Thursday, July 26, 2012

MLS: Champions of Europe

That's how this works, isn't it? MLS is now the European league of record. It's law in Denmark, I believe.

After Man United plastered the All-Stars 4-0 last year, I wrote this in this space. Even in a winning effort, it is equally apropos now.

This was for the fans, not the players. Nani and Rooney and all the rest wanted a vital fitness jumpstart before the EPL grind starts. Beckham and Henry were merely avoiding injury before we kick down the stretch in MLS. I'd heard MLS' all-star side had about two days total together as a team, and even that was piecemeal. Compared with the reigning EPL champs and CL runners-up? Meh. At its core, this was a worthwhile event, even if the scoreline doesn't necessarily advertise it. It drew fans, it drew interest and it likely drew TV ratings. 
My worry is not the game's format, which I like, or the result, which is ultimately pointless, but the perception. MLS is still culling fans from the rank and file, pulling in those on the periphery who've been charting the league's rise. For most of us, we'll see through this match to what it really was. The average fan will see it for what it seems to be: another subpar display on an international stage from a league still middling well below its American counterparts. Americans are used to rooting for their sports, used to rooting for the best. This was, well, proof they can't have that here. 
Screw 'em, you say? A popular sentiment, to be sure. But it is the interest from these fans, the t-shirt fans, the leeches, that will help in our drive for better TV deals, bigger revenue, better flocks of players. Most diehards hate the idea of opening up the gates to the fairweather fans among us. It is a sentiment I can certainly understand. Reality dictates otherwise. Some of those fans tend to turn into lifetime supporters. The ones that don't, the majority, at least drive up interest and merchandise revenue, two things MLS has in relatively short supply, though this is always changing for the better. Start winning these games, meaningless though they may be, and some folks perk up and take notice.

Most of that still holds today, though the polarity is reversed. Instead of putting on a brave face post-game and sulking through all the "This game really didn't matter" jargon that came out of MLS camps, we have some brick and mortar to lay down on the game's steady maturation here. Of course a dash of moderation is required. You cannot, out of one side of your mouth, walk the "This is pointless" company line in defeat and from the other call it a watershed moment in victory. The reality is in the middle. Landon Donvoan's hunger for league respect did not hinge on tonight. It was obvious by their joking around before one free kick that Henry and Beckham were light and loose, obviously not encumbered by the EPL stalwarts across the pitch. But still, there was an air of respect that Chelsea will carry back over the Atlantic through the turbines of its jet that maybe MLS is becoming worthy of comparison to some leagues dangerously close to the continent's top four. Maybe. It is that planted seed that begins to grow, that yeasty malt that begins to ferment that will start the league's perception shift abroad. There will always be full-throated detractors who lob out blind hatred (if you want to see how fervent, read some of the comic vitriol spewed on any general MLS article on ESPN), but those are not the target audience.

Or, in other words.

Words to live by. Here's three more.

- Will Parchman


Alex said...

MLS beats chelsea and mikey scores in a liverpool loss. what a great night.

Brian B said...

Agreed Alex. Those 2 bright spots in the evening coupled with the USWNT made for a pretty nice day. Especially considering this is the "off season" to my typical soccer fandom.

dikranovich said...

some of this is true, but im not sure how americans would not be fans of liverpool. this is a working class blue collar team that has reached the highest levels. a rich history a very famous stadium. an absolutely iconic jersey. probably one of, if not the most famous club song in all of world football.

this is just the team american fans should be watching and rooting for. oh, and they are owned by americans.

WilkersonMclaser said...

I'm pretty sure it has something to do with Liverpool's occasional flares of anti-Americanism (like when they burned those U.S. flags a couple yrs ago).

Not scientific, but I've been struck at fan reactions to Dempsey rumors between Liverpool and Arsenal. Arsenal fans seem interested and welcoming (even though it doesn't seem like the move is going to happen) while Liverpool fans more often than not froth at the mouth about his age and being American, momentarily forgetting his ridiculous eye for the net.

That puts EPL neutrals like me firmly on the 'anti' side of Liverpool. That and Everton is much more firmly a 'working class' side with history of welcoming Americans into their ranks (Timmy, Lando, Joe-Max Moore, McBride, Hahnemann, etc.).

Jay said...

Personally, when I think of Liverpool I see a club that has been slowly sliding down the flagpole of relevancy, ass first, whining and throwing out a bunch of limp-wristed proclamations about how important and powerful they are. If I had to choose one word to describe them it would be "pompous".

Why would I want arguably the best American soccer player to join up with a sniveling club that, again, won't make it to the Champions League? That's Dempsey's stated goal, and it just isn't going to happen with Liverpool. He's got a much better chance of seeing that happen with Arsenal.

Unknown said...

True enough. But for your hyper-nostalgic types (I'll admit it) Liverpool certainly works. Maybe if the downward trend continues then 10 or so years from now LFC'll be a hipster club.

dikranovich said...

you know, if anyone is anti american, it is arsene wenger, that much we should all agree on. you guys make some fair points, and everton is a nice club and they are truly working class, but we are also talking about big clubs, that can win the whole thing, that is liverpool, not everton.

of course, if fulham can make the europa league final, anything can happen. a lot of this is stylistic, isnt it? liverpool play a brand of football and it is instantly recognizable.

maybe dempseys best bet is to stay with fulham. its to bad fulham does not have more ambition, but i guess it is what it is.

Will Parchman said...

"but we are also talking about big clubs, that can win the whole thing, that is liverpool, not everton."

Oh is it now?

dikranovich said...

pacman, come on son!!! liverpool has played in two finals in the past ten years. thats two european finals. that is the sign of a big club.

chelski might have more recent success, but they got no style, just a big owner with deep pockets, a russian owner at that.

WilkersonMclaser said...

Maybe Liverpool isn't going to go back up the ladder and reclaim the spot usurped by the Man City-Tottenham types. Maybe, instead, they're the next Leeds United. That seems at least as likely, if not more.

dikranovich said...

UK, ill let the likeliness of liverpools demise slide for the moment, because really dempsey is seeking glory at the highest level, and that is the ultimate question isnt it. where does he get the best chance to be a part of that?

im just saying, you take modric out of tottenham and you can forget about tottenham. same thing goes for RVP and arsenal.

liverpool just seems like the right fit. dont you think dempsey would excell being fed the ball by adams and stevie g? liverpool has nice wing play and that would feed into dempseys game also.

not to mentions suarezs ability to find players. the clincher is that this is a new coach and if he brings dempsey in, it is because he wants him. thats the kind of pressure deuce loves. god it is beautiful!!!

maybe not everyone sees it that way.

Jay said...

Clearly not everyone sees it that way.

dikranovich said...

i hope everyone sees how good the us women are. man, what a smart and savy bunch of players. and the machine boxx is on the bench.