I had the sudden realization Sunday that if aliens descended on my town and were asked to find any life of Major League Soccer in South Florida, the only thing they would find is MLS trading cards in the bargain bin of the local dollar store. Seriously.
Sadly, Major League Soccer is extinct in South Florida. The nearest MLS team is 1,000 miles away. The last time I saw anyone wearing a MLS jersey was more than two years ago. And the last time there was a trace of a MLS team in all of Florida was nine years ago.
I sound like a broken record, but the reality is that if it wasn’t for television, I would be — as the Brits say — a miserable old git. It’s practically my only outlet to watch the professional game. And even then, the amount of MLS coverage is few and far between especially when compared to the smorgasbord of European soccer on US TV.
Yes, I go watch my kids play AYSO games. Yes, I attend Miami FC matches in the USL, now NASL or whatever temporary league name the USSF gives it, but the reality is that it’s not MLS. It’s nowhere close to a MLS experience. It’s nothing like when I was a Miami Fusion season ticket holder when most of my life revolved around when the home team played at Lockhart Stadium.
Many critics may argue that South Florida had its chance and failed at Major League Soccer. But that’s a far too simplistic explanation. The reality is that it was a combination of drastic mistakes everywhere from the back office staff to poor marketing and a failed attempt to target the Miami-Dade community, most of whom didn’t want to drive the short distance to Fort Lauderdale. But the main culprits were, in my opinion, the ownership of Ken Horowitz who decided to pull the plug too early just as the team was becoming successful both on and off the field, and the failure of Major League Soccer to find an investor willing to take over from Horowitz.
The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of soccer fans around the United States, or perhaps more, who are in a similar boat to me and have no local MLS team to follow. Arsenal is just as “local” to them as is Chicago Fire. There’s little bond between MLS and these isolated soccer fans, so the next best thing is either the USL or NASL or, more likely, television. And as I’ve discussed previously, when it comes to the TV war, MLS almost always loses.
So in communities such as South Florida and tens of other large metropolitan areas around the United States, we have to be patient. But the longer we wait, the more the new soccer fans will gravitate to what is most accessible — which is European soccer on television. And the longer the wait, the harder it will be for new MLS teams to make the local team its passion instead of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur or whatever team he or she supports.
If you’re fortunate to live near a MLS team, count yourself lucky. Go watch games at the stadium and support the beautiful game. There are huge amounts of soccer fans nationwide who would jump at the chance to go see a MLS team.