Brendan McCarthy is our existentialist soccer guy. So in honor of MLS Primetime Thursday, we’re giving him the platform since he’s better… equipped to handle this sort of thing.
Not too many things in sports frustrate me as much as the dismissal of soccer by the general public. Not steroids, not time outs in basketball, not Michael Vick and his side business.
In life, there’s always George W. to match any displeasure I might feel, but in sports, it’s different. Through time, I’ve come to terms with many of the emotions that arise whenever a Joe Schmoe condemns soccer with frivolous logic [Ed note: we don’t know what you’re talking about]. I’ve dealt with the anger, the befuddlement, and the disappointment because I realized that conversations (or lack thereof) neither change any opinions on the sport, nor do they affect the success of sport around the world. The ignorance only affected me and those like me in the United States. In a way, it resembles the utter helplessness a thinking person feels in this American political decade. We know the facts, we have the arguments, yet people just keep ignoring the truth.
But maybe the time has finally come. Maybe the country is finally ready to accept the original football. There is certainly much to be done, no arguing about that. Yet, is it not impossible to see the future of soccer in America as a sky’s the limit sort of deal? While America’s sporting world trips over itself, the young, adolescent MLS is becoming a man, and it is eager to prove its worth in the adult world of entertainment. And if it is, truly, then there is a bit to consider for how and why.
A look at the sports page in any newspaper reveals a scene similar to the Republican Party circa 2003/2004 (don’t draw too deep conclusions, I’m just sticking with a theme). Corruption, money, misconduct, and power rule the landscape. The public is being swindled and the people know it; some are swindled so well that they themselves patriotically defend each transgression. The influence of the holy trinity (the NBA, NFL and MLB) reigns supreme, but the hype and ploys mask an ailing giant. The fans are fatigued and annoyed. Meanwhile, the cash machines keep CACHIIIING-ing, Barry Bonds keeps breaking records, NFL jackasses continue to get arrested and the Spurs keep winning titles.
With competition like this, here’s why soccer has a lot going for it.
One, the foundation of America. It is a country with serious wealth and serious capitalists. If the MLS can sign more and more top players and fill each (soccer-specific) stadium with a true futbol atmosphere, there is no reason why an international audience and international players would not be converted. Imagine a Champions League atmosphere on a beautiful Thursday night, the lights blaze down upon an immaculate pitch, the world’s soccer community sits down with America to watch a world-class clash with tantalizing on-field and off-field consequences. A momentous night seen often in Europe but this time, it takes place on the massive American stage.
Two, growth. I’m not an economist, but a wide open track to money is good, right? With 13 teams, the league has a lot of catching up to do to meet the 30 or so of the top three sports. So many new cities in which to expand, so many markets to reach, so many opportunities to profit.
Three, whether they know it or not, the audience is ready to jump on the bandwagon. This IS a country whose kids play soccer more than any other sport (as I’ve heard over and over again from the pundits who constantly belittle it as an example of its infirmity). I acknowledge that the quality of MLS is nowhere near the EPL and La Liga, but I have seen consistent high-level games this year, more so than any other season I have seen in its 11-year existence (coming from a guy who actually had MLS League Pass for two years). There are star players on every team in the league and the competition is very level.
The excuse that the quality of US soccer is beneath viewership is tired. I have had a great time watching MLS soccer this year, and a highlight of my soccer year has been three terrific games this past week (All-Star game, Beckham’s debut, and Cuatemoc Blanco’s debut), and apparently I missed a classic between Houston and New England over the weekend. Not to mention the first four games of the new Superliga that, it should be said, the MLS teams went undefeated in. At some point, the public is going to meet the effort.
Lastly and most importantly, soccer/futbol is the best sport in the world. I already know this, and soon Joe Schmoe will have to accept that: a) he is on the outside looking in on his own culture, b) women like soccer players, and he likes women, soooo… and c) it actually is a lot of fun to have a few beers (or more) at a soccer game with a singing, yelling, jumping crowd.
Right now, though, the soccer dream is still a dream, albeit one with legs. To those with an ear to the grass, something IS happening, like a mass shift in the paradigm; and while our president was not ousted in 2004 amidst his countless blunders and mistakes, the Republican Party was put on notice in the subsequent elections. Perhaps the Big Three of the national sporting world will also be put on notice. If it does not get its act together, it might lose a stake in the entertainment pie and be voted out in the next term.
Still, I couldn’t care less if the Monday Night Football fan is converted to professional soccer as long as I get entertaining futbol on my TV and compelling coverage in my daily paper to match the other sports. So there.