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.

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