Major League Soccer starts up again this Saturday. Nobody? I didn’t think so. That’s my very lame attempt at humor, using the league in general as a punchline. I use it every year because I’m lazy and it’s an easy way of belittling a competition that I struggle to find time for during the regular season.
Back in Britain the summer months involve soccer rumors and cricket. Basically I’d spend three months following transfer gossip, and watching either the World Cup or European Championships, possibly supplementing my sports viewing with the odd Test match. Living here I have baseball. Summer in the US translates as baseball as far as I’m concerned, so MLS takes a complete back seat for the majority of it’s nine month campaign.
In DC I can watch the Nationals for as little as $6 a game. DC United costs me $35 for something resembling a good seat. Or to put it in perspective, a couple of dollars less than it costs me to watch West Brom in the Premier League when I’m at home. I will take in any standard of competition when it comes to soccer (I once paid $65 to watch a fifth tier English league playoff game), but watching some of best baseball players on the planet for so little makes paying seven times more for the chance to watch average-to-low level soccer more than a little annoying.
The games lack a certain intensity, almost as if the players don’t really know what they are playing for. It’s a feeling I’ve held for 10 years since I went to my first MLS game in San Jose. A load of fixtures are thrown out there, everyone plays in them, and then the league’s hierarchy pitches up six months later to separate the good teams from the rest.
Half the teams spend a large minority of the season with absolutely nothing to play for due to the lack of pyramid system involving seasonal promotion and relegation. I will give the MLS Playoffs credit, however, as the games do come alive in the post season, a phenomenon closely resembling that of America’s bigger sports leagues.
When I do watch the league it often feels like I’m doing it out of necessity. I’m concerned about not knowing every last detail on a player in case he moves to European football in the future. This is technically my patch when it comes to my soccer-loving friends and a few media colleagues. Being out of the loop is tantamount to give up on the sport. Unfortunately forcing myself to watch sometimes puts me in a bad mood, which in turn leads to nitpicked list of annoyances.
Some examples; The league wants to be more football than soccer so the fixtures list the home team first, but not every TV network showing games follows the plan. MLS doesn’t follow the ill conceived “football plan” completely either by continuing to split the teams across geographical conferences. There is an uneven schedule that won’t be evened out until “the Miami Beckhams” join the league as the 22nd team in
whatever year Miami’s taxpayers are fleeced out of more cash for another new stadium 2017. New York City FC look set to play at New Yankee Stadium during their inaugural campaign next year, leaving the playing surface covered with extra field markings for the entirety of the baseball season. I’ll also add ‘people who put “the” in front of MLS’ to my list. Just stop. It’s incorrect. Read it out to yourselves and let your brain realize it. Then please just stop.
Of course none of what I’ve written really bothers MLS because the league continues to grow and the money is pouring in regardless of the faults. A number of high profile players have signed up in the last six months. Their previous clubs were paid ludicrously large transfer fees and the players themselves are vastly overpaid for their abilities, but it just goes to show the kind of money sloshing around certain teams. In this way MLS clubs are being allowed to behave just like any other soccer club in the world. It’s a clear indication that MLS is becoming stronger and more popular both on the field and off it, just don’t expect me to care.