MLS: It’s All About the Core

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What MLS team has the best core? Yes, the core is key for a soccer player on a physical level, as in the abs, but this case I mean core as a core group of three or four players who play well together, create chances, and goals; a triangle of players who support one another and drive the soccer team. Players who know where one another are on the soccer field – have a good understanding of one another’s style of play and feed off one another.

These core players look for one another on the pitch when they have the ball and know what types of service their core players like – whether that’s a ball down the line, the ball to feet, the ball over the top, or the quick one two to get out of trouble. These are players who pick each other out with passes – it’s as though they say, ‘here take it, it’s your turn’. Or, ‘here to it for a second until I get open’. You see this all the time with clubs like AC Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester – teams with core players who share the soccer ball and help one another. Do you see this in the MLS yet?

A short list of MLS core groups – some are still intact and together while others could be dismantled:

  • New England Revolution: Ralston, Twellman, Noonan (Broken)
  • Columbus Crew: Schelotto, Rogers, Alejandro Moreno, Gaven (Intact)
  • Houston Dynamo: Davis, Ching, De Rosario, Clark, Holden (Broken)
  • Los Angeles Galaxy: Beckham, Donovan, Lewis, Klein (Intact)
  • New York Red Bulls: Angel, Richards, Dave van den Bergh (Intact)
  • Chivas U.S.A.: Razov, Kljestan, Marsch (Intact)
  • DC United: Fred, Moreno, Gomez, Gallardo, Emilio (Partly broken)

If the MLS wants to build solid clubs then they have to maintain these cores groups of players and let them develop and strengthen. When you break up core groups then the clubs suffer and the league itself suffers. It’s like pulling out the foundation of a house when you break up a good group of players.

If you look at the top teams in Europe, whether that’s AC Milan or Manchester United, you’ll find a group of key players that have been with the clubs for years and years and know one another inside and out. Whether that’s Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Manchester or Kaka and Seedorf at Milan, they’re both the foundations of their clubs. Moreover, they pass along the style of play to the new young players that are signed by the club – they act as mentors for new players.

Already this MLS off season we’ve seen the breakup of a few MLS core groups, gone is De Rosario from Houston as he’s moved on to Toronto. Gone is Noonan from New England, this past year. Kljestan could be gone to Europe. Gomez left DC United for Colorado. Donovan could be gone to Europe. Beckham could stay in Italy.

Sure, there is a time when you need to breakup a core group. When are those times? Perhaps when players are getting older or they’ve just lost their standing with the team, fans, and ownership. Something is stagnant. It’s the best time to sell since the price is right.

It does happen, look at Barcelona, they let Deco and Ronaldinho leave, two players who made up the core group previously, and with tremendous success. It’s hard to breakup something that has given you titles and trophies, but tough decisions need to be made to help the team grow and continue to evolve. This sport is a business after all.

However, clubs have to take into account the long-term impact of breaking up a key group of players. Will they be able to find the right mix of players that can duplicate the previous groups success? And how long will it take?

It’s no easy task. I’d just like to see the MLS try to build core groups of players since they lead to successful clubs in the long run. If I’m missing a core group that should be listed above and also not dismantled, please let me know.

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