ESPN’s soccer analysts don’t think that Real Salt Lake has any chance of winning a championship anytime soon. Or, maybe, ever.
But RSL fans shouldn’t be offended. Alejandro Moreno and Herculez Gomez didn’t single out the Claret and Cobalt, they argued that Major League Soccer has become a league that only a small number of teams can win — and RSL isn’t one of them.
At halftime of the Carabao Cup final on Saturday, the topic turned to the channel’s upcoming coverage of MLS. ESPN’s Adrian Healey pointed out that Seattle has played for the title each of the past two seasons — winning one and losing the second to Toronto — and asked if the Sounders and Toronto FC are “starting to separate themselves” from the rest of “what is supposed to be and, historically, has been a league of parity.”
“And is no longer that,” Moreno said. “If you look at Major League Soccer, it is increasingly becoming about the haves and the have-nots.”
He pointed to teams “that are willing and are able to invest the sort of money that, say, a team like Atlanta United is willing to invest” in expensive players. Atlanta spent a ton of money on players and became MLS’ most successful expansion team.
Moreno went so far as to say that Seattle and Toronto are “on a different playing field than some of the other teams, because they can go get those players. Because they have the deep pockets” and “some of the other teams on the other end of the league cannot compete at that level.”
RSL spent about $7.7 million on salaries last year, 11th in MLS. Atlanta (No. 8) spent about $2.2 million more (29 percent); Seattle (No. 7) spent $2.6 million more (34 percent; Toronto (No. 1) spent $14.7 million more (191 percent). And all three of those teams have spent big bucks on players in the offseason, which explains why they’re the top three picks of Las Vegas oddsmakers to win MLS Cup in 2018.
“They are willing to [spend],” Gomez said. “There are other clubs in Major League Soccer that just aren’t willing to. They’re OK with just staying afloat and competing that way.”
He said Toronto and Seattle “want to keep getting better. They want to compete in international tournaments. And when you do that, you’re going to have to spend the money. And when you spend that money, you’re going to have better talent on the field.”
I hope Moreno and Gomez are wrong. Although they know infinitely more about soccer than I do, I want to argue that teams like Salt Lake, Kansas City and Colorado have won MLS Cups.
But not in the past four years. So I’m afraid that Moreno and Gomez are right. They’re certainly arguing against their self-interest.
If they were simply trying to boost ESPN’s MLS ratings, they’d tell fans that every MLS team has a shot at winning the title. Not that only a select few are in the running.
RSL opens the season on Saturday in Dallas (6 p.m., KMYU).
We’re No. 1 • Have you seen the reports that Denver wants to compete with Salt Lake City to host the Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030? Well, we’re bigger Olympics fans than they are. Utah beat Colorado in TV viewing during the 2018 Games.
The final numbers are in, and the Salt Lake TV market averaged a 21.1 rating and a 39 share to lead the rest of the nation. Denver was No. 2, with a 20.2/36 average.
To people who work with TV ratings, that’s not an insignificant margin.
(A rating point represents 1 percent of the TV-equipped homes in a market; a share point is 1 percent of the homes where someone is watching TV at a given time. NBC’s numbers include both the broadcast network — KSL-Ch. 5 in Salt Lake City — and NBCSN on cable in prime time.)
By the way, 0.85 percent of American TV viewers live in the Salt Lake TV market; 1.42 percent live in the Denver market.