On Day Two of the inaugural BlazerCon here in the Five Boroughs, we were briefly reminded that the Men in Blazers' purview, to hear them tell it, is occasionally crap.
"Creme de la Crap," even.
Cut to mid-afternoon on Saturday the 15th: following a lunch break and the liberal proliferation of Park Slope's own Dub Pies, Bundesliga boss Christian Seifert spoke with Roger Bennett about the growth of the German game on the main stage, while former U.S. international Alexi Lalas led a panel on the "away stage" about the future of Major League Soccer.
Lalas's panel could have been substantive and balanced and excellent. It was not, mostly due to the panelists: New England Revolution owner Jonathan Kraft, Orlando City President Phil Rawlins, and former Seattle Sounders majority owner Joe Roth.
Even putting aside the charming Lalas's penchant for generally uncritical MLS cheerleading, the optics of the afternoon talk were sullied from the start: the night before BlazerCon began, Seattle's Roth presided over a business meeting in which he intended to announce relinquishing his majority ownership to businessman Adrian Hanauer.
Instead, he managed to put his foot so far down his mouth that his farts smelled like shoe polish.
Here's what the Seattle Times wrote about the incident:
"Roth spoke of 'passing the baton' to Hanauer at the end of a bizarre opening speech in which he also referred to Guatemala and Nicaragua as "cocaine distributors" after mixing up winger Marco Pappa’s home country."
(Joseph-- Marco Pappa isn't descended from drug lords; he's a person from Guatemala who makes you money.)
At rise, Roth tried to play positive. In America, "A lot of kids stop playing soccer at 12 or 13 and go on to other sports," he lamented, insisting that we have the power to change that. "Imagine LeBron James on a corner kick!"
This doesn't move me; I mean, think about how all of his many headbands would affect his contact with the ball.
The panel convened to explore where MLS stands after twenty years, and what the next twenty might look like. Let's go to the highlights!
#OCSC owner Phil @OCPres Rawlins: In 20 years, MLS will be one of the world's top five leagues.#BlazerCon
Sounders owner Joe Roth: twenty years from now, MLS will be the no. 2 league in the U.S. behind only the NFL. #BlazerCon
Jon Kraft: In 20 years, @MLS will still be single-entity. I don't see that changing. #BlazerCon
Jon Kraft: We will remain committed to the idea of competitive balance.
Let's be clear: Major League Soccer's single-entity structure, in which the league itself owns all player contracts and every team's trademarks and iconography, was devised to inhibit unsustainable spending and increase the league's survivability amid the widespread economic uncertainty of its formative years.
So-- why on earth would that structure, which resembles not a single other league in the world, be remotely necessary if and when MLS is considered among the world's elite?
Look no further than Kraft, whose family owns the New England Patriots. "NFL people" wield incredible power over the league's affairs, for better or worse (it's both). Don Garber worked for the NFL for sixteen years before taking the throne at MLS. The Sounders, whose average attendance in 2015 exceeded that of Liverpool and Chelsea (!!!), still play on turf in an NFL stadium.
It's foolish to think, based on demonstrated behavior, that the NFL guys will voluntarily loosen the grip on the closed market they've engineered.
Or, hey, maybe they will!
In the interest of fairness, I do have a shout-out to issue to Orlando City's Rawlins, who not only suggested that MLS could have forty teams in two decades' time, but also dropped some real talk for the here-and-now:
Rawlins never wants to play with gridiron football lines on the field ever again. #BlazerCon
Mic, consider yourself dropped.
* * *
As BlazerCon rounded the bend toward Saturday night's cavalry charge, a major event took place.
At 4:00 p.m., the beer garden re-opened.
*Angelic trumpeting is heard*
Veritable rivers of frothy nitrogenated manna would be required to survive the flaccid messaging of the next guest on the big stage, City Football Group CEO Ferran Soriano: he did little to instill public confidence in his newest project, New York City FC, the dust having barely settled from the recent firing of gaffer Jason Kreis after just a single season.
City's Soriano (left) with Roger Bennett
I won't torture you one bit-- no, he didn't say a word about Kreis, nor did he provide even a cursory update on the ongoing Carcosa that is NYCFC's search for a stadium site. Let's play the highlights:
FS: 65% of #NYCFC season ticket holders have never held season tickets in any other sport. #BlazerCon
FS: it's difficult for an expansion team to qualify for the playoffs. It usually doesn't happen. #NYCFC#BlazerCon
Dude, what??? We're definitely in Carcosa, because you appear at once to understand and somehow not understand the truth of that statement.
Soriano on losing to the Red Bulls: "Absolutely" it irritates me. "I was angry." #NYCFC #BlazerCon
That's good to hear. Maybe channel your anger into a new hobby or something?
Soriano says he can't think of anything he would have reasonably done differently. No regrets. #NYCFC
Yep, better get Rust Cohle on the horn. Time is a flat circle and I'm gonna go live in the woods until Soriano remembers who Frank Lampard is.
FS: once we have a bit more money, we'll attract a new wave of quality players. #BlazerCon
Your strategy is to pick your feet in Poughkeepsie until the salary cap is way higher? That's like extending your airport layover indefinitely until you find that one connecting flight that still serves warm Mrs. Fields cookies.
Since the talk was focused on New York's newest team, it couldn't end without mentioning its new helmsman, Patrick Vieira. Soriano explained that the decision to promote Vieira to New York City unfolded similarly to Pep Guardiola's appointment to the top job at FC Barcelona in 2008-- each had no experience coaching a senior team, but Soriano was swayed to make the call by colleague Txiki Begiristain, who eventually followed the CEO from Catalonia to City Football Group.
Some-crazy-how, our interview with Vieira back in June was a great deal more substantive in terms of nuts and bolts than anything Soriano had to say at BlazerCon. That's not a failure as much as an ongoing situation that needs improvement.
But folks, this is soccer, and the offseason is short.
With that in mind, we had better hope that Soriano, Vieiria, and Claudo Reyna are already busy doing something I didn't do enough in my school days: hitting the damn books.