BASN’s MLS Soccer Notebook

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: May 9, 2009

MLS MIAMI — Between March Madness, UEFA Champions League, NBA Playoffs, my day job and well, life, I haven’t gotten a chance to watch as much MLS in 2009 as I would have liked.

It’s still early in the season though so we have all summer to see if Columbus can turn it around and get back on the good foot; whether Seattle is really the second coming of Chicago ’98 and whether DC United is really back. And there is that whole Beckham farewell tour thing later on this year.

But I’ve been wondering… what would make MLS must see TV for me ahead of say, the Bulls-Celtics? The league has excellent players. Juan Pablo Angel is perhaps the best striker in MLS in a long time and despite the stick Landon Donovan gets, he’s one of the best players ever to play in this league.

But that’s not demanding main stream attention.

The league went out and brought to these shores the most recognizable star they could find in Beckham. That brought some interest from the mainstream press…for about a minute. Then Becks, he of the modeling and the abs and tattoos, got hurt and everyone realized that even when he was healthy, LA were still less than mediocre. Beckham found another job in Italy somewhere and the mainstream press went back to their NFL draft scenarios.

Is there no love for the younger players making their mark like RBNY’s Dane Richards, Chicago defender Bakary Soumary and Seattle Sounder forward Steve Zakunai? What about the continued brilliance of Jaime Moreno or Guillermo Barros-Schelotto?

Steve Zakuani, Seattle Sounders FC (sikids.com)

Anyone?

Perhaps another solution is needed, something to jump start the league. Something that will polarize opinion and bring all kinds of pundits out of the woodwork.

MLS needs….a villain.

Not just any villain, someone that basically everyone will hate.

A Message to the Don:

MLS NEEDS JOEY BARTON.

Yeah, I said it.

Uh huh. I went there.

Forget Thierry Henry. I love him but he ain’t comin’.

Never mind another soccer specific stadium. They’re coming soon enough.

No, I want something for the here and now. Something that will raise eye brows immediately.

Like MC Lyte said, Gotta have a rough neck.

Gotta have Joey Barton.

For all those unaware, this nut is biggest pariah in English football, not named Tom Henning Ovrebo or Didier Drogba. (Just an aside, as crazy Drogba was after Chelsea’s Champions League Semifinal loss to Barcelona, I thought the sight of Michael Ballack racing downfield like he was some kind of Klingon Bird of Prey, protesting Samuel Eto’o's “handball” was equally amusing…but I digress).

Joey Barton, who’s been suspended for the rest of the season by Newcatle United, has worked long and hard at carefully constructing his reputation as a thug and degenerate.

His career highlights include starting a PRESEASON brawl, getting into a scrape with a 15 year old Everton fan in Bangkok, mooning the entire Everton crowd, walking out on his team just before kick off when Manchester City manager Kevin Keegan didn’t name him to the match day squad, starting a fight with a teammate and last weekend, while playing with Newcastle, chopping down Xavi Alonso near the corner flag for no other reason than Alonso just happened to be there…and being surprised when he got red carded.

And that’s just football related.

Off the pitch he’s been jailed for a street fight, gotten physical with a cab driver and pushed a lit cigar into teammate’s eye AT A CHRISTMAS PARTY. (Now THAT’S gangsta.)

Clearly this cat’s got issues.

That’s why he’s perfect for MLS.

Get him a Raiders hat and dark jacket and cue the N.W.A. circa 1990

You want surprise?

You want unpredictability?

You want Joey Barton.

Can you imagine the nervousness other MLS players will have lining up against this nut? LD talks a lot of trash but you best believe he’d be looking over his shoulder on a break away if Joey’s on the field. You want Cuahtemoc Blanco to get as wound up like he did playing for Mexico against the US? Send Joey after him and see how composed he is after that. You thought Dema Kovalenko used to lay some wood on people? Wait till you get a load of Joey. Beckham might just stay away on general principle knowing Barton’s in the league.

You see, we love villians in sports. Villians give fans a target to yell at and justify our hatred of whatever team he plays for. “Why do you hate [insert club here]? They signed [insert villian here].” Reggie Jackson, Terrell Owens, Mark Gastineu, John Rocker anyone?

Journalists use villains to fill their columns as well. The Lord of Self Righteousness (A.K.A. Mike Lupica) spent months, even years fuming about Barry Bonds. How long did Ron Artest remain a dirty word after the Brawl with the Pistons fans a few years back? Adam “Pacman” Jones is continually held up as an example of everything wrong with today’s professional athlete. Terrell Owens couldn’t twitch an eye lid without it making the news. Even John Rocker got sick of talking about himself after his stupid comments in Sports Illustrated.

I don’t exclude myself considering I wrote about my favorite villains at the end of last year. Villains allow those on the periphery of a sport to act as moral judges about a person, his lifestyle or his choices. But it also gives the sport extra attention when games aren’t being played, thereby keeping it relevant, even in the off season.

Think MLS wouldn’t like to be a little more relevant in the mainstream, especially in the off season? Think the league wouldn’t welcome a little more scrutiny from the likes of the Sports Reporters or Two Live Stews or the regulars from Around the Horn? They’d love this guy, potentially kicking players and watching him chop down midfielders from behind when they aren’t looking…just like in football?

Look, MLS has tried the family atmosphere thing. We’ve tried the splashy All-Star game and MLS Cup Final halftime entertainment. All that’s cool, I guess in a fuzzy corporate kind of way.

But I say let’s get someone who’s going to get extra attention because you simply have absolutely no idea what might set him off (e.g. an announcement over the loudspeaker, a low flying blimp, random 15 year old eating a candy bar, etc.)

It’s time we bring back the missing element that is central to every sport. MLS hasn’t had a recognized villain since Mamadou Diallo mistook Mike Amman’s rib cage for the ball back in the day. We need to bring in someone who will inspire instant hate with his own mix of over the top aggression, lack of self control and questionable morals.

We need someone for whom other players will be looking over their shoulders, about whom referees will have special conferences for whom fans lining up in MLS stadiums to throw things and about whom pundits will point at as a loose cannon…and still watch in fascination and anticipation of what he’ll do next.

If football celebrates 370 pound defensive linemen who run over quarterbacks when their backs are turned, if hockey celebrates their goons who rarely score but rack of penalty minutes for fighting, if throwing a hard baseball at someone’s head is considered protecting a teammate, if Kevin McHale clothes lining Kurt Rambis on a fast break can be chalked up to playoff intensity…and all that stuff is respected and gets on TV, surely we MLS fans can have our own violent lunatic and get the same respect from Sportscenter, right?

We need that ruffneck.

We need someone who got that “THUG LIFE” tatted on his chest.

MLS:

WE

NEED JOEY BARTON!