancouver and Dallas are both enjoying stand out campaigns while the perennial big hitters in Portland and Seattle aren’t having everything their own way.
Over in the East, the Red Bulls were the first MLS team to cement their play-off spot, and yet, apart from rock-bottom Chicago – who along with Didier Drogba’s Montreal were the only teams to make managerial changes thus far – most teams have admirably kept their seasons alive.
Take Orlando City. With Kaka and Co’s play-off hopes hanging by a thread, they travelled to Red Bull Arena on Friday night and promptly won 5-2. With the Lions moving into a new, soccer specific stadium next year, manager Adrian Heath has been given the opportunity to build on his work of the previous five years and go again next term – irrespective of how this season unfolds.
Stability walks hand in hand with frugality in the land of opportunity and that, in this crazy modern world of manic spending to keep the permanently revolving door from slamming shut, is quite refreshing.
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Tom Brady threw his 400th touchdown pass as the New England Patriots enjoyed a 51-17 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Brady may have begun the season under a cloud of controversy following ‘deflategate’ but was busy doing what he does best on Sunday as he completed 33 of 42 passes for 358 yards and connected with Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin for a couple of touchdown passes.
LeGarrette Blount scored three on the ground while Rob Gronkowski caught four passes for 101 yards.
The Pittsburgh Steelers gutted out a 12-6 win over the St Louis Rams but it came at a cost as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger left the game early with a knee injury.
Le’Veon Bell, back from suspension, scored a touchdown with a one-yard run in the first quarter and it proved enough as the Steelers defence stood firm.
The game was delayed after a firework display led to a section of turf catching fire, but that is as explosive as things got for the Rams, who were held to a two field goals from Greg Zuerlein.
The Dallas Cowboys looked a little lost without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant as the fell to a 39-28 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons.
Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes to Julio Jones while Devonta Freeman rushed for 141 yards and three scores. The Cowboys had won six in a row in regular-season play but fall to 2-1 this year with the loss.
Adrian Peterson appeared to be back to his best as he rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters to help the Minnesota Vikings beat the San Diego Chargers 31-14.
They were the first scores of the season for Peterson, who played only one game in 2014 due to suspension.
Cam Newton threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns while also adding a touchdown on the ground as the Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints 27-22.
Luke McCown, starting at quarterback for the Saints in place of the injured Drew Brees, completed 31 of 38 passes for 310 yards but the Saints were undone as they twice went for two-point conversions and twice failed, leaving them chasing a touchdown on their final drive instead of a field goal to tie it.
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman essentially sealed the win by picking off McCown in the end zone with 69 seconds left.
Andrew Luck had a pair of touchdown passes in the space of a minute in the fourth quarter as the Indianapolis Colts rallied to stun the Tennessee Titans 35-33.
Luck capped a 98-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett with 6:49 to go, and after Dwight Lowery picked off Titans rookie Marcus Mariota, Luck found Donte Moncrief from 11 yards 56 seconds later.
Andrew Luck now has 29 turnovers since the start of last season. Jay Cutler is next closest with 26 turnovers.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 27, 2015
Derrick Carr had a pair of touchdown passes and Latavius Murray collected 139 yards and a pair of scores on the ground as the Oakland Raiders beat the Cleveland Browns 27-20, ending an 11-game losing streak on the road.
The Philadelphia Eagles won their first game of the season as they held on to beat the New York Jets 24-17 despite the absence of the injured DeMarco Murray.
Darren Sproles had two touchdowns, including an 89-yard punt return. Ryan Mallett threw for 228 yards and a touchdown as the Houston Texans beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-9.
Andy Dalton threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a 28-24 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Tyrod Taylor threw for 277 yards and three touchdown passes as Buffalo hammered Miami 41-14.
— NFL (@NFL) September 27, 2015
The result provided the perfect tonic for the Bills following last weekend’s disappointing home loss to New England, while the Dolphins dropped to last place in the AFC East on the back of their second straight defeat.
Seattle also enjoyed a comfortable victory, thrashing the Chicago Bears 26-0 for their first win of the season. The home team led only 6-0 at half-time, but Tyler Lockett took the opening second-half kick-off 105 yards – the longest in franchise history – for a touchdown and the Seahawks never looked back.
Russell Wilson also found Jimmy Graham on a 30-yard TD.
Carson Palmer threw for 311 yards – stretching his NFL -best win streak to nine games – as Arizona cruised to a 47-7 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers.
Larry Fitzgerald caught nine of 11 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals, who returned two of Colin Kaepernick’s first four passes for TDs.
The New York Giants didn’t just avoid mistakes in the fourth quarter this time, but capped their performance with a strong finish to finally earn their first win against Washington, 32-21.
Following fourth-quarter collapses in the first two weeks of the season, New York ensured their late lead in the NFC East matchup wasn’t for nought as they upped their aggressiveness down the stretch.
The Giants scored 14 points in the final frame by relying on their pair of wide receivers to make critical plays.
Odell Beckham Jr first struck with a 30-yard touchdown grab to put New York up 25-6 followed by Rueben Randle securing a juggling 41-yard score for insurance in the closing minutes.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning was a combined 14-of-16 for 195 yards, 11 first downs and the two touchdowns when targeting Beckham and Randle.
Crazy Stat of Day: Odell Beckham Jr. has most receptions (110) & fantasy points (234) by a WR in 1st 15 career games. pic.twitter.com/Zp7CqjWnPq
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 25, 2015
Beckham’s dominance in his rookie campaign has carried over to this year but Randle was missing in the early going this season before breaking out with 116 yards on seven catches against Washington.
“He’s capable of doing that every single time,” Beckham said. “We’ve all got to pitch in to be able to do that. It was great to be able to see him get in the end zone tonight, and be able to see him out there.”
Randle was relegated to a footnote in the first two weeks, totalling four receptions on seven targets for 28 yards, but his involvement was emphasised in the lead-up to the division meeting with Washington.
“Rueben played well, played outstanding from the get-go,” Manning said. “We need him to play well, and I felt bad the first games hadn’t gotten him as involved as we should’ve. He’s a big part of the offense.
“It’s good to get him back going and getting him catches, and making sure people know you have a lot more than just one receiver.”
With playmaking wideout Victor Cruz still sidelined with a calf injury, the presence of Randle – who now has four 100-yard games in his past 10 after just one in his first 41 career games – is necessary to take pressure off Beckham and give Manning another target.
Beckham, meanwhile, delivered again with his 14th career touchdown in his 15th game – fourthmost of any player in history through 15 games – to give him the most scores in the NFL during that span.
Instead of holding a 1-2 record, the Giants could be sitting pretty in the division at 3-0 had they held on in their first two contests, but with Dallas having to deal with significant injuries to their most important players and Philadelphia in a tailspin, New York are very much in the thick of things in the turbulent NFC East.