For decades, American soccer fans have wondered, When will Major League Soccer finally distinguish itself as a genuinely world-class league? It has been a long journey, an arduous road through overtime penalty shootouts and the Chivas USA experiment, but we have finally arrived at a point where MLS matches—well, MLS match, singular—resemble certain continental counterparts. By which I mean, it's now suspected that big-money gambling interests have found a way to get some good old-fashioned match-fixing going in MLS.
The Colorado Rapids placed Brazilian winger Max Alves on "administrative leave" on Wednesday, the same day Brazilian prosecutors charged 16 people, including seven players, with a spate of match-fixing-related offenses. Almost all of the alleged offenses follow the same pattern: an organized crime outfit paid players, usually 60,000 Brazilian Reals (~$12,000), to get a yellow card at some point in the game. The players in question play for some of the biggest clubs in Brazil, like Santos, Cruzeiro, and Fluminense, and five players based in the Brazilian league have been suspended. Prosecutors allege that Alves was also involved in the scheme, and that he was paid to get a yellow card during a match against the L.A. Galaxy last September. He did his duty only 90 seconds after being subbed in, and like a true pro, he protested his innocence after committing the foul.
The Brazilian operation, dubbed Operação Penalidade Máxima or Operation Maximum Penalty, also named former Houston Dynamo defender Zeca. According to prosecutors, Alves put Zeca in touch with the money people and they tried to get Zeca to commit a similar offense on the final matchday of the 2022 MLS season (Zeca did not get off the bench in that game against the Galaxy, and it's unclear whether he actually took part in any match-fixing.) Zeca is back playing in Brazil, though Alves just started for the Rapids this past weekend. The Rapids andthe league office released statements on the matter and announced they'd be conducting an investigation. A Brazilian reporter got in touch with Alves's agent, who said Alves "is very sorry and feeling down" and "will not hide" if he is found guilty.
Anyway, congratulations to Don Garber and MLS for finally putting forth a product worthy of the attention of gamblers and criminals.