MLS Is Improving from Hacking to Skill Soccer
The level of play in Major League Soccer has improved, but the level still falls short of the top European and Latin American soccer leagues. The major difference, which stands out immediately, is that the control and smoothness of the passing is not at the same high level as those other leagues. It’s not the speed of the passing per se that makes the passing smoother because the English Premier League has almost out of control and overly fast passing where many of the teams look like there are rushing their passing and putting too much power behind their passes. But, anyone watching the passing in La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, etc can see that each player normally takes a maximum of two touches when the ball is passed to them: one touch to control the pass and one touch to play the ball to a teammate.
MLS is still improving in this regard. MLS games feature more balls played in the air, more header sequences, and more instances of the ball bouncing around in a chaotic fashion. You could say that the passing and ball control in MLS needs to settle down without transforming into slow, listless, and boring play. By all accounts MLS continues to improve and the overall skill of the players both American and non-American continues to improve, but it is still true that too many players who base their play on physicality over technical skill and athleticism.
The next area where MLS needs to improve is curbing the roughness and dirty, violent play. There’s a difference between some pushing and taking out people’s legs from behind. There’s also a feeling that too many coaches, players, and media members believe that rough tackles are a part of the game. Nobody said slide tackles or shielding the ball don’t belong in soccer, but can’t we draw the line and slide tackling players’ legs from out from behind them without getting the ball. Can’t MLS refs give more cards for stomping player’s ankles, feet, and legs.
MLS fans can now enjoy more technical and creative players who can beat defenders with individual skill and quickly combine with teammates, and while this is great, too many talentless hackers and dirty players are uglying up MLS games with dangerous play that they feel is part of the game. The reality for these players is that you won’t see elite enforcers around the world playing quite as dirty as they do. Of course, any soccer fan can list certain elite players who are dirty hackers, but by and large, this type of thuggery is not allowed by other elite players who keep these hackers in check.
MLS has definitely seen a bump in attractive and creative play, and an excellent example of this is Jozy Altidore, who has been showcasing a new dimension of playmaking and passing to his game. Altidore is fairly or unfairly seen as a player whose play is based on size and strength, but his transformation to a smoother, more refined player signals a change to more skillful play in MLS, that is separate from the continued influx of technical players from outside of the United States.