Yep, team USA is out of the World Cup, and so goes most of America’s interest in the world’s game. A lot of Americans really didn’t care at all about the World Cup because the real national pastime is not baseball, but hating soccer.
The truth is that all this soccer hatred doesn’t bother me. At all. In fact, I take it as a point of pride that I like something that is hated by so many. I am not a “soccer evangelical” who goes around spreading the gospel of the beautiful game, nor do I hide my light under a bushel. I am one of those who likes what I like and doesn’t give a damn what others think. Never have, never will. I make no apologies for who I am.
But, in all seriousness, where do we as Americans go from here? As for me, I will be watching the English Premiership when it returns next month. Notice that I didn’t say that I will be enjoying it. That’s because I support Arsenal, but that’s another story.
After every World Cup the commentators ask, “What does this mean for Major League Soccer in America?” The answer is usually a resigned shrug. A lot of the US men’s national team play in MLS, and quite a few, such as goalkeeper Tim Howard ply their trade in England. You can see him play on TV,computer or mobile device every week; the Premier League is on NBC Sports a.k.a. “The Tour de France Channel.” For many, this is the top football league in the world. Others say Spain or Italy; it’s not really up to me to say since it’s a matter of preference.
As for MLS? It’s… It’s getting there. Well, not to that level, but it has certainly improved over the past almost two decades. There was a time not so long ago when I would spend a Saturday morning and afternoon watching matches from the various European leagues and then that evening I would watch MLS. Or at least I would try. It’s not that the matches were poorly played, it’s just that they were so . . . very . . . slow. It was like someone slipped quaaludes into the players Gatorade. Or into my beer. Those of you who ever had to deal with dial up modems know what I’m talking about. You could spend a day driving fast cars around a race track and then make your way home in your Prius and then you might understand what the difference is.
That’s enough analogies for today.
The MLS came about as a condition of the United States hosting the World Cup in 1994. There was the North American Soccer League back in the day, but it folded around about the time someone declared soccer to be the “Next Big Thing.” in America. The MLS wanted to avoid the mistakes of the NASL, so the mandate was to cultivate homegrown players rather than signing big name players from around the world who were mostly past their sell by date and were looking for one last fat paycheck before retirement.
So, for the most part, the league was made up of recent college graduates who had no realistic shot at playing for a European club, and members of the national side that weren’t playing in Europe. So, in other words: no one you ever heard of.
That was the stigma/catch 22 that the MLS had to overcome in the early days. They were expecting fans to support clubs made up of the best players America had to offer, but if they were any good they’d be playing in Europe.
The MLS produced a few players that were eventually signed by European clubs; mostly goalkeepers at first. Eventually some outfield players made it to Europe and this was seen by many as proof that the MLS was on the right track, while others were upset because they thought the whole point was to keep the American players at home in order to build the league.
Then along came David Beckham.
Many saw Beckham’s signing with the LA Galaxy as a cynical cash grab. Others claimed that he came to America in order to promote “Brand Beckham.” Then there was those who thought he moved to LA because that is where his wife wanted to live.
Cynicism has no bounds.
Beckham claimed that he wanted to become an “Ambassador for the game” in America; and you know what? He was. Since his arrival many other players from around the world have joined the league, and the number of clubs has increased. Also, there has been an increase in the number of soccer specific stadiums.
Where do we go from here? I don’t know, but the future is wide open.