It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Steven Gerrard.
When the Liverpool legend signalled his intentions to leave Anfield and head for Los Angeles, the Hollywood scriptwriters sharpened their pens.
With reigning MLS MVP Robbie Keane, who had brilliantly led Bruce Arena’s team to a third title in four years last December, already in place it all looked like a match made in football heaven.
Former Barcelona and Spurs forward Giovani dos Santos’ similarly mid-season arrival inflated the Galaxy wage-bill to $19.5 million (the second-largest in MLS history) and increased expectations.
Three victories quickly followed.
But they peaked too early. Only one more win was achieved and following a stormy, defensively shambolic play-off defeat to Seattle last week, the dream of Gerrard’s box office arrival instantly sparking another trophy was destroyed.
Looking at the Galaxy’s recent results, it was no surprise. A woeful end of season run of just one triumph in eight saw them finish fifth. So instead of ensuring home advantage and a bye for the first round, they were forced to travel to reach the semi-finals.
Seattle are certainly no pushovers. Yet the team with the largest payroll in MLS were still expected to advance. The fact they didn’t has potential positive and negative ramifications for a league desperate to show the world their razor-tight rules and regulations serve to enhance the product on the pitch.
Of course, an end of season showdown between their most world renowned players – Keane, Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa , Andrea Pirlo and Kaka – is a marketing man’s dream.
They reckon Liverpool live in the past. Chelsea still sing the Steven Gerrard song. Out of ideas on and off the pitch
— Mark Ashton (@MarkAshtonSport) October 31, 2015
Their involvement would have made global headlines. But all are now enjoying extended breaks yet their absence won’t worry commissioner Don Garber (below) adversely.
The attempt to make MLS an elite global league isn’t centered on packing rosters with golden oldies like Lampard, Pirlo and Gerrard.
Having America labelled as the place to head for in search of one last payday grates those in power.
Arena, to his credit, questioned the Galaxy’ transfer policy when picking over the wreckage of the nightmare in Seattle.
“It was, at time, a little bit awkward,” he said. “I don’t think you do anything in the very short term. When you make those investments, it should be over a couple of years not a couple of months.”
Garber, who would prefer to pump money into academies rather than bring in expensive goal-line technology, hasn’t placed such faith in development for that to be the answer.
Instead, he will look at teams like the New York Red Bulls who lost Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill last summer only to keep their financial powder dry and build frugally and intelligently.
The same can be said of FC Dallas. American sport prides itself in a system which produces talent primed and ready for service at the end of university.
Yet in soccer, while the best European players are already in club academies from a very early age, the process which works so well for the NBA and NFL doesn’t necessarily translate well.
Garber, along with all the franchise owners who have a vested interest in the sport’s development, wants a USA national team boosted by the fruits of the various MLS academy systems seriously pushing for the World Cup by 2022.
That seems beyond fanciful. Yet with Gerrard and the injury-affected Lampard’s failure to make immediate, seismic impacts – the former Liverpool captain made 13 starts, scoring twice – Garber will look to homegrown players and lesser lights to prove their worth.
All the franchises – LA, NYCFC and Orlando – who made the most eye-catching purchases have been locked out of the post-season party.
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) November 1, 2015
Tellingly, teams with the lowest payrolls – Red Bulls, Dallas and DC United – occupied three of the top four spots when taking both the Eastern and Western Conferences into the equation.
This midweek’s round of eliminators produced some superb drama and the denouement to the campaign will be interesting. Didier Drogba is still around as Montreal take on Columbus Crew.
But, rightly or wrongly, without the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Pirlo and Kaka , the product becomes a harder sell globally and even more difficult to persuade non-believers that MLS really is worthy of the attention.
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The Cincinnati Bengals maintained their winning start to the NFL season as they saw off the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-10 on Sunday.
Andy Dalton threw a touchdown pass with 2:57 to go and the Bengals picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice in the fourth quarter to go 7-0 for the first time in their history and take a comfortable lead at the top of the AFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings came out on top in their clash with the Chicago Bears as Adrian Peterson ran for 103 yards and Blair Walsh kicked a 36-yard field goal in their 23-20 win.
Earlier in London, the Kansas City Chiefs breathed fresh life into their season as they punished a poor Detroit Lions team 45-10 in Wembley’s third NFL game of the year.
The win moves the Chiefs to 3-5, still well short of pre-season expectations, but at least they do not have Detroit’s problems, after they slipped to 1-7.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford piled up 217 yards but was sacked six times, and picked off twice, while the Chiefs’ offence ran riot.
Quarterback Alex Smith amassed 78 yards on the ground, including a 49-yard dash in the second quarter and a touchdown run from 11 yards out. Smith also had 145 passing yards for two scores.
— NFL (@NFL) November 2, 2015
Brian Hoyer threw for 235 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Houston Texans tied a franchise record with seven sacks in a comfortable 20-6 victory over the Tennessee Titans to go 3-5.
Justin Tucker kicked a late 39-yard field goal as the Baltimore Ravens claimed a 29-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers, while Carson Palmer threw four touchdown passes for 374 yards as the Arizona Cardinals saw off the Cleveland Browns 34-20.
Elsewhere, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat Atlanta Falcons 23-20, the St Louis Rams recorded a 27-6 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints edged a 101-point thriller against the New York Giants 52-49.
Denver Broncos kept their winning start going and at the same time inflicted a first defeat on Green Bay Packers with a 29-10 victory, Seattle Seahawks edged a tight battle with Dallas Cowboys 13-12 while Oakland Raiders beat New York Jets 34-20.
A match-up between Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning doesn’t hold the same weight this season as in years past, but the Denver Broncos’ defence has them entering an undefeated clash against the Green Bay Packers with reason for confidence.
While Green Bay has been balanced with both sides of the ball contributing to their flawless 6-0 mark, Denver has had to rely not on their future Hall of Fame quarterback to win their first six games, but instead on their dominant defence.
— NFL (@NFL) October 31, 2015
Though the Packers’ 16.8 points allowed per game edges the Broncos’ mark of 17.0 for best in the league, Denver’s unit has enduring three interceptions by Manning that have been returned for touchdowns, accounting for 20 of their 102 total points allowed.
Teams have had difficulty moving the ball against the Broncos, who surrender the fewest yards per game in the league at 281.3 and are tied for most interceptions with 10.
The success of the defence has been needed with Manning throwing only two touchdowns to seven interceptions in the past two games, combined with the running game averaging just 85.0 yards to rank 31st.
To remain unbeaten, Denver will once again need their defence to come through against Rodgers.
“Our job is to stop their quarterback. Their job is going to be to stop ours,” Denver defensive end Antonio Smith said. “It will be a battle of the defences when you bring it back to the beginning.”
The meeting will be the fourth time in NFL history two undefeated teams have met this late in the year.