Monday, April 18, 2011

Support Your Local Soccer Team

Because the vast majority of U.S. soccer fans of my generation didn't grow up playing soccer, they chose the sport rather than the sport choosing them.

This is not always a good thing.

Much as the former two-pack-a-dayer becomes the most strident anti-smoking advocate, so too many converted American soccer fans become soccer snobs, insisting on only following the best of European or South American soccer and deriding the level of play in MLS, let alone that of the lower division leagues in the U.S., the United Soccer Leagues (USL) and Professional Development League (PDL).

No, the MLS is not the Premier League. But neither is the Scottish Premier League, or the Ukrainian Premier League, or even Ligue 1 (France's highest professional league).

At the end of every Mountain Stage, Larry Groce tells the audience to go out and listen to some live local music. He's not saying it will be as good as what you just heard on the show, but that's not important. What is important is the idea of local music, of supporting its existence and the people who are probably not even eking out a living performing it, but are doing it just the same and could use a little support while pursuing their dream.

The same goes for local soccer. Whether it's the Columbus Crew or the Portland Timbers or even D.C. United, MLS has to play an important part in the development and vitality of the game in America. U.S. soccer fans need to support MLS, through attendance or even just watching games on t.v., to increase the presence of the game in our national psyche, and especially its attractiveness as a marketing tool to potential advertisers.

Even more desperate for a little support are local soccer clubs. While the level of play isn't always great, the atmosphere and support of your team (even if it's your club only for that evening) is. Perhaps the two most enjoyable times I have ever spent at soccer matches were in York, England watching a pre-season match of what was then Third Division York City F.C. against Middlesborough and an overweight and fast deteriorating Paul Gascoigne, and in Charleston South Carolina watching the USL's Battery play at its wonderful Blackbaud Stadium.

Here in West-by-God Virginia's Charleston we have a PDL team, the Chaos. The PDL is, as its name indicates, a developmental league. Most of the players are local college players, looking for extra playing time in the summer and perhaps that "break" to move to the next level. The play is at the level of a good Division II college program.

No, you're not going to see Lionel Messi on the Schoenbaum Stadium pitch -- probably not the next Lionel Messi either. But there are few ways to spend more a pleasant evening than sitting in the stands, watching some local boys try to make good while the sun slides down the horizon behind the Appalachian Mountains leaving the sky streaked purple and pink.

So next time you find yourself at home on a Saturday or Sunday with nothing particular to do, go find a local game, drop a few bucks, and, as Larry Groce might say, watch some live local soccer wherever you may be.

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