I’m not sure whether it’s the heat or the timing of Premier League clubs playing in the United States every summer, but whenever the teams cover over to this country to play Major League Soccer clubs in friendlies, many insecure soccer fans come out of the woodwork to preach about how people who support Premier League clubs are ruining the fabric of the sport in this country. And they often question the loyalty and authenticity of fans who support a team despite that club’s home ground often being several thousand miles away.
I get it. And I agree that local soccer fans, no matter where they live, should support their local team. But it’s a free country, and if someone wants to support Manchester United instead of DC United or some other team, it’s their choice. Ideally, that soccer fan will have room in his life for both clubs (one local and one or more overseas). But for soccer fans in this country to come out with rambling holier-than-thou proclamations, it’s time for them to grow up and move on with their lives.
With U.S. soccer, there’s a lot to be proud of but there’s also a lot of frustration regarding where the quality level is right now. Each of us, no matter where we live, dwell in homes where we have access to games from anywhere around the world on our TV sets or computers, so the window of opportunity to watch games has increased significantly. It’s like the difference between the time when there was a ton of local music on in town, where we could listen to a local band jamming out their licks — and then comparing that to a service like Spotify where you have access at your fingertips to tons of songs from some of the best and most gifted artists from around the world. You don’t care as much where that band comes from. You just fall in love with their music, which is often more creative and gifted than the local variety.
For soccer fans in the United States, we have to realize that the popularity of Premier League clubs is here to stay. Major League Soccer has come to grips with it. Rather than complaining about how Manchester United is the biggest soccer story in the United States right now, dwarfing MLS games being played mid-season, MLS is gearing up for its All-Star Game with Manchester United as the opponent for the second year running. Besides, Major League Soccer is generating plenty of revenue from Premier League clubs playing against MLS opposition both this season and previous summers. Rather than trying to “beat them,” it’s far better to “join them” and hope that some of these fans who attend the games or watch them on television will end up becoming a MLS fan and coming to watch their local team on a regular basis.
If Major League Soccer is going to continue in this country, it’s not going to be by U.S. soccer fans coming on a blog about Premier League soccer and criticizing people for supporting an EPL side. It’s going to take time, but it’ll come from many different ways such as local stars playing for the U.S. national team. But more importantly, it’ll come from a better standard of play on the pitch where the tactics and technical abilities are superior to what they are now. It also needs to come from improved TV coverage from US networks where hosts, pundits and commentators need to be more genuine and need to passionately communicate what they’re seeing on television. The bottom line is that the standards need to be raised.
Those standards need to be raised at the U.S. national team level too. Coach Bob Bradley is in a position where the bar to measure his team’s success is set too low. The disparity between where Mexico is right now compared to the United States is massive. Not only did Mexico convincingly beat the U.S. 4-2 in the Gold Cup Final, but Mexico’s under-17 team won the World Cup, while most of the members of the under-22 squad performed in the 2011 Copa America where, despite losing each of their games, they played well and earned some valuable experience.
Why is it important for the U.S. national team to do well in context with the growth of Major League Soccer? Simply because it gives the U.S. game more credibility. If the United States does well, more fans are likely to go watch their local MLS club and vice-versa. Just as it’s vital that the playing standards of MLS grows, so too is it imperative that the U.S. national team improves. And right now, the national team led by Bradley is at a standstill while its neighbor to the south is quickly surpassing it both in terms of technical and tactical ability.
So rather than badgering US residents who are fans of Premier League clubs on a Premier League blog, these MLS fans need to be complaining to USSF for their poor decision making in keeping a coach in charge who doesn’t have the vision or skill to take the United States to the next level. These fans need to improve the game on the national and local level, and not worry about European soccer. And not resort to name-calling when they run out of intelligent things to say.
I want the sport to continue to succeed in the United States, but I’m not going to ignore the wonderful games we can watch on television that feature many of the best players in the world. There’s enough room in people’s lives – if they so choose – to watch Major League Soccer as well as Premier League soccer and other leagues around the world. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.