By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 21, 2011) US Soccer Players — Since various Major League Soccer clubs were nice enough to send us email holiday cards over the last couple of weeks, I thought I'd return the favor with some holiday wishes of my own. 

For MLS, An Easier Answer To Designated Player Drama

Who would've thought that at 36 years old we'd be getting another episode of where will David Beckham go.  Most of us have already given up on him signing another deal with MLS, and that's a shame.  For all the good winning an MLS Cup title did, you might have noticed multiple MLS pundits trying to say something nice since they didn't have the option of saying nothing at all.  The Galaxy as a team have won over a lot of former critics, and good for them.  Beckham as an individual was never a problem.  He treats people well, and that in and of itself is an instant separation at the elite level of professional sports.  If you've been around him even briefly, it's hard to wish anything but the best for him.  Maybe that's a crafted image, but I'm describing situations when that's not required and there's not an obvious upside for the brand. 

Where this leaves MLS is in an odd position.  Are they the spurned League that couldn't hang onto a matinee idol who instead of retiring is joining a better club in a better league?  Do they play this up as Beckham's MLS tenure coming to its appropriate end with nothing more to prove?  Honestly, where's the win for Major League Soccer?  There might not be one, and that's a shame. 

For Toronto, An Obvious Answer

No, this won't be a Champions League win over the Galaxy.  Toronto has to figure out a way to engage their fans over the regular season or continue to risk the kind of erosion that turns July sellouts into playing in front of an announced crowd of 15,000.  We've seen this happen with other clubs in this League.  Toronto might have had more time to get it right, but we're talking months rather than years at this point.  How do they do that?  Better scouting for a start.  Toronto has spent more to get less than other MLS clubs that no one should have in the top ten of player acquisition.  That's the step they have to take to really improve, even in an uninspired conference like the East. 

For New York, A Better Public Perception

The Red Bulls like to keep their business in house, but it doesn't stop the people impacted by those decisions from talking.  The latest is former goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, who accused the club of disrespecting their African players.  As Coundoul pointed out in his comments, that's a tough criticism to shake when they parted ways with most of those African players.  For whatever reason, the Red Bull version of media and public relations seems to take the long view on just about everything.  Wait long enough and say the minimum and it will pass.  Maybe, but there's a growing list of items that are New York-specific and frankly disturbing.  Very few professional sports organizations get to choose the story they tell, and those fortunate clubs normally don't get to tell it for very long.

For Chicago, A Future

If you go back to October 15th, 2000, you might spend that Sunday watching Kansas City take advantage of a botched clearance for the only goal in the MLS Cup final.  Though the Kansas City faithful remember it differently, Chicago was obviously the better team.  For most of us that final was all about Chicago being unable to put the ball in the back of the net.  Taking the wider view, it was also the last year for the upstart Chicago club that already had an MLS Cup.  Since then, it's been transitional squads, short-term fixes, and a lack of the only trophy that really counts.  Sorry DC and now Seattle, but Chicago already has the lock on being an Open Cup team that can't compete for the MLS title.  They're also what happens next when even the Open Cup becomes a problem.

As things stand, Chicago is a team that talks a lot about what should happen but seems incapable of seeing it through.  It's no small thing to talk about the Fire reestablishing itself as a marquee MLS club and reviving what was apparent to the rest of the League during the Wilt-Bradley era.  The problem is that was a step toward something greater, and instead a dozen years later it's the high-water mark for the franchise.

For Vancouver, Keeping Up

We've all heard the platitudes for the Pacific Northwest contingent in Major League Soccer.  For anyone already sick of the Seattle story, Portland in 2011 only increased the hype.  'Be like them' is the carryover for the rest of the League, even if there are specific market forces and situations in place that simply aren't replicable.  But hey, the National basketball Association's commissioner called the Sounders the most successful expansion in the history of North American pro sports.  That counts for a lot, even if it does tweak everyone else in the League.  So what to make of Vancouver, another Pacific Northwest team with everything in place to follow the Seattle and Portland model.

The transitional stadium situation and some bad luck might make the 2011 season a wash, but that's completely dependent on 2012.  Vancouver can't be the Pacific Northwest version of the Philadelphia Union.  They're in a region where good enough isn't that good.  They need to be great at the gate and in the local media market as a first step.  Considering how hard that is for good teams not located in that region, it's almost laughable that presence comes before results.  Yet that's what MLS has really built through the Seattle example and now Vancouver is in the unenviable position of not yet living up to it. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

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