May 30, 2012

Baltimore and Maryland Take Next Step on Possible DC United Stadium in Charm City

via PressBox.

Hey D.C. City Council---you're gonna screw this up.  You are going to let one of the most successful sports teams in the DC Market go cause you can't get your head out of your a**.

Eric Wynalda, Cal FC and and F.U. to U.S. Soccer

Jason Davis has a great piece on what he is calling the Eric Wynalda Eff You Tour which makes its next, and possibly final, stop at Jeld-Wyn Field in Portland tonight for a U.S. Open Cup Third Round Match.  To be sure, Wynalda wants to win (as do his players) in part because that is what winners want to do--win soccer matches and Wynalda, if nothing else, has a winner's attitude.

Wynalda, who abandoned a promising career in Germany in the mid-1990's to return to the U.S. to help build MLS, has been slighted by the league pretty much since retiring.  Wynalda has been pretty clear that he doesn't think he should have to climb the ladder of being an assistant coach on an NASL or USL-PRO team, and he has a pretty good case, the success of former (barely) players like Jason Kreis, Ben Olsen, and even Jay Heaps (whose hiring really got Wynalda fired up) and Wynalda's comparative success on par or superior to those men.

But part of Wynalda's charm (or problem depending on your point of view) is that he says exactly what is on his mind.  Such a forthright attitude is great as a color commentator on Fox Soccer, but it may have proven intensely detrimental in a relatively small American Soccer community, who members are tight and act in some ways like a good old boy network.  There is no doubt that Wynalda has talent, has the smarts and apparently has the ability to put together in less than a couple of months a team that has a real chance of beating Portland Timbers in the one-off format of the U.S. Open Cup (just ask the six MLS teams that lost last night) and make the deepest run of an amateur side in a long time.  But is Wynalda right and the rest of the U.S. Soccer establishment wrong?  Well, the truth is probably, like most cases, somewhere in the middle.  U.S. Soccer Federation is a bit too insular and to a lesser extent so is MLS.  U.S. Soccer and MLS need a bomb thrower in their midst sometimes and rightfully so.  But is Wynalda's abrasive approach too much?  Yeah, it probably is.  Wynalda is in a tough spot, he has created this persona that has burned a lot of bridges.  I don't think he should apologize, but by the same token, maybe dialing it back a bit may help.

But tonight's match is made all the more delicious given that history between Wynalda and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson who engaged in a rather notable Twitter battle.  If Cal FC wins over Portland---imagine what will happen.  In a side note, the question will be how serious Portland take this match.  Will Paulson order/request coach John Spencer to field a mostly first team squad to teach Wynalda lesson?  Will Spencer, an outspoken man himself, do that when Portland's MLS season is far from stellar?

Surely, if Wynalda wins tonight not only will he be able to say "told you so" to Paulson, but maybe, just maybe MLS will start taking Wynalda a little more seriously.  If not, a win for Cal FC will be a great big Eff You to MLS.

The question for Eric Wynalda will be---which one is more important to him?

May 25, 2012

Klinsmann's May'June Roster

Jurgen Klinsmann named is final 23 man roster for the May/June friendlies and the first two World Cup Qualifying matches.  Here is the list:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (7): Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca)
FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).

Prior to naming the team, Klinsmann had indicated that he was treating this series of games like a tournament and was going to name all three goalkeepers to the final roster.  As I expected Alfredo Morales, Danny Willams, Graham Zusi and Juan Agudelo did not make the cut.

Morales and Agudelo should not have made the roster.  Neither has had much playing time with their respective club's first teams, although that will likely change for Agudelo with his recent move to Chivas USA.  You could make an argument that Terrence Boyd was not making first team appearances for the Bundesliga Champions, but Dortmund is now out of season whereas Chivas is not. I don't expect to see Boyd on the pitch much anyway.

I think Zusi's inexperience is what ultimately cost him, but he is firmly on Klinsmann's radar and will have time to impress in the coming months.  Williams is probably a victim more of his shoulder injury than anything else.

The backline kind of picks itself right now.  You will see, R-L, Cherundolo-Bocanegra-Onyewu-Castillo.  Although depending on training performance, Parkhurst at left back is not a bad choice, but is not as attack minded as Castillo, but is certainly steadier in a defensive set.  I also like the line of Cherundolo--Goodson--Onyewu--Bocanegra.  You may see Goodson and/or Cameron get a run out in one of the friendlies, either Scotland or Canada.  I would call holding midfielder a toss up between Beckerman and Edu.  Klinsmann has favored Beckerman in the past and is a known quantity for Klinsmann.  I would expect Edu to start against Scotland and see from there.  I would think that Klinsmann will go with a more two way player in central midfield and that is likely to be Bradley in my mind.

So who plays in the attacking roles.  Dempsey is going to be unavailable for the Scotland match, if for no other reason than to give his groin a little more time to heal.  Much will depend on what kind of formation that Klinsmann wants to run, a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or some asymetric tweak on a 4-3-1-2 mix.  A straight 4-4-2 would likely see Altidore up top, with Gomez or Wondolowski playing off him and Donovan and Torres or Johnson playing the flanks.  I think with the plethora of attacking talent in this squad, Klinsmann is going to want to have at least two strikers.  Such a system puts a burden on Bradley in the middle to pull the strings. If Donovan and Torres are played on the flanks, expect to see them pinch in on the attacks and for Cherudnolo/Castillo to provide the width on the overlap, taking some of the play making burden off of Bradley.

There is going to be some pressure for the U.S. attack to produce against all the opponents but Brazil (and I would like to see the U.S. just go at Brazil early on.  Certainly the U.S. will be expected to attack against Antigua and go into Guatamala with an attack minded plan.

May 22, 2012

Mixing the American Melting Pot

Over the weekend, U.S. Men's National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann sent out his second round of invites for the Training Camp that will lead to three friendlies (Scotland, Brazil and Cananda) and two World Cup qualifiers (Antigua and Guatamala) in the next three weeks.  As a reminder, here are the players coming into camp (with the new additions in bold face)

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Clarence Goodson (Brondby IF)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar)

So, like all camps there is much talk about those who are surprises (Agudelo, Zusi) and snubs (Sasha Kljestan, Tim Ream, DaMarcus Beasley).  Such talk usually follow camp call-ups.  To be honest, there is not much to be had in the "Snubs & Surprises" type column, although Franco Panizo at Soccer by Ives makes a good case for Kljestan, Beasley and Eric Lichaj.

Much more important is what this roster says about what Klinsmann is looking for in building a squad.  So let's break it down by position:

Goalkeepers:  Really, what do you want from a goalkeeper?  Shot stopping?  Check on all three, although Guzan is probably the weaker of the three.  Experience?  Check (again with a caveat for the under utilized Guzan).  Ability to organize a defense?  Check.  Distribution?  Check.  Really, right now Klinsmann suffers from an embarrassment of riches in this position and I don't subscribe to the belief that young up and comers like Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Zac McMath or even Ryan Meara are not capable future replacements.

Defenders:  Look at this list and drop Onyewu from the list and what do you have?  Ball control, ball control, ball control.  And even Onyewu is getting better in this department.  Clearly Klinsmann wants to possess the ball more, not just panic and hoof the ball up forward after stripping an attacker.  All of these players can hold the ball, pass the ball and keep their composure under pressure.  Sure, there will always come a time when a defender has to just blast the ball clear, but rather than that being the basic response of American defenders in the past, what we are seeing is soccer players, not athletes who happen to play soccer.

Midfielders:  Admittedly, this group is a little harder to figure out.  You have Beckerman (my and Klinsmann's favorite dreadlocked hobbit) as your holding beast and physically strong players like Mo Edu and Jermaine Jones.  I think pound for pound, Michael Bradley is one the best box to box midfielders the U.S. has developed in the past 20 years.  But then you have players like Corona and Torres, better known for their technical ability than their imposing physicality.  Add in Williams, Johnson and more than likely Donovan and what do  you have?  Power, technique and flair, with a dash of speed.  But something else you have in this group.  Passing ability.  That is going to be key for this squad to break down a defense and to put on a counter attack.  Sounds like a pretty good midfield.  The problem?  Klinsmann can't put all these guys on the pitch.

Strikers:  What do Dempsey, Gomez, Wondolowski, Altidore and Boyd have in common?  They have been scoring goals like mad.  Scoring by the buckets and not just one or two, but multi-goal games, scoring in multiple consecutive matches.  Even Boyd has been lighting it up for Dortmund's reserves, and the Bundesliga reserves are not a Sunday pub league.  So their inclusion is no surprise on their current form and confidence.  But there is something else that all these players and Agudelo have?  Movement, lots and lots and lots of movement.  How do you break a defense down?  Movement.  How do you score goals?  Movement (and shooting which these guys apparently don't fear right now).  How do you create space for your midfielders like Torres, Bradley and Coronoa to exploit?  Movement.

What does all this mean.  I think the key is what Klinsmann has been trying to build.  Klinsmann has stated that he wants to identify an American style of soccer.  But the problem is, of course, that we don't have a national style like the Dutch Total Football, or the Brazilian Samba soccer.  Like so much in America, there are distinct flavors to everything.  So what has to be done?  Find smart, dynamic players with a few core competencies (like passing and penchant for movement) but who have distinctive styles and pedigrees and start blending them around a basic theme.  Each of those players above possesses the skills also that Klinsmann seeks, in order to build a dynamic passing team, whereby attacks start in the defensive third, build through passing and rely on movement up top to keep defenses unsettled.   Klinsmann has put together a squad that is pretty diverse in terms players and playing skills.  He truly has started to build a program that brings together the diversity of American soccer and he is trying to build a team along those lines.

No longer can an opponent look at an American starting 11 and just see 11 good athletes who will run until they drop or the final whistle blows (that is a given now and no American player will be able to do otherwise, particularly after this event).  They will see big, tall, strong in the air defenders who can pass the ball with precision through the middle third.  They will see a dizzying array of attacking midfielders and strikers running around like gnats, popping up in odd places at unexpected times, supported by defensive midfielders who can put in a bone rattling tackle and then dribble past you with the ball on a string.  With different personalities on the field, you get a different flavor each time, always within a context of German-American strength and energy, but just like America--a melting pot of styles and skills.  In tournament soccer, nothing is more dangerous than an opponent whose style is unpredictable because the players all have something different they bring to the table.

Whether it works of course, remains to be seen.  Bringning all that diversity together a few times a  year takes a lot of skill and persuasion to get the players working on the same page.  But if you look at the players who were not called in, aside from perhaps Lichaj, could they have added any depth or diversity to this squad?  What does a player like Kljestan have that the other midfielders don't?  (and this from a guy who wishes Kljestan would get called in).  Looking at the players Klinsmann has called in and you can see that he might be on the cusp of creating something new, something that we have been looking for quite some time:  An American Soccer Identity--The Melting Pot.

May 18, 2012

WPS Folds--What's Next?

ESPN's Beau Dure has the story to today that Women's Professional Soccer league has folded after three tumultuous seasons.  There will do doubt be a lot of finger-pointing, blame (Dan Borislow-yeah I am looking at you), and moaning about economic conditions, travel, branding, etc. .  But when the second effort at building a women's professional soccer league fails after three years within 10 years of the last independent league disaster, it makes it appear that those who want to have a professional women't league in America can't figure out either how to present the league or operate the league.  That includes management, ownership, marketing and yes, the players themselves.

The way I see it there are three consequences for the American women.  First, as has been seen, a lot of other countries are catching up the U.S. in terms of quality.  Yes, Pia Sundehage has done a wonderful job bringing the WNT back to the fore, but Germany, Japan, Brazil, and even Mexico and Canada are coming on strong to challenge the dominance of the U.S.  Second, the U.S. top women will have to be following the top men and moving to Europe to play.  That is not a bad thing, but it puts players out of the American spotlight. Who besides avid women's soccer fans knew about how good Ali Kreiger was playing in Europe all the time.  Third and finally, this is a black eye for the players as well as management.  The players didn't seem to have learned anything from the WUSA's folding and neither did management.  There are hundreds of thousands of girls out there playing soccer, and some of them play wonderful soccer.  So why can't the league attract that kind of support?  Why hasn't the league been able to tap into that market?  What can they do differently?  What different models are out there that can make matters different?

So we are left with the question of "What's next?"  The way I see it, there are two paths that can be taken to build a league in the U.S.  The first, what I call grassroots development, is long term--perhaps decades, and will take a great deal of long term focus and energy.  Essentially, capitalizing on the very broad base of youth soccer, high school soccer and college soccer, the United States Soccer Federation should implement a Development Academy for girls.  The U.S. Soccer Development Academy for boys is focused on preparing players for the next level, with high levels of training, competition and yes management for U18 and U16 boys.  Given the success of the USWNT, I have always wondered by there isn't a development academy for girls.  There should be--full stop.

Putting together a development academy for girls should be followed by and coupled with the development of amateur and semi-professional leagues.  The W-League has been around for years, is established, consistent and has offered a summer season featuring elite players playing good soccer in regional leagues with a play-offs for championships.  As young girls graduate from high school, development academy clubs could build their own W-league teams or the players could go to established W-league teams.  Over time, there would probably be the development of two or even three tiers of W-League teams, slowing morphing in to more professional organizations as the quality of players, and support, improves.

I am talking decades though in order to build a grassroots W-League.  That could be short circuited a bit by social media exposure, local television broadcasts for games, etc, but in reality, you are talking about 20 years, a very long time.

The shorter path is one fraught with more than a few legal and logistical hurdles.  It is not a new idea, but in essence, it boils down to a WMLS, a Women's Major League Soccer.  Just as MLS clubs have to have an Academy Program in the Development Academy, U.S.S.F. could make a condition of sanction as a top division, the creation and maintenance of a Women's side for each MLS club.  Of course, this is not a new concept and it has been posited a number of times.  But MLS clubs have the current infrastructure, staffing and for the most part facilities to field women's sides.

Say what you will about the MLS structure as a single entity, its leadership has guided a teenaged league through some pretty tumultuous times.  While payrolls might be smaller, salary caps lower, and perhaps support a little less than optimum to the point where a womens' side might be a money losing concern on its own, tying the MLS men's and women's side together allows the women's league to tap into the marketing and financial know-how of MLS, tap into the executive who have learned a few lessons, and tap into a fan base already in place.  MLS was a money losing proposition for most clubs until even recently.

Ideally, what would be nice to see is a combination of both these approaches.  Just as teh men's side of the game needs to be nourished from the top down and the bottom up, so too does the women's side.

The WPS may have been victims for bad luck, bad decisions and bad timing, but if women's professional soccer is going to survive in this country, forming an independent league from scratch does not appear to be the solution.  Either build a league from the ground up or partners with the MLS.  That doesn't mean that there might not be a third way, but the primary third way is DOA--twice.

May 11, 2012

Interesting Graphic


A comparison of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS in tickets, prices, salaries and attendance.  Some pretty interesting information.

Anatomy of a Goal - Mauro Rosales vs PHI

I love this series on MLSSoccer. com:

Anatomy of a Goal - Mauro Rosales vs PHI

Space and movement people, space and movement.

Can The MLS Have an "Invincibles?"

In the 2003-2004 Premier League season, Arsenal accomplished something that had not been done in top flight football in over 100 years, they went an entire season without losing a game.  Winning 26 games and drawing 12 games, the Gunners of that year, behind 30 goals by Thierry Henry and another 14 by fellow Frenchman Robert Pires, and led the (economics) professor Arsene Wenger, put together a roster and a season that will remain part of Premier League lore for decades to come.

Earlier this MLS season began when Sporting Kansas City went on an seven game winning streak to open the season.  With an well-balanced, energetic 4-3-3, head coach Peter Vermes put forth an exciting brand of soccer that was fun to watch and made everyone wonder what could be done to stop them.  But no one seriously thought that Vermes' boys would go undefeated in the season, although it would have been nice to see Sporting go nine or ten games without a loss.  Sadly, a visit to JELD-WEN field in Portland put an end to their run.  

But the question does arise, in a league premised on parity as the MLS is, where a club cannot buy itself a title (see Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid), can the MLS produce an "Invincibles?"  The answer is clearly yes, it is theoretically possible, but what would it take?  Here are a few of the obstacles:

1.  Travel.  The English Premier League takes place in a an country where the longest trip that Arsenel had to take is perhaps 400 miles.  In the United States, most teams have to travel far more than that for EVERY game.  The exceptions would be the DC-Philly-New York trio and Portland-Seattle-Vancouver corridor and the Dallas-Houston, but there is regular east-west travel of six to seven hours and 3000+miles.  

2.  Roster and Salary Caps.  Until recently, there was no real limit  on what clubs could pay players in the Premier League (and may not realistically be one now) and there isn't really any now, so long as they abide by the Financial Fair Play rules and rules regarding home grown players.  MLS has a roster cap and that is a fact of life, so in addition to managing roster size, age, types of players, number of foreign players, a head coach and a GM have to manage the payroll size.

3.  Weather.  Have you ever been to Houston in August?  What about Montreal, Tornoto, Chicago or Salt Lake City in November?  Enough said.

Sure, there are other obstacles, but that is not the point of this post.  What would it take for a MLS club to go undefeated?  A combination of factors would have to be present along with a healthy dose of luck (and lets be honest, Arsenal had a fair helping of luck to achieve their feat).  So besides luck, what would be needed?

1.  A Coach with Flexibility.  Traditionally, we have thought of coaches as either  a "man manager" or  a"system man."  But in order for a team to go a 34, 36, or 38 game season without losing, the coach is going to have to be flexible with his personnel and most importantly his tactics and team set up.  This coach may need to be willing to tweak his formation as well as rotating players to meet his needs as a manager to counter his opponents, strategically and tactically.  The willingness to play a variety of formations, a 4-4-2, 4-1-3-2, 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, even from game to game as the opponent, his squad availability, and situation requires, means that coaches have to inculcate tactical flexibility in the squads and even the manager's own thinking.  There are a couple of managers that I can see as having this quality:  Bruce Arena, Jason Kreis, Dominic Kinnear and maybe Ben Olsen.  

2.  Roster Depth AND Breadth.  Let's face it, in a parity league, the best squad is going to be one where, from  the highest paid Designated Player to the most recent draft pick, every single player is going to have to contribute.  Maybe not on the pitch but on the training ground, pushing and competing for starting slots.  Only with quality from top to bottom is a team gonna be able to make through the dog days of summer.  That is depth.  By breadth, I mean that that the players on a team have to be prepared to fill more than one role.  Whether is a midfielder being called on to play outside back or a striker being asked to play more withdrawn or a wing back needing to play inside, players need to have skill and the confidence to play where ever they are asked in what ever situation is presented.  So the players need to be flexible.  But to build a squad like this, means that the GM and the head coach are going to need to balance salaries, experience, player abilities, age, and all the factors necessary to make a squad that can compete and win no matter who is on the pitch.

3.  Mental Fortitude.  One of the biggest problems in the MLS over the history of the league is the mental fragility of teams either early in a game or late in a game.  How many goals just this season have been scored in the last 10 minutes of a game?  (San Jose anyone?) Having the mental strength to focus on every second of every game will be necessary.  Let's face it, sooner or later, even the best teams are going to have to come from behind to grab a point.  That means a team cannot, as a group, get rattled.  The team has to deal with the home field advantage when they are on the road, particularly in places like Portland, Seattle and Kansas City.  They have to keep working no matter what has happened.  Similarly, there are going to be times when a team has to grind out a 0-1 win on the road or maintain a 2-2 draw in order to secure the point.  

4.  Fitness.  Really, having a fit squad (not just injury free which is as much a function of luck as a good training room staff) will keep players available.  Injuries happen, but managing the fitness of players will always be key.

Winning or drawing 38 games is not a fluke, although there is luck involved.  What is necessary is to create the luck or make it possible for the squad to accomplish the goal.  It is a long, grueling season, but I think it can be done.  In a league that is probably the most internally competitive in the world, having an Invicibles will be the greatest achievement ever in this league.  But how exciting would that be.

In the U.S. sports landscape, it would, I think, be better than the 1972 Miami Dolphins.  They only had to win 17 games with a roster of 60+ players who were specialists in their position.  A MLS club has 25 players who have to be fit and flexible for twice as many games.  Take that American football.

May 9, 2012

The Summer Friendlies Are Upon Us

Just as one can judge the coming of summer in my home state by the preparation and opening of public swimming pools (the outdoor variety).  Just as one can see the approach of summer by the antsy antics of school kids ready for the end of the year.  Just as you can see the coming of summer by the opening of blockbuster movies (Avengers anyone?).  Soccer fans in America can see the coming of summer by the announcement of the summer friendlies.

Some "football" fans may hate the summer friendlies, calling them a waste of time.  There is the wringing of hands, the moaning about the purpose, etc.  Some people might wonder what's the point.  But not me:  I absolutely love summer friendlies.

Okay, to be cynical, we all know that to a certain extent a summer friendly is a cash grab, both for the MLS and for the European club.  And you know what?  I am fine with that.  After all, soccer, both here and in Europe is a sporting business.  The point is to attempt to make some money.  If the visiting club can finance their tour of the U.S. with the friendlies, excellent.  If they can make a little profit, all the better.  For MLS, the infusion of cash from the gates, etc. is always a good thing.  If everyone is making money and the fans see a good product--then that is the best thing around for everyone.

But here is the thing--It is LIVE Soccer!!!!  There is nothing better than live soccer.  Go out and see it.  Maybe one day I can finance a late fall or early spring (preferably spring) trip to Europe and see games in England, German, Italy, Spain, and other places.  But that takes some serious money, some serious planning and a considerate employer to do that.  But seriously, how often are American fans going to have a chance to see Chelsea, or Manchester United, or Juventus, or AC Milan, or Schalke 04, or Real Madrid, or Boca Juniors or any other foreign club LIVE and in person.  I don't mind spending $50, $60, $80 a ticket for a game to see a club near my house that I may never see again in person.  I can travel to Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, or half a dozen other major cities in a day, see a game, maybe stay overnight in a less than glamorous motel and spend less than $300 on my trip for two tickets, gas, food and lodging.  I can do that a couple of times in a summer.  So I could see three or four world class teams, live and in person for less than $1,000.  It would be worth every penny.

MLS (although in mid-season) gets to play high quality games for some period of time against quality opponents (who are in pre-season).  Yes, often times both clubs end up putting a lot of reserves on the field--but that is okay also.  It is a friendly--it is supposed to be an opportunity for both clubs to try new players.  I don't think either club, MLS or European side, should feel obligated to defend their personnel choices.  The fact is if we see reserves from both sides, we get to see how well that MLS reserves stack up against world club reserves.  That in itself is a measure of how far (or not) MLS has progressed in finding and developing talent.  So stop worrying about it.  Embrace the youth, embrace the mistakes, enjoy the good play and enjoy the bad play.  It is a game people--it is supposed to be fun.

Yes, there is, of course, a chance to compare MLS talent against world talent.  The thing to remember is that MLS is not even 20 years old yet.  But each year, the gulf in quality between the MLS and the top flight leagues in Europe grows smaller.  It may be imperceptible to the untrained eye, it may be imperceptible to the trained eye, but it is shrinking.  I can envision a day coming soon, when an MLS first team and compete against and regularly defeat a top European side.  Will it happen next year?  No.  Next decade?  Probably not, but it will happen.

So I suggest we stop apologizing for summer friendlies, we should stop worrying about who plays and whether they are first teamers or not.  Honestly, I should think MLS should accommodate the summer friendlies that happen by maybe front loading a few games early in the season, back loading a bit in August/September and giving clubs the freedom to schedule between 1 and 3 friendlies during June and July and allow MLS to perhaps select a game or two.  Get the fans involved.  I would love to see a fan vote on who a club would play from a list of three or four teams (keeping in mind that not everyone is going to be able to play Real Madrid, Manchester United or Bayern Munich).  But if fans vote on a team and that team can do it, then you are likely to get a good crowd.

In the meantime, go out, enjoy the friendly game, maybe get a few autographs and some pictures.  As you say, it may be the memory of a lifetime and who knows.  You might just see some magic.  At the very least, you will get to see some live soccer and in the end, isn't that what a friendly is all about--a chance to see the beautiful game?