Being a soccer fan in America is miserable Pt 1: The MLS.
Complaints that will never be heard, shot out into the ether that is the internet, from a lonely soccer fan in need if a better American Soccer system.
First of all, while I’m proud to be an American, I’m generally ashamed of most things related to American Soccer. We lose our world cup qualifying matches to teams like Trinidad & Tobago. We sat by and let legends like Landon Donavon rot away at home during the end of his career (during which time he was still at peak performance). Every ten years or so we get a “golden generation” of youngsters who will “change the sport of soccer in America… FOREVER“… And then those players get old, retire, and soccer in this country stays the same.
In short, we are an embarrassment.
Luckily for me, I’m a dual-citizen. My ancestral home of Portugal is a much better soccer-faring nation. Portugal has a star-studded cast led by Cristiano Ronaldo, a deeply passionate fanbase, and most importantly, they qualify for big international tournaments (they even win them sometimes!)
Suffice it to say that my international footballing interest has been saved by my ancestral home. But most Americans don’t have the luxury of being immigrants from a country with a good soccer team. Hell, most immigrants don’t even have that luxury. That win in the Euro Cup Final in 2016 almost makes up for all of the disadvantages of coming from a family whose highest level of education was 4th grade in a country with barely any clean water, and whose idea of a “college fund” was a firm pat on the back upon high school graduation.
Anyway, enough about Portugal. Back to the Americans and their (our) problems.
The problem with American soccer goes far beyond our lackluster national team. There’s a deeper-seeded issue that trickles through the MLS, USL, NCAA, PDL, and every other soccer league from amateurs to pros and into our very culture as Americans.
But, for today, let’s focus on the MLS.
I’m guilty of shirking the responsibility of supporting my local MLS team. Rather than take the thirty-minute drive to Red Bull Arena for affordable tickets in a live audience, I choose instead to wake up early in the morning on weekends to live-stream matches between English clubs like Wolverhampton and Liverpool, who I will probably never get to watch in person.
If the EPL isn’t doing it for me, I’ll find some illegal methods to catch games from Portugal, where my team Benfica has a long-standing tradition of being the best in the country.
I don’t exert nearly the same amount of energy for any MLS game. I can’t remember the last time I intentionally put an American club on my tv screen. I can’t imagine shifting my schedule around a Red Bulls match like I do when Portugal is playing in an international tournament (*usually heartbreaking*) or when Benfica is in the Champions League (*always heartbreaking*) or Wolves are playing against a good club (*sometimes heartbreak, but more often a draw*).
But, why not?
Being a soccer fan in America is lonely enough. Compound that with the fact that my two favorite teams are ones that even followers of the sport won’t know much about, and I might as well be the only man on a large, barren island.
I want to walk into a bar and see my team on the screen and a few jerseys on the crowd. Fuck, at this point, I’ll settle for any soccer game on the screen andone soccer jersey in the crowd. I long for a connection with fellow soccer fans, people with whom I can lament a recent a loss, bitch about bad refereeing, celebrate in those most fantastic of goals, or even just to discuss the league table for Christ’s sake. I have nobody to talk to about the Portuguese national team or Benfica or Wolverhampton Wanderers because, if people are going to watch a soccer game in America, it almost certainly won’t be any of those teams.
The furthest I get in conversation with people most times is a brief explanation of the difference between club-football and international-football. And, if they’re really curious and have attention-spans of longer than a few seconds to give me as I ramble about this sport from far-away lands where the people have decided not to use their hands, I can even explain the difference between the Champion’s League and each nation’s domestic league.
But by then, if their eyes haven’t glossed over from boredom, they usually don’t comprehend the idea of one league and multiple tournaments, including international and domestic ones. It’s simply too much for them to wrap their heads around, especially when one considers the format of most American sports. Every league has a long season which means very little because at the end of it the first place doesn’t win anything, and about half of the teams get into the “play-offs”. Then it’s a knockout tournament until the final championship. In America, that is the standard.
Everywhere else in the world, there is a season, and when that season ends the first place team—the team with the most points and which has been consistently the best team all season—wins the trophy. Then there are separate, elimination round tournaments.
The idea of multiple competitions, or a league that ends without some stupid additional tournament that makes most of your hard work throughout the season mostly irrelevant is ass-backwards to the average American.
So what is a lonely lad longing for connection and sport do? Well, go to the god damn game, of course! That’s the logical thing to do! A gathering of thousands of people watching the same sport as you, many of them rooting for the same team! It’s the ultimate solution!
Except for one problem.
The MLS sucks.
I mean, it’s really bad. The difference in skill between a top American team and any mid-table European or South American team is like the difference between some high-schoolers kicking a ball around and a Division 1 college matchup. In fact, as a former NCAA athlete, I can honestly say that a lot of MLS games just look like slightly quicker-paced college games.
1 reason for the dumpster-fire that is the MLS is that there are very few world-class talents in the MLS. The few top-tier-footballers that do play here are only do so because they want a less competitive league as they inch closer to the end of their playing careers and the seemingly infinite void of post-playing retirement is upon them. With their joints growing fragile and their muscles becoming weak, they choose America as their final resting place.
And… I’m totally fine with that.
A washed-up Thierry Henry was able to bring more magic to New York than any other player since or before.
A 40-year-old Messi could probably still dance in circles around any MLS defense. If anything, we should be advertising the MLS as the perfect retirement home for these world-class talents.
Consider us the Florida of Club Football (minus all of the batshit crazy people).
If the old-heads come here to retire, than some young bucks who aren’t finding their footing elsewhere will come to America to compete with them. What twenty-year-old professional wouldn’t want the chance to go toe-to-toe with the players they looked up to their whole life? The tenacity and intrigue of the young players facing off against the high-level skill and knowledge of world-class old-timers can only breed a higher caliper of player, and eventually we might even produce some better-quality players here in the MLS.
But, until then, I just ought to suck it up and watch the games with lower expectations. Maybe I should watch it with the same mentality I would have while watching my little cousin Katie’s lacrosse matches—I’m not there expecting any feats of wild athleticism or entertainment, just there to support the local team and my little cousin. And hell, if a nice goal or two gets scored, then it’s all the more incredible. Watching somebody with low-level skills perform a high-level task is exciting because when you see that happen, you can trick yourself into thinking that anything is possible, even in your own measly life.
That being said, I’ll be ending my several year hiatus from the MLS tonight as I watch Austin take on Portland.