A slow day at work turned into a bout of serious reflection upon last night’s match between the dreaded Manchester United and the MLS All-Stars, and I think annoyed is probably the only way to describe my mood.
Am I annoyed that the MLS appeared to take on the very American idea of going down a goal or two in the first 15 minutes? No, not really, I halfway expected it. The All-Stars trained together for a day, maybe two. I pretty much figured a defensive miscue or two to spring Man U goals. Now did I expect the first goal to come in the first 22 seconds? Okay, so that was a bit surprising, but the point remains the same.
In fact, I think that despite the score line, it’s hard for me to totally say that the league underperformed. There were numerous stretches, especially through the middle part of the match, where the MLS looked like the more dangerous side, actually outshooting the Red Devils on the evening. But all that said, considering Man U’s unbelievable loss at the hands of an outmanned Kansas City Wizards team (and even a tough Philadelphia Union match before that), it was pretty hard to think that Manchester United would fall to American sides on back-to-back nights.
What annoys me is the reaction from around the country. Losing somehow delegitimizes the MLS as a league? I just don’t see why that mindset isn’t challenged by anyone with half of a brain. The format is very unfair to league, playing a respected team with a group of players who’ve never (or very rarely) played together with just a few hours of training. In fact, it’s pretty hard to believe just how pristine the league’s record has been up until last night. Oh man, a bunch of random dudes playing together for the first time couldn’t beat one of the best teams in the world, I guess that means they all suck.
Look, no one thinks the MLS is a top tier league in the world, and there aren’t many people that even view that as possible at the moment. The league’s only been around since 1996. But this whole Eurosnob/MLS Sucks movement is downright harmful to the game in this country. You know how the league gets better? How it starts to compete for bigger players? How it starts to stack up with leagues in Europe? Support. If one refuses to give the league a chance, there is zero incentive for improvement. If one, as a soccer fan, wants great soccer played in this country, there is only one outlet for that, and it is the MLS. Either get with it or get stuck in the same cycle. Not hard to figure out.
I guess that’s the part that really bothers me. I like European soccer (obviously). I watch a boatload of Premiership games, I’m a pretty avid watcher of Fox Soccer Channel during the seasons. Hell, I might watch more European matches than a good number of the those who hate on the MLS. You know what? Doesn’t affect my appreciation for the MLS at all. You think the English bashed the very existence of The Championship when Everton waxed Preston North End last week? Of course not. It sounds ridiculous to expect lower level teams to compete with some of the better sides in the world.
On a related note, the format of the game could stand a few minor tweaks. I think moving the festivities to the weekend makes a lot of sense, but it would certainly risk damaging the potential television audience. The so-called soccer purists’ desire to stop playing the game is totally laughable and almost equally as annoying as the ideas above. What other event can the MLS bank on almost 71,000 fans in the South, of all places, to watch soccer? That, and not having an All-Star Game is just un-American. In this country, we love a spectacle. All-Star games draw in casual or only partially interested observers, it just doesn’t make sense to get rid of it, regardless of how the rest of the world looks at it.