MLS's Image and Doubts on the Cure

In a column for ESPN, Andrea Canales looks at the way Major League Soccer (MLS) is viewed around the globe. The conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone whose brain is still receiving their RDA of oxygen - e.g. we're generally perceived as technically backwater league playing before a country that could care less.

A chunk of her article studies the decision by Juan Pablo Garcia, the former Chivas USA midfielder, to return to Mexico to avoid missing out on national team duty due to his countrymen's perception of the league. Interesting as that is, it's when the conversation turns to the "Beckham factor" that I get a little dubious.

I'm not sure what Canales thinks about all this - by which I mean she plays her role as reporter well; it's the quotes from Peter Vagenas and Alexi Lalas that speak to a hope that Beckham will get more people watching and that will cause people to give the MLS another look.

Why can't I buy this? I mean, I can't even see it.

It could be that I don't believe "quality" pulls that many people to a sport, never mind a specific team. To give an example, I know Serie A is better, but I watch MLS because I get wrapped up in what the players are doing on the field and who will be the next big thing, who is done, etc. In the final analysis, I like it because it's "local" in the sense that the whole mess forms a pyramid that comes to a point with the U.S. National Team; that's the first hook, but, before long, I find myself attached to this team or that, this player or that and so on. It's the old "dog fight in Brooklyn is more interesting than a war in China" thing translated to sports.

Toward the end, the conversation turns to SuperLiga, which, again, I think has greater potential to grow the sport than Beckham ever will. I'm thinking that, as fans of the Mexican teams look at their team's schedule, they'll note who they're playing in the SuperLiga. Maybe they'll actually tune into a MLS game one lazy Saturday out of simple curiosity; next thing you know, they could be watching to keep tabs on the competition. If MLS teams show up well, that should boost interest more still as solid competition should.

Naturally, that's all untried projection, most of it based on how I get sucked into watching too much soccer (wait...that's possible?). But I think there's something to it. More, anyway, than Beckham getting hacked in two by a Kyle Beckerman tackle on some muggy Saturday afternoon. Where Beckham can come in handy - and, hopefully, some day will - is in luring more players from Europe. Interest from Europe will come when someone wants to see how, say, Edgar Davids is doing in Dallas (yeah, I know it didn't happen; I'm just saying). At least that's what I'm guessing.


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