American Culture

ESPN FC asks: Can you call yourself a soccer fan if you don’t support MLS? Yes I can.

CATEGORY: SportsThe American soccer sphere has been abuzz these last couple of days thanks to a question that first popped up on Alexi Lalas’s Twitter feed:

Last night this was discussed: If you live in the U.S., can you call yourself a “soccer fan” even if you don’t support @MLS?

The question gets a thorough working over in an article posted on ESPN FC yesterday.

I fear this barb is aimed at me, and at fans like me, because we are not appropriately MLS-centric. The fact is that a lot of American football fans pay far more attention to bigger leagues abroad. The English Premiership is the big dog, owing to the fact that it’s the best league in the world, period. Other popular leagues include Spain (La Liga features two of the world’s great clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid), Italy (Serie A), Germany (the Bundesliga would be bigger if it had a better broadcast deal over here) and Mexico (which feeds on our country’s booming Mexican-American population).

The quality of MLS play is certainly getting better with each passing year, and more and more players are making the leap to bigger leagues in Europe. Every time Clint Dempsey scores for Spurs, every time Jozy Altidore adds to his tally in Holland, every time a Brek Shea or Kei Kamara prove they belong in the Premiership, international regard for America and MLS ratchets up another notch. Commissioner Don Garber recently lamented that “respect for Major League Soccer is greater abroad than it is among the soccer community in the United States.”

Whether Lalas is legitimately pissed off or is just trying to motivate American fans, he’s stomping hard.

Hypocrisy is a constant thread through many American soccer fans’ attitudes,” he said. “I can’t make people follow MLS but I can point out their hypocrisy. If they do want to call themselves American soccer fans and support the national team, I hope that part of them wants the sport to succeed in the United States, and for that to happen, they have to be part of solution by supporting local soccer.

He goes on to argue that MLS is superior to much of what we consider elite elsewhere (an interesting proposition, to be sure) and says that it’s the most competitive league in the world. Well, maybe. A salary cap will create competition and parity, if not always excellence. A lot of teams go into the season thinking they have a chance to win it all. And they do, because the MLS is typical of American sports leagues. The regular season is next to meaningless, serving no purpose other than to generate revenue and seed a playoff system that all too often hands the big trophy at the end to a club that scuffed its way through the season and barely made it into the dance. In Europe if you win the regular season, you’re the champion. Over here, if you’re the best team over the course of the full 35 or so games, you get the opportunity to be upset in the first round and watch the rest of the playoffs on TV.

So “competitive” isn’t necessarily the ultimate in criteria. Just saying.

Here’s my issue. do support MLS. I watch the games on TV (last weekend I caught the season opener for my wretched Rapids and also the Portland/NY match, which was exciting as hell; as I type I’m halfway watching the New England/Chicago match). I go to the occasional game here, as well. I even watch CONCACAF Champions League matches featuring MLS teams that I hate vs. Central American sides I’ve barely heard of.

The tone of the ESPN article makes clear, though, that isn’t good enough. By their reckoning, I’m clearly being dumped into the category of “Euro snob.” Earlier today I caught the end of the Manchester City/Barnsley FA Cup tie. Later I watched a replay of today’s Norwich/Southampton match followed by the West Brom/Swansea rerun. I routinely get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings so as to catch Chelsea matches that start as early as 5am. Heck, I got up and drove to Boulder for a 3:30am kick in the Club World Cup a few months ago. I never miss a match (our supporters club gets together at the British Bulldog, which opens for the games, no matter what time they’re on), and last summer a group of us went to Seattle to see the Blues playing the Sounders in their annual pre-season tour.

Read those last two paragraphs again and answer me this: if I’m not a soccer fan, then what am I?

I understand wanting the US game to thrive – I want that, too. Not long ago I even wrote a five-part series on why soccer will eventually be bigger than American football here in the US. MLS believes it can be one of the top leagues in the world within 10 years, and while I think that’s ambitious, nothing would make me happier. (I also hope that the Rapids are good by then.)

I appreciate the passion of guys like Alexi Lalas, who was one of my favorites when he was a player and whom I continue to enjoy as an analyst and a promoter. I also appreciate how agitating and provoking in articles like the ESPN FC piece can make a point and draw attention to your cause.

That said, bite me. Suggesting that I’m not a soccer fan if I don’t support MLS above all other leagues is like saying I’m not a basketball fan if I prefer the NBA to Division III.

So yes, I can call myself a soccer fan. If you have a problem with that, then you’re probably something of a wanker.

4 replies »

  1. I’ve got season tickets for my Local NASL club, and watch their away matches on UStream. Why would I cheer for an MLS side over my local club? Guess I too am not a real American soccer fan, according to Lalas.

  2. Please god, make this go away.

    We don’t need the same games as the rest of the world, and they don’t need ours, despite the fantasies of Selig and Goodell.

    Any popularity soccer has in the U.S. is only the result of Euro-snobbery and yet another attempt by Caucasian parents to end-around domination of sports by children of color. U.S. parents have searched high and low for sports black kids don’t play–lacrosse, field hockey, etc. I don’t watch MSL because it doesn’t show our best athletes, period. Those play in MLB, the NBA, SEC football, and the NFL, in that order. They go where the money is, and no one blames this. MLS has inferior athletes playing a simplistic and rudimentary sport. Why in the world would anyone watch them?

  3. First of all those who are soccer fans in the US represent a very small percentage of the population and they mostly represent Hispanic population or immigrants who mostly follow European soccer, not MLS. Most Americans watch their own football(NFL) or other sports like baseball, basketball. Some states may have a larger soccer following than others, still it’s not enough to draw a national audience. It is alarming that many Americans don’t even know the 1994 Fifa world cup was held in the US. MLS doesn’t have a great outreach as far as national TV coverage and US media coverage is concerned compared to the NFL, NBA or MLB. Part of the reason comes from the fact that most Americans don’t care about soccer. Those who do care represent a very small percentage and the national media makes money by feeding the majority not the minority. And as far as MLS being the best in the world in the upcoming years is concerned, it is as farfetched as it can get, I don’t think it will ever happen. Educate the people about the sport first and then you can talk about being the best. Changing the name soccer to football, like the rest of world calls it, might help too 🙂