Equal to the English Premier League?

Martin Rogers

Nothing gets Steve Morrow's blood boiling quite as much as when he feels Major League Soccer's reputation is being slighted.

The FC Dallas head coach's sporting education took place on the other side of the Atlantic in the hallowed surroundings of English Premier League power Arsenal, but he is now fully ingrained in U.S. soccer culture, becoming one of the staunchest believers in the quality of MLS.

He believes the perception in this country, let alone overseas, of the overall level of play in MLS is vastly and continually underestimated.

"The standards are growing each year and I genuinely believe we are at the stage now where the top sides could survive in the English Premiership," Morrow said.

"The league is building itself in the right way and people in Europe are definitely taking notice. We see that when teams come over here, the MLS clubs are very competitive."

Morrow's comments will undoubtedly be derided by many of the critics – almost exclusively from within the United States – who appear hell-bent upon pouring scorn on the league. However, the 37-year-old speaks from a position of authority, having spent the first 13 years of his career in England before coming to Dallas, first as a player, in 2002.


FC Dallas
FC Dallas

2007 RECORD:
13-12-5 (44 points), third in Western Conference, fifth overall. Lost to Houston in Western Conference semifinal.

KEY MAN: Juan Toja. The Colombian midfielder holds things together for FC Dallas and his contribution will again be vital. An ankle injury affected his performances towards the end of last season, but he should be back to his best for the start of the new campaign.

NEWCOMER: Brek Shea. The Texan teenager was mightily impressive during the MLS combine and saw his draft stock rise rapidly. He was taken with the No. 2 overall pick and should be playing either at left midfield or up front.

OUTLOOK: FC Dallas is capable of beating any team in the league on its day. Coach Steve Morrow is looking for improvement on last season’s third-place finish in the West and wants a strong run through the playoffs.

"A lot of the problem is that there is a certain level of ignorance from people who criticize MLS," he said. "It is ignorance about how good this league really is, and also about them not knowing enough about the international game. But things are changing gradually and the league is taking big strides forward."

Morrow – who did not harbor any serious ambitions about becoming a coach during his playing days but has thrown himself into his Dallas role since taking charge at the end of the 2006 season – has maintained a close relationship with Arsenal. He is still a passionate fan of the London club and is always welcomed to the Gunners' training ground by manager Arsene Wenger and assistant Pat Rice whenever he is back in the United Kingdom.

Among Arsenal supporters, Morrow is still remembered fondly, especially for his outstanding performance in the team's 1994 European Cup Winners' Cup final victory over Parma. But sadly, the most infamous memory of his playing career came after the 1993 League Cup final at Wembley, when he scored the winning goal against Sheffield Wednesday.

In the postmatch celebrations, Arsenal captain Tony Adams tried to pick Morrow up but slipped, and Morrow broke his arm as he hit the ground. The after-effects of that injury was felt years later, as Morrow continued to experience problems with his neck and upper body until the end of his career.

However, the rigors of MLS provide little opportunity for regret, as he prepares for the challenge of making FC Dallas contenders in 2008.

"Anyone has a real chance this season," he said. "We think we will have a big year and I am happy about how things are coming together."

Last season ended with a defeat to Texas rival and eventual MLS Cup champ Houston Dynamo in the first round of the playoffs after a late-season gamble on aging Brazilian superstar Denilson failed to work out.

Former Mexican World Cup defender Duilio Davino was added during the offseason. Also, it is hoped that Juan Toja can continue to develop into one of the league's premier midfielders.

"I know we have a team that has spirit and togetherness and is capable of doing well," Morrow said. "Now we have to go out and prove it."