April 24, 2006

Breakout year for MLS?: It's a BusinessWeek article, so take it for what you will. They think the MLS has reached a tipping point for three reasons: Money. Money. Money. Critics say the MLS still lacks quality product, and will need to pay for it. Please RTFA before you comment.

posted by worldcup2002 to soccer at 12:16 PM - 19 comments

I don't know if the league is at a tipping point but I do believe the quality on the field has improved each year. There's still some way to go to sway what the article calls "hard-core fans", but it's getting better. My wife and I watched the opening game in Houston on Direct Kick. There was an interview at halftime with one of the AEG suits and the question was asked: What would make for a successful first season after the club moved from San Jose? The suit starts rolling off some profit and loss numbers comment and my wife just looked at me and shook her head. What about how well the team does on the pitch? What about being an active part of the community and cultivating a passionate fan base? No, none of that was important; it was all about the accounting ledger. What a dick. They were probably interviewing that Tim What's-his-name our bill is so fond of. :-) The league is doing well so far and I look forward to the future, like a single table/promotion-relegation format. That would be a shock to the American sports system but one that would cause some interest in general fan, I think.

posted by Texan_lost_in_NY at 12:43 PM on April 24, 2006

I agree that the quality of play has improved and the financials are looking as good as they every have. It will still be many years before MLS teams will be able to compete with top European teams, but the games have become very watchable.

posted by trox at 01:26 PM on April 24, 2006

Question 1: Fans who watch the world cup and start deciding to follow a player will see him on what MLS club? Question 2: Whatever happened to starting small and working your way up? Question 3: Why should big money Major League Soccer succeed where semi-pro soccer can't survive? These guys have tried to ceate a "Major League" sport from whole cloth. Well, we'll sit down and just make a couple of multi-million dollar teams... Easy. Sorry, but the thought that the MLS is going to rise from nothing and rival any of the Big 4 american sports in the first 10 years of it's existence is just stupid. We might as well be wondering why NFL Europe isn't as big as US football. And at least NFLE has support from a league here in the US. How bad would NFLE be if all they had was european players... I wonder if in Saudi Arabia they wonder when the "Dubai Camels" Ice Hockey team will start gaining the respect of the average sports fan...

posted by LostInDaJungle at 01:31 PM on April 24, 2006

Obviously this Pro soccer league will stick around for awhile I kinda hope for my lifetime It's respectable and fans get to watch a great soccer game every week they got tv exposure great players and boy do I love soccer sarcasm but I leave with one thing Go Chicago Fire I am a fan of them

posted by luther70 at 02:37 PM on April 24, 2006

I think the first challenge of MLS should be to woo the hard-core soccer fan, not the other-NA-sportsfan, and to do so seems pretty tough. First of all the European system of tiered leagues with relegation and promotion is important in that the hard-core soccer fan recognizes that as the format for top-flight soccer and hasn't seemed to accept a more North American style static league with geographic divisions and playoffs format. The A-League and the whole USL system is there - MLS shouldn't be as completely independent as it is right now, undercutting the other system. The benefit of this is that it widens the catchment area of the whole thing because cities like Montreal and Miami - and of course Toronto - are big time soccer markets but are currently outside of the whole thing. Rochester is small but they have had a passionate following for the Rhinos as I understand it - why not tap into that rather than trying to subvert it? The other thing would be to fix the season so that it matches the European season and try and gain entry to the Champion's leagues and the like in Europe. It would be a huge undertaking to do something like that, and the teams likely wouldn't be very competitive, but MLS is nowhere until it is a real league that can compete with some of the European national leagues at the top level.

posted by mikelbyl at 02:51 PM on April 24, 2006

Two suggestions for MLS from someone who loves soccer but doesn't follow individual teams, either here or abroad. 1. Focus on underserved sports markets. Instead of trying to compete in NY, Chicago and LA, how about teams in Boise, Portland and Jackson, MS? Think Green Bay in the early days of the NFL. 2. Merge with or otherwise find a way to regularly play against the Mexican league. A few years ago the USA played Mexico in a friendly at Mile High Stadium here in Denver. The game was sold out weeks in advance. Sure, it was dominated by Mexican fans, but who cares? Sold out is sold out. (And BTW the US won. Woo hoo!)

posted by drumdance at 03:16 PM on April 24, 2006

To the average fan, soccer isn't fun to watch. And all the hardcore fans are going to watch the EPL and other equivalent European leagues. I do like the suggestion that MLS teams try to get into the Champion's leagues, that would draw at least some attention to the MLS.

posted by v3rity at 03:17 PM on April 24, 2006

It will still be many years before MLS teams will be able to compete with top European teams I recall DC United having a pretty good record against EPL teams. Though I wouldn't argue that they'd stay in the top tier through an entire season, they've certainly beaten or drawn with the likes of Newcastle, Tottenham, and Leeds (back when Leeds, well, existed). And they've gotten better since then. I realize that folks who dismiss the league always natter on about how it'll never compete with gridiron football, or baseball, or basketball, or hockey. Is there anyone pro-MLS who is making the opposite argument, or is this just a straw man? Part of the trouble with a European-style schedule is travel and climate. It's not hard for Newcastle to get to London in midwinter. But the distance and change in temperature from, say, Houston to Boston in November, particularly if the Houston team then had to fly on to Chicago before returning home to play, would give the home teams a nice advantage. (Yeah, the NFL does it, but they only play a few games each season and their road trips only last a weekend). MLS isn't a big European league, nor is it a well-established baseball league. Why do all its detractors expect it to be one? And I agree, MLS should work better with the "minor" leagues. Why not compare the MLS with other American (N & S) soccer leagues?

posted by Hugh Janus at 03:28 PM on April 24, 2006

First, MLS teams play in the CONCACAF version of the Champions League, the Champions Cup. I would love to see them merge that into the South American version, the Copa Libertadores, especially since the top two Mexican clubs are being invited every year. That would be a lot easier to accomplish than joining UEFA CL and, for the exposure and potential added money, CONMEBOL would probably agree. Second, AEG are a bunch of morons missing the last big step that would help the league climb up another level (though not to the NHL/NASCAR plateau) and the interview Tex cited is yet another example of why. I really do appreciate that there would not be an MLS today without Philip Anschutz putting his money up for more than half the league's teams but lately I just don't see them making the really smart moves. Red Bull New York, anyone? Third, forget relegation for at least another 10 or 20 years. What MLS can do, as one step forward, is go to the single table format and add a League Cup competition that runs concurrently with the regular season. This would create three trophy opportunities (league, League Cup, US Open) so the league champion could enter Copa Libertadores and the other two would play in CONCACAF Champions Cup. Alternatively, the Mexican clubs come to the US to play a between seasons competition, a few games each though I don't recall the details. How about making that into an ACC/Big Ten everybody plays a team from the other? To make it more interesting, match the teams by their league standing so the first place teams play each other and down the line. Fourth, though it would be nice, forget about switching the MLS season to the European schedule. It just isn't practical. Liverpool are in the FA Cup final, woohoo!

posted by billsaysthis at 06:15 PM on April 24, 2006

Why forget about relegation though? What's the argument? Montreal and Miami are both clearly better potential markets than MOST in MLS - well I am making assumptions about the Central and South American populations in Miami. But I know Montreal, and it's a soccer-mad city that has a built in fan base that has already supported a team for years. Toronto as well - there's no doubt that it could support at least one team.

posted by mikelbyl at 11:11 PM on April 24, 2006

Miami had a franchise but it folded a few years ago. But I say forget about relegation because the American ownership is just unlikely to accept the loss of status and revenue, and there are easier battles to fight in the short run.

posted by billsaysthis at 12:22 AM on April 25, 2006

One possible reason that many are overlooking for the success of MLS, and the reason it has been slow coming, is simply that the numbers of people who grew up playing and understanding the game as it should be played, not just running around kicking the ball is just now getting to represent a sizable portion of the population, especially of the "have discretionary income" variety. You know, the fan that understands the game, knows that 1-0 finals are not unusual, do not expect fireworks every 15-20 minutes in the form of a score, adn ACTUALLY HAVE MONEY to spend on tickets and such. In the '70's pro soccer in the US was new, it was a rebellion against the established Big 4, it was just what the "boomers" wanted in that it wasn't their father's Buick. But, like all (dare I say it) fads. it's widespread popularity was short-lived. But something interesting happened on the way to the Coliseum, the kids started playing the sport, not well at first, but as the kids' programs got better, the high school programs followed, then the college level game. It is these players, now in their 30's, and their children, who are the fan base for the new MSL. They undersatnd the game on more than its most basic level. They will be the fans that make or break the MSL as the networks and new owners and sponsors look to reap pay-back on their investments. Relegation and promotion? Nope, not yet, these fans didn't grow up with it in the organizations they played in. Top US players not jumping to EPL? Maybe when the money and chance to comepete at the very top level come along, give it 3-4 more years.

posted by elovrich at 01:32 AM on April 25, 2006

IF the moneylenders and investers can hold on for 5-8 years, and if the US can do well enough in international play (World Cup, Olympics) to keep the 'hard-core' fam from drifting to the EPL, then I can see MSL becoming one of the top-teir professional leagues in the US. Otherwise, it may well end up like Major League Lacrosse, a nice niche sport, struggling to keep in the black.

posted by elovrich at 01:35 AM on April 25, 2006

Question 1: Fans who watch the world cup and start deciding to follow a player will see him on what MLS club? Here's a link to the US player pool. As you'll see the list is quite long and with the official roster announcement 1 week away, here are some MLS players that will be in Germany barring injury, etc.: Clint Dempsey - New England, Landon Donovan - L.A., Eddie Pope - Salt Lake. Wow. After looking at the list these are the only 3 that for me should have a place nailed. There are many players who are highly likely to be there from MLS....Hejduk, Johnson, Mastroeni, Ralston, Twellman, Wolff.

posted by Texan_lost_in_NY at 02:18 PM on April 25, 2006

Question the second: Are there any rule differences between the North American game and the European game?

posted by HATER 187 at 03:05 PM on April 25, 2006

tex, I would put Ching ahead of Twellman and definitely Wolff for Germany!

posted by billsaysthis at 03:24 PM on April 25, 2006

There have been rule differences, but I think over the past few years, MLS has been getting more in line with European rules. Used to be hockey-style dribbling shootouts to end draws, now I think they have overtime periods and maybe shootouts to end regular season games. The MLS site has a link to an 85-page pdf of FIFA official rules, so maybe they're closer to the European "norm" than ever. Though many teams still play on narrow fields.

posted by Hugh Janus at 03:30 PM on April 25, 2006

now I think they have overtime periods and maybe shootouts to end regular season games. regular season games just end in a tie now, no overtime. (being a metrostars red bulls fan i am painfully aware of this.) started in '03 i think.

posted by goddam at 04:03 PM on April 25, 2006

Penalties are only used in cup competitons (i.e., playoffs, US Open) by MLS. I'm pretty sure the league is now almost 100% in tune with FIFA except maybe the narrow fields but I'm not too sure about that one. Getting out of Spartan Stadium, regardless of other aspects of the move, probably was a big step towards compliance on that point since it's barely regulation for NCAA football.

posted by billsaysthis at 03:27 PM on April 26, 2006

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