Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love MLS

Graham Fox is a freelance soccer writer from Manhattan, Kansas. He is a KC Wizards fan, a du Nord regular, and an advocate for fun. Find him at grahamfox@gmail.com

Do you know that:
  • Eurosnobs look down on you for watching MLS?
  • Low attendance is your fault?
  • The level of play in MLS could be higher if you would have eaten one less pickled egg last night?
  • You made your grandma cry when you told her the latest Columbus attend numbers?
Many MLS fans worry so much about attendance and what people think about MLS that they contemplate harai-kari when they read the latest Kansas City attendance numbers. As a fellow du Nord and MLS fan I’ve composed this small guide to stop you from doing anything drastic.

In Which I Start Watching Soccer
I started following soccer the way most Americans do. I shelled out money for Fox Soccer Channel and started watching English Premier League games. I become addicted and started a ritual that many males my age in the US take part in: Waking up at 5am on Saturday mornings to catch the day’s games. I napped my way through a season before I decided to follow Liverpool.

For the soccer fan in the United States, it is hard to pick an EPL team to be a fan of. We cannot experience regional pride or community pride, all we can experience is a false sense of belonging. Does that mean I woke up my roommate at 6am by jumping up and down and yelling when Peter Crouch scored his first goal for Liverpool because I had false emotions? No, but they were anchored in false connections.

After a season of watching the EPL I realized something that those English chaps don’t seem to have a problem with. Only four teams have a chance of winning (or as everyone points out when they realizes I like Liverpool, three teams).

In Which I Become Bored With the EPL
As I watched and learned I became increasingly bored with the Premier League. What is the point? If you aren’t a fan of the top four you can hope your team will maybe make it to a European spot or crack the top ten but that is it. Everyone knows who is likely to win at the start of the season. They win. Everyone knows about who will go down, and they do. How exciting.

I turned to Major League Soccer. I wanted to actually go to a game instead of watching it on TV. I wanted a league where more than four teams had a chance of winning.

The more I followed MLS the less I cared about Liverpool and the EPL. My devotion to Liverpool was based on a vague connection to a team thousands of miles away that I had no chance of seeing live. Major League Soccer is solid and real.

In Which I Start to Worry
At the start of last season I started to closely following MLS and the Kansas City Wizards. Towards the middle of the season I headed to Arrowhead to cheer on KC. I could actually see them live, had a regional connection with them, and a couple friends who I knew would be at the game. After my first live game I was hooked. From that point on I join the rest of you in:
  • Watching as many MLS games as possible
  • Posting regularly on several message boards
  • Arguing with anyone who made fun of MLS
  • Worrying about the level of play
  • Anxiously reading the latest attendance numbers
  • Wondering what Europeans though of MLS
  • Arguing about how MLS compares with other leagues
  • Worrying about DP spots
  • Hating Beckman for being a punk-ass and pretending to drop-kick the ball at Eloy Colombano
Go look at BigSoccer and scan the general MLS forum. Everyone is worrying. Almost every thread is moaning about quality, refs, attendance, or the league in general. The more I read the more I became concerned about attendance and how everyone perceives MLS, especially those Europeans with their fancy leagues.

In Which I Have A Realization
Then it happened. As I was downing my Admiral Nelson in the sun pounded Arrowhead parking lot I stopped caring about all of that shit. There was no reason to worry, the league was out of my hands, and all I could do for attendance is show up when I can scrounge the gas money.

Be like me. Stop caring as much and enjoy the unique league that is MLS. Do yourself a favor:
  1. Buy a handle of Admiral Nelson
  2. Drink it
  3. Yell till your voice crackles at the opposing team’s goal keeper
  4. When he switches ends, follow and throw streamers at him until security tells you to stop
  5. Scream “Waiiiiibeeeelllll” whenever he runs near you
Congratulations, you didn’t worry at all while you were doing that. Now go home and do the same (the not worrying, not the drinking of handles).

Don’t stop caring, stay informed, keep reading du Nord, browse BigSoccer when you want to kill some brain cells, but remember to enjoy the game. It’s all we’ve got.


Anonymous Demko said...

Awesome stuff sir. Live soccer in the usa!

12:45 PM  
Blogger elopingcamel said...

Well said. I got sucked back into soccer during the '06 World Cup, and immediately started watching MLS for the first time. I have been hooked ever since.

I think your points about less worrying and more fun are right on, and will even add one of my own--others will be far more interested in caring about MLS if they feel that it is entertaining (i.e. FUN) than by fans trying to compare it to the EPL or whatever. Fun is infectious.

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

couldn't agree more. EPL has great games but the overall season is lame. Only 4 teams are going for the title. The US has the best model for sports. Allowing a fair and level playing field. In football, basketball, baseball(minus the yankees) there is never a dynasty that is over 4-5 years.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Jeems said...

Right on. I would only add, for folks without a MLS team within reasonable distance: don't overlook USL, which has some decent soccer.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous bq said...

Agreed Jeems. The USL is getting better each year. I've seen a few games this year that were pretty decent.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Brendan said...

I've been a fan since the San Jose Clash and the first MLS goal (though I disliked the scorer and still do). I feel superior to most MLS fans; yet, I have liked Man United since Cantona and fully understand my allegiance can be challenged. Only recently have I become concerned about the things this author has mentioned and for the self-perpetuating reasons he lists. I guess I can find hope in the fact that, back in the day, I'd watch a MLS game with full comprehension that it was not EPL level, and now my feelings are in play because I see real talent on each team, great games each season, and closer and closer edging to those prestigious club tournaments by our top clubs. The year you become a fan and the league you support are irrelevant. Cheers to this guest writer for shedding those domestic fears. I like Man United despite my disconnectedness, and I get over it. I am happy nowadays to request the Thursday night game at a bar, and my enthusiasm is contagious. And you know what, I swear, I feel a tad bit cool to "blog-drop" dunord and others... Henry, Nash, Earthquakes stadium are all coming, and I'll keep riding the wave...

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for expressing my though on the epl,they play great soccer but like you say,its seems therelegation battle at the end of the season is always more interesting than thechampionship battle every year in the epl.ive been watchin mls ever since the beginning ,since it was free on mlsnet.com and i love it

10:19 AM  
Blogger Spangly Princess said...

from an outsiders perspective, I think most european fans feel a bit conflicted about the MLS, in that the USA dominates the world in so many things that a lot of people are quite pleased to have a least one area of unarguable superiority.

But mostly I think fans in Europe - at least, any genuine football fan - would like to see the MLS do well, for a number of reasons. Not least because as you say, the connection you can feel for a club you actually go & watch is different from one you feel for a club selected at random on the far side of the world. Though I would always try not to be judgemental about someone else's support for their team, since at the end of the day it is a deeply personal matter.

As for attendance figures: everybody obsesses over them, in all countries, at all levels of football, it seems pretty normal and even healthy to me.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

agree with most of what you say abotu the EPL. but i will add . . . it is not a false connection when you are a fan of the players, and the players are from the USMNT. me personally, i watch all of the leagues in europe (covered by GolTV, Setanta and FSC), but i watch them to see how our yanks are doing. i do agree that it is interesting to see people with a strong devotion to a team which they have no connection, but if they enjoy it, more power to them.


4:35 PM  
Anonymous FireKansas said...

I am that Fire Fan that lives above you, nice post. But I remain devoted to supporting Chelsea, I have to get soccer fix. But sweet shit.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that so-called Eurosnobs really even like soccer very much. I always get the feeling that they claim to support one foreign team or another in the same way that they choose a car, or beer, or clothing label--because they want to impress somebody.

Maybe I'm being unfair, but I think anyone who truly loves the sport will support it any way they can. You will seek out and enjoy pretty much any game that you can find.

Don't get me wrong--I love the EPL and support Man. Utd--they were around before the Chicago Fire. But now I'm just as intense about the Fire. I'm really, really lucky to live in a city with an MLS club with such a great history. So what if MLS isn't perfect? It makes me love it even more. The Fire are my team in a way that no other can ever be.

Thanks for this super post.

8:13 AM  

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