This is traditionally the busiest time of year in the English Football season with the Boxing Day matches on the horizon and the January transfer window about to open. But here in the United States we are consumed by meaningless college bowl games between sixth place finishers in their conference. Can you imagine if we had a one game playoff on national TV for “bragging rights” between Bolton and Middlesbrough? Well that’s what College Bowls essentially are. Of course the game would be held in a neutral site, let’s say in Spain or Turkey. College Bowl games have become so meaningless and mind numbing that I personally am thankful my favorite college team the University of Miami didn’t make a bowl this year for the first time in ten seasons and only the second time (when not on NCAA probation) since 1978. My alma mater the University of Florida is playing in a bowl game against Michigan: a glorified exhibition game that EPL clubs would play over summer.
What else consumes Americans during the holiday season? NFL Football. Personally I checked out of the NFL long ago as the league went from being something very unique and special to a hype and propaganda machine unlike any other outside the Communist Party in Beijing. When the NFL started manipulating its rules to encourage offensive players to dominate the game and began encouraging TV networks to alter their in-game coverage to obsess on fantasy football stats and in game quarterback ratings, I knew my time watching the league was done. It’s a shame because I grew up with three sports: NFL Football, College Football and NASL Soccer.
NASL Soccer seems destined to make its return stateside with the ever expanding and foreign influenced MLS. For years the league didn’t want to take anything positive from the NASL experience. Team nicknames in core markets, marketing techniques or executives. MLS’ clean break mentality from the NASL years led the league squarely down the path of being insignificantly blip on the American sports landscape. The one area where the NASL failed and ultimately led to its demise was an over emphasis on over age foreign players and no development of soccer friendly system for identifying and nurturing local talent. MLS, on the other hand has been largely responsible for an upswing in resources and fortune for the American player. Now MLS seems to secure in its position and wants to dabble in the fools gold that killed the NASL. Over expansion to questionable markets, over spending on foreign players and worse haphazard application of league decrees, and the exemption of the designated player rule for previously signed stars. Don’t get me wrong: MLS will not fold the way the NASL did because soccer is much more secure in the country in 2007 than it was in 1984, with a massive soccer related infrastructure including CSRN, Fox Soccer Channel, GOL TV, numerous youth academies and a very competitive national team. However, the lack of responsibility exhibited by MLS could usher in an era where both the club game and national team suffer for the excesses of a couple of dreamers in the league office.
The USL seems poised to enter an unprecedented expansion era as well. Having already moved into vacated MLS markets in Miami and the San Fransisco Bay Area (which now USL will vacate due to the return of the Quakes), USL seems poised to attack the Tampa market (potentially in partnership with West Ham United) as well as any other place which doesn’t get an MLS expansion team. USL has taken some proactive steps over the last few years to increase its exposure- a national TV deal with FSC, on demand video and matches on-line and merchandise sale on the web. However, if the league is going to expand beyond its very successful core markets (like Rochester, Charleston, Portland and Montreal) while losing some of its good markets like Seattle to MLS it better increase its presence both on-line and among the soccer media in this country.
Merry Christmas to all our listeners and readers! This week’s show will feature some banter about the San Jose Earthquakes, MLS expansion and the US U-23 team. Michael Haley and Johnathan Starling of the Third Half join co-host Dave Denholm and myself. Next week’s show will be a year in review program and will debut our new audio and mixing equipment for a cleaner sound that is easier on the ears. As always if you have any thoughts about the show please email me at [email protected]