January 15, 2011

MLS Rivalry Week 2011: More Harm, Than Good?

Don Garber's at it again, making American soccer fans infuriated once again.

No, not with talk about conferences and a single-table format, but with the MLS Commissioner's rather gung-ho plan to create "Rivalry Week" during the MLS regular season.

This tentatively called "rivalry week" would consist of the three clubs playing against one another in the span of the week, and having all of MLS solely focus on the Pacific Northwest. In a nutshell, it's Garber's latest scheme in hoping to garner television audiences that are complimented with unprecedented crowds out in the Cascades.

Just the idea alone is very unsurprising. Almost to the same degree of receiving a backlash of comments on MLS's website. However, what may shock you is where the core disapproval was coming from: Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers fans.

Most of the it was either snickering at how married to rivalries Garber is, or how Garber is not foreseeing this rivalry as sport, but to showcase the league under a new light. Shaking his crystal ball, Garber is evidently hoping that this will create mass attention.

Perhaps I'm taking a pessimistic approach, but I highly doubt this, so-called, "rivalry week" will do what Garber is hoping it will do. In ways, it's an equivalent of hoping the Los Angeles Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls will make a stunning post-season run and either one of the two have an appearance in the MLS Cup finals. You have high hopes it will be possible, but in the end, it simply doesn't happen.

Evidently, the largest worries and drawbacks to this system are that you build up all the hype for one random week, and then there's little media attention on MLS the remainder of the season. Theoretically, it would then be a wiser decision to just randomly draw round pairings and when they play, they play. It simply is, what it is.

MLS fans are well-conditioned by now to know that the league will never, ever, just allow things to be that way. Take a glance at the drafts, the supplemental drafts, the sometimes-unnecessary iron fist on parity, the playoffs, and so on and so forth. These formatting structures are installed with every ugly Americanization in the effort to fish into a sea of casual fans and crossing fingers that they'll reel in a couple hundred or two.

The concept's is far from what I prefer, but it's simply understandable, and therefore, it is incredibly likely to practically inevitable that we will see "MLS Rivalry Week 2011", to compliment this, we might see some of the league's artificial rivalries played during this time frame.

However, it is most likely if this is to happen, it will be toward the latter end up of the season. Garber may not be the best when it comes to soccer, but the man is no idiot. He's smart enough to know that it would be a great way to draw some minor attention prior to the MLS Cup Playoffs, and carry that "hype" into the post-season race for the MLS Cup title.

He will dismiss the doubt that the league will have little or no attention beforehand, primarily by saying it will all serve as a build up to rivalry week.

Given the track record of Garber's past projects (SuperLiga, Re-Entry Draft, playoff expansion), I sense rivalry week being a financial disaster, that results in very little media attention. When that happens, I look forward to the myriad list of excuses Garber musters together.

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Tyler Walter

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