As a Brit and Newcastle United supporter, I must give credit for this piece to one of our readers, ‘Clampdown’. In the article on our sister site MLS Talk about how The Guardian dismisses Major League Soccer as not a big league, I liked the premise that Clampdown suggested. He recommended I should write a piece to ostensibly persuade readers and those at The Guardian to take interest in the MLS. I do, after all, think that there is enough reasons to want to watch the league otherwise I wouldn’t be devoting my time to it.
The opening gambit of my argument will be money. That thing you hear most of the older generation cite as what’s killing the game. Wayne Rooney earning more in a week than 10 nurses do in a year. Andy Carroll being worth £35 million after 6 months in the Premier League. In short, the MLS doesn’t have it, and it’s better for it in some ways. Yes you have designated players, but clubs are still governed by a $2.3m salary cap. Yes Guardian writers that’s per squad, not per player. The idea of it being a last paycheck is very much outdated. In MLS you earn your money.
In a romantic way it makes the players more approachable. I’ve only had very brief encounters with Premier League players during my short writing career, but with many it’s like they live on a different planet. They have no real concept of normality because of it and it’s often why you see them caught up in National Enquirer-style escapades. How am I supposed to identify with a man who’s on more money than I’ll ever see unless I guess the six correct numbers in the lotto?
The idiots aren’t ever present either. Like it or not, MLS doesn’t have near as many stupid fans in it’s stands. They may not be as clued up on the game, but you won’t hear a racist word at an MLS game that’s for sure. If I could say the same for England I’d be a happier man but I can’t. You can extend that to Europe in truth. Football racism still exists and the games worse for it.
What I also find quite charming about the MLS is it’s ability to mix passion with sportsmanship. You have players like Dax McCarty who want to win and occasionally may swear on the pitch. But they are still solid role models for those younger members of the crowd. When was the last time you saw an American player involved in an infidelity scandal? Or a punch up with a nightclub DJ?
They give their players a foundation. Yes the college system isn’t perfect. In theory it holds players back because they don’t start professional soccer ’til 22-23. But at least they have a degree behind them. I’ve seen countless players during my lifetime play a handful of games in the top flight then fall from the radar of the Premier League, playing amateur football and living on a poor wage.
At least the American system provides its players with a back up plan should they be not good enough or be so unlucky as to suffer a career ending injury.
I quite like how active clubs are in getting you involved. I believe it’s because in America, soccer is not the biggest slice of sports revenue like in Europe. When I went to my first MLS game, I was greeted in the car park by latino music, hot dog stands and club booths. And that was before I got into the stadium.
At half time they loaded T-shirt’s into a cannon and fired them into the crowd. Cheesy, it may seem, but I still wanted one. I thought I wouldn’t. But as they came close to my section, I moved to the edge of my seat ready to fight man, woman or child for that T-shirt that might not even fit.
They look to bring young coaches into the game. This point really does relate solely to the UK. Figures post-World Cup showed a chronic lack of coaches in the UK. And despite empty claims from Sir Trevor Brooking, it’s still increasingly difficult for a football coach to get anywhere in the UK, especially in the Premier League. Amplify that if you aren’t a former professional.
My younger brother intends to be a coach and I don’t envy his task. I’ve already advised him to look at coaching in the US and even purchased the official USSF training manual. The promotion of youth and emphasis on the future in all aspects of the game is exactly why you are seeing a rise in the quality of the USMNT.
I do find the lack of hyperbole around MLS refreshing as well. When watching the BBC’s highlight show or Sky Sports, I find the way players are made out to be modern day miracle workers a little sickening. What makes it worse is it’s the same bunch of media darlings. Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney all considered wonderful life savers yet I’m reminded of the moment Alan Shearer admitted knowing little of Hatem Ben Arfa, only made worse by the fact he was playing at Shearer’s old club, Newcastle United.
You don’t hear MLS proclaim itself as the best league in the world either. I often believe if you are a self proclaimed great, you probably aren’t that brilliant. Andy Gray’s rather hilarious debate regarding whether Lionel Messi could perform on a wet night in Stoke typifies this. In truth there is no best league, and if you are to elect one it’s not likely to be England because much of the Premier League’s appeal and excitement is based on its physical nature and the fact that goals are often based on individual mistakes as opposed to individual brilliance.
Rivalries don’t equal bloodshed. I’m blessed or cursed to be involved in one of England’s biggest rivalries depending how you perceive it. Newcastle versus Sunderland is the one fixture a year where I actually get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Nerves hit me big style, but as soon as the game is over, I happily converse with my friends in red and white. Sadly not all are able to do this and the requirement for a large police presence is sad for what is supposed to be entertainment.
I’m all for passion. I advocate it. A game’s quality can be defined by the fans that participate, but the need for violence in an arena inhabited by both adults and children is still alien to me.
I’m well aware that it’s unlikely AC Jimbo or any of the podcasting team at The Guardian will actually read this article, that wasn’t why I wrote it. Instead I decided that things needed addressing so that if by accident one of them stumbles across it, they can see that the MLS is a viable option for soccer fans in Europe. I don’t expect to see Sean Ingle with a Sporting Kansas tattoo, but acknowledgement of it’s place within the game would be much appreciated.