Why MLS is Deserving of Ridicule
Stuart Holden will not be able to watch team mates Brian Ching and Dwayne DeRosario in qualifying tonight because he’s playing at the same time/photo from MLSNET
Major League Soccer is one of the strangest football leagues in the world. While some European oriented fans ridicule MLS for the time of year it is played those of us who understand world football and weather patterns do not really understand how MLS can be played when these people’s beloved English Premier League is played. Nor do I subscribe to the single table argument, in a league where distances of 2,500 miles is common between stadiums. To me it makes more sense to play the clubs in your geographic area more often than clubs on the other side of the continent.
Now that we’ve dismissed the most common Eurosnob arguments about MLS let me introduce why I believe the league on this day of deadly critical World Cup qualifiers in CONCACAF need not be taken seriously. MLS not only plays through international breaks but plays with its top teams at the very same time the United States national team plays. We’ve seen this happen time and time again throughout MLS history. I still recall my conflict in 1999 about whether to watch a US-Germany game on PPV (Confederations Cup) or a Miami Fusion-Metrostars game on ABC. In other words the less important match, the MLS one was more accessible than the more important and entertaining match.
This is a situation that would be avoided at all costs in most footballing nations. The federation would insist on its domestic league not competiting with its national team for TV time. Even if tonight’s MLS matches end prior to the end of the US National Team qualifier, the two events are essentially in competition for viewers and for attention.
We’ve seen this situation played out time and time again. We’ve seen websites like this focus on MLS news instead of national team news during qualifying and friendly matches. We’ve even seen Sportscenter air MLS highlights before US highlights as it did during last year’s Copa America when ESPN showed matches at the very same time as two US games on Univision and GOLTV. That’s why with qualifying starting I announced earlier this week that this blogsite will focus on the US Team, as the American Soccer Show has done whenever the US is in action be it for a qualifier, or a friendly.
Maybe I am old fashioned but the national team should be the priority. Trust me, I really understand some of MLS’ scheduling issues which is why I am not beating the drum of changing the calender or going to a single table. However, if MLS must play through international breaks can they not at least attempt to schedule matches 24 hours before or after a US or Canadian game? (This courtesy should be extended to all CONCACAF nations quite frankly) I’m sorry to say this to those of you who support New England, Chivas USA, Houston or DC United but your matches tonight are totally meaningless in the big picture when the National Team faces its toughest qualifier of this group. The idea that the Soccer/Football community in our nation will have its attention split instead of cheering on our boys has made me sick to my stomach.
At the same time as this is happening, MLS has attempted to oversell its product. Why the league does not focus on simply being a good domestic league that brings live football to the masses here in North America and develops American talent, as it once did is lost upon me. All of a sudden the league wants to be a player abroad and is starved for international attention. In the meantime MLS itself has probably the worst record of any first division against its nation(s)’ second division (USL-1) of any top flight league on the planet. I’ve heard the argument that MLS clubs do not take the US Open Cup seriously, but when USL teams consistently get results against MLS sides, even those like FC Dallas who field their first teams at home, the league isn’t at the level it claims it is. For me that is fine: I like both MLS and USL and wish Major League Soccer would return to its circa 2000 priorities.
MLS’ solution to these perceived problems thus far has been to try and expand into USL markets and increase the number of foreign players allowed per team. But the side USL-1’s Montreal Impact won the Canadian Championship with is largely home grown: Only four active players hail from outside the CONCACAF region and the club has been known for sometime as more or less a feeder team for the Canadian National Team. At the same time Toronto FC fielded only two Canadian players in the decisive match.
As we saw with the debacle about naming the team in Seattle MLS feels its product and its brand reign supreme and any association be it symbolic or real with prior soccer clubs in a region is to be frowned upon. MLS instead of embracing the legacy and hard work of those who have built the game in this region seem to want to pretend as if they are responsible solely for the growth of the North American game. Rejecting any hint of association with the defunct North American Soccer League (whose very existence as one time success is the most significant reason Soccer became a major participatory sport in North America) MLS has begun to imitate the NASL in its behavior even though admittedly MLS is on much more solid business grounding and is also in an era where Soccer is better understood and more ingrained in the American psyche. Wouldn’t MLS and Soccer in this region be better off, if the league simply acknowledged its predecessors including clubs that existed for a long period of time outside of a first division and honor their legacy by embracing the club’s names and its practices?
The NASL for all its success was seen as a rogue league by FIFA and the USSF. MLS has spent twelve years cultivating the game in this country and promoting its growth. But now its priorities seem completely divergent with what has gotten the league to this point: a reliance on home grown talent and the success and interest generated by the US National Team.