Monday, September 23, 2013

How Cool Is It That ...

How cool is it that ...

The son of a former major league baseball player is now an established veteran of Major League Soccer?

That MLS can now afford to bring one of the best American soccer players back to play in his prime?

That the undisputed home of the U.S. men's team is in Columbus, Ohio, a city dominated all day, every day except once every four years, by American football and is the residence of a fairly miserable MLS team in recent years?

That the "home" of MLS is the Pacific Northwest, where there was no MLS club six years ago?

That many MLS clubs now play, or at least attempt to play, dynamic, passing football rather than the long ball and hoof it game that dominated the game in the U.S. for most of its formative years?

I'll admit that I've been a fan of soccer teams other than MLS clubs for a long time. Blackburn Rovers, Celtic, Barcelona, and now I am grudgingly becoming somewhat of an Arsenal fan as I have convinced myself that it will be years, if ever, before Rovers make it back to the Premier League and I want a club to root for in the Premiership.

But I think many American soccer fans, later to come to the game than I, are doing the MLS and American soccer a disservice by ignoring MLS in favor of the EPL.

There is no dispute that the level of soccer in MLS is still not equal to that of the top European leagues. Or some of South America. Or even (not yet) the Mexican League. But it's gaining. And it's our league.

American soccer consumers have been duped, first by Fox, now by NBC, into thinking the Premier League is the be-all and end-all of professional soccer. And I'll admit, that I am among that number and continue to be, because I've followed the highest (and lesser) levels of soccer in that league for close to 20 years now.

But we confuse the hype with the play on the field. And confuse the Premier League with English soccer. Let's face it, England long ago stopped being the center of the World's game. Except for the huge infusion of cash by foreign owners of EPL clubs, which brought it back to prominence in the 1990's and the early part of this century.

Four of the last five UEFA Champions League winners have not been English clubs. In the past 20 years, Spanish clubs have won six titles, Italian and English four, German three, and French, Dutch, and Portuguese clubs one each. And while I don't have the time or inclination to examine the rosters of each club, my uneducated guess is that, with the exception of Manchester United's 1998 roster featuring Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Keane, etc., the English clubs that won had more "foreign" players than those from the other countries had.

This post didn't start out with the intention of bashing the Premier League, its clubs, or its fans. Especially not its English fans, many of whom have followed the same club, through thick and thin, for generations. 

But American soccer fans have a certain obligation, I believe, to grow the game in this country. And the only way that can be done is with a strong domestic professional league.

I took this picture at a Sporting Kansas City match in 2012.
I wasn't supposed to end up right next to the field while trying
to find my seat, but took advantage of the situation.
Yes, MLS has its definite flaws. And the quality of play, while improving, is not up to that of the best leagues in the world. But it's getting better, and it's feeding more and better players to our national team.

So, go ahead and watch the Premier League on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But watch the MLS too. Or better yet, go see a game in Columbus or DC. It's a great experience. And it's real football.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Looking Back

I've been stuck in a rut with writing my next post for over a month now. 

I started one about Ryan Braun's half-hearted explanation/apology and how it reflected what a bully he is, particularly with regard to the sample collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr., about whom and his suspected biases he went on at great length in his "I'm innocent" press conference in 2012, but who only merited the following in his admission of guilt: "I sincerely apologize to everybody involved in the arbitration process, including the collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr." when Braun finally fessed up and admitted to cheating this summer.

But I have grown bored with Braun and his ego-centric behavior, and, frankly, bored with my loathing of him.

I began another post about my prediction at the start of the year that this was a seminal year for the status of soccer in the U.S., from the Men's National Team, which was largely in turmoil and not playing particularly well at the time, to the Women's National Team which was trying to adjust to Life With(out) Pia, to the new women's league and where each was at now. But work and vacation got in the way, and I decided to wait until after the U.S. v. Mexico matches (the women this week, the men next week) to proclaim my current judgment on those issues. (But here's a teaser - Sydney Leroux is good.)

The third one that I started and never finished is the one I regret the most not completing. It celebrated the achievements of two friends, one a coach, the other a golfer. The coach achieved this June what he had long deserved - the right to call himself a State Championship coach. I considered him one of my closest coaching colleagues at Charleston Catholic, and I intended to recognize his achievement, not just in winning a championship (finally), but in always doing things the right way as well as his success in mentoring several generations of athletes, which far outweighs anything he or they will ever accomplish on the field.

Catholic players celebrate their state championship
(photo from WVMetroNews).

The other friend is a far better golfer than me, but had never had a hole-in-one (although he did have a double eagle - an "albatross" - which is a far more difficult and rare achievement) before making his first ace late this year. I would have held him up as use an example of how good things come to those who wait.

But that post, too, went unpublished as it seemed that timeliness was important and ultimately unachievable.

Then today I had an epiphany of sorts as I listened to an NPR interview with Trent Reznor and realized that I am closing in on the 100th post of this blog that began with a whimper more than three years ago.

Reznor spoke in the interview of the changes in his perspective and his music; from the angry but "meticulous" noise of Nine Inch Nails to that of his new album which is much more melodic and at times downright mainstream. He also talked about writing about what he's feeling, what he believes in, and how he wants his music to sound at any particular time. And about trying not to care about what his fans (or former fans) may think.

I appreciate what Reznor is saying. When I first decided to write a blog, I admit it was largely self-promotion (or "business development" as lawyers like to say). I did, though, have enough self-awareness to realize that if I started another employment or internet law blog I'd soon lose interest and hate the idea, the writing, and the idea of writing.

Where I differ with Reznor is that I do care about whether anyone reads my posts and what they think about them. Unlike Reznor, I'm hardly a recognized member of this particular community. And just as importantly because it would be pure narcissism to write and not care whether my readers enjoy, or at least give thought to, what I write.

So, no retrospective as we near another landmark (the two I did near the first and second anniversaries of this blog are among the least read of all my posts -- I'm a little slow but I come around eventually). But an acknowledgement that I've found topics that have kept my interest for almost 100 times now and the hope that occasionally they've done the same for you.

Now if you'll excuse my I've got a black t-shirt to put on and some NIN to listen to ...