We watched Kaka bring the style, skill, and grace of a top-flight World Cup- winning Brazilian star to Levi Stadium’s game between the San Jose Earthquakes and Orlando City FC. We saw him run his heart out, gauge his passing and field position like the master he still is, and yet the game was at first a lackluster affair, and finally devolved into a petulant, disjointed display that produced many cynical, player-endangering fouls. We saw the only goals of the game scored from penalties, a red card ejection for a two-footed studs up challenge from Brek Shea, and quite unbelievably low 2 yellow cards from referee Allen Chapman given the amount of clattering that was going on out there.
So the question arises, one that has dogged MLS of all the leagues in the world perhaps more than any other, can one great player make a great team? On the evidence of yesterday’s game between San Jose and Orlando the answer has to be an emphatic "No!"
Players out in New York like Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips gave us moments of greatness, incisive visionary passing, and occasional wicked finishes but still their team did not dominate with any consistency.
San Jose’s Matias Perez Garcia, upon whose stocky shoulders has been placed much of the Quakes hope for improvement and success this year, yesterday found himself repeatedly smashed to the ground. As possibly San Jose’s best technical player Garcia was effectively fouled out of a potentially much better performance.
It would be a fair comparison to rate Garcia as a good player against Kaka’s proven greatness, yet still Garcia for all his slight stature stands head and shoulders above the great majority of MLS players. Why is this? Why is this huge nation of boundless resources still mainly producing players in abundance whose only recourse seems to be to hack down those who play at a higher level?
We’ve heard it posited that if USA players were suddenly to start playing at a higher level they’d all leave and follow the big money abroad. What, so we should develop mediocrity, worship God awful parity all in the name of survival and holding on to our players? I’m sorry but that’s not my brand of soccer and that’s not my country.
Let’s not look to the injection of former greats like the comic, banana skin antics of Stephen Gerard and the I’m-here-be-worshipped smugness of Frank Lampard to rescue US soccer from itself. I fully believe Kaka when he says that he hasn’t come to the USA to retire but to work and succeed, for this is the ethic that is the foundation of his greatness. But I almost feel sorry for him and his efforts to raise the game here upon the often turgid battlefields of MLS.
US soccer needs to focus on greatness not survival, focus on homegrown talent not foreign idol worship. I love this game and I love this country, it’s about time we showed the world that we can compete at the highest levels.