MLS and europe soccer

For the media outlets that do not cover soccer as wholeheartedly as the Big Four (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), you are bound to get this question frequently: Will the sport ever reach the level of European football?
The latest questioner was Comcast SportsNet's David Kaplan in Chicago during a Monday interview with Chicago Fire head coach Denis Hamlett.
First off, you will never get an answer from a Major League Soccer head coach or anyone affiliated with the league saying that it will not reach that point. Come on! Secondly, it's a complete trap because there are no numbers or data that you can pull out of a hat to support an enthusiastic "yes" answer.
Yet we keep hearing this question like a skipping record, probably because many other "Major" or "National" sports in the U.S. contain a global superiority image. Some people can't help but fish for the assurance that MLS is joining that group.
Hamlett utilized the best available answer - the Fire's recent scoreless draw at Qwest Field against Seattle Sounders FC. The typical 30,000 crowd in Seattle is far and away the best in MLS. So Hamlett gets a good grade for choosing the best tie-in.
But then the panel talked its way out of the argument. Kaplan brought up his friend heading to see Manchester United, which by the way is one of five European teams that average more than 70,000 per game. Many MLS stadiums are not even designed for a third of that crowd. And Hamlett recognizes the huge atmospheric difference in the European game.
"I tell you, it's impressive," Hamlett said. "Just from the whole process as far as getting up and going to the games. People looking forward to the game. They talk about the game. If their team wins, then the next week is great. If they lose, it's like they go on depression, and they've got to wait for the next week for their game."
I don't mean to pick on Kaplan because he is only one of a long line of people who bring up the topic in this manner. But until MLS teams graduate from their soccer-specific stadiums and show they can easily sell out their 20,000-seat parks, let's not even touch this comparison. So far in 2009, only the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC qualify, and the Los Angeles Galaxy will probably eclipse the 20,000 average soon with David Beckham back.
Enjoy the international matchups and the World Cup qualifiers. Open up another deck at Qwest Field if you think you can fill it. Pack the soccer-specific stadiums and show your support for MLS, United Soccer Leagues, Women's Professional Soccer and any other league out there. Keep up the grassroots growth that we go on and on about in the hope that new generations of soccer fans will embrace the sport for the long-term.
Just stop trying to convince me that U.S. soccer is on the cusp of drawing as well as Europe. Their support is in a completely different stratosphere.

No comments: