Monday, June 6, 2011

Futbol Time Management

A couple of weeks ago on the World Football Phone In, as a result of Sean Wheelock’s rant against Beckham’s trip to the Royal Wedding, Dotun started a rant segment at the end of the show. Wheelock stepped forward again and made some interesting comments about US soccer fans. In short, he said that he can’t stand footy fans in this country ignoring the domestic league. He went on to say that unless the fans that are following the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc., get invested in the MLS, the league will never hit the heights it is capable of. I was struck by his statements and almost quit the run I was on. It was if he was speaking directly to me.

When I first started following footy in the early 90’s, there was no US league, barely even a US team. Coverage basically consisted of World Soccer and FourFourTwo, week old London Sunday Times, with TV games hard to the find—odd Champions League game or an English game on PPV. To put it in context now, Americans can now see more European games than they can handle: Spanish and German games on GolTV, English and Italian on FSC, and a host of leagues on ESPN3. To put a further point on it, in 20 years we have gone from only seeing the FA Cup Final to watching Gary Neville’s testimonial live.

Then in 1996, MLS launched and Eric Wynalda scored that first goal and things were up and running. I originally started following DC United in the MLS. The team had Ben Olsen, who I really liked as a player, and they had a simple uniform, which was in stark contrast to the Nike pieces of crap during that time (insert pics).

DC was a little far away, so I followed them as best I could and would go and see them at Soldier Field in Chicago when the Fire started up. Fortunately I picked a team who was successful out of the gate, reaching the first four MLS Cup Finals, winning three of them. But in the end, I felt the quality of the games was poor, especially compared to other European leagues I was watching. The breaking point was the 1999 MLS final at Foxboro. The pitch looked terrible, with the American football lines still visible; Harkes and Lalas part of the halftime analysis (a vision of things to come); and the game wasn’t that compelling. I was like if you are not going to take this seriously, then neither am I.

The following summer I bought Euro 2000 on PPV, after that, I was hooked on European soccer. I watched a tournament that was exciting, dramatic, and fun to watch. There was no way I could go back to the Wiz v the Burn. In the fall of 2000 United were in the midst of three straight league titles, plus their amazing Treble season; Juventus, after reaching three straight Champions League Finals, were rebuilding; Real Madrid had captured 2 out of the last three Champions League titles and were heading towards a third in five years. Plus qualification for the World Cup in Japan/South Korea was starting.

In the intervening years I have tried to keep track of the league as a whole through websites, blogs and social media, even with the ridiculous team names, but for me, it comes down to time. I only have so much time during the week to scour the internet for articles and info and only so much time on the weekends to get drunk at the bar or watch legal and illegal feeds online. I have to use that time wisely. Plus I started have family and time is at a premium, which further reduces discretionary time. There are only so many hours in a day, so I choose to follow the big three leagues with occasional glances at Holland, Germany, and France.

And I am able to see all of these leagues because US networks sense the need to provide it. If there was not audience for European leagues, networks would not provide the platforms. Simple supply and demand. Consumers want the best product, and that product is currently in Europe, specifically at FC Barcelona. I want the kids of America dreaming of being Leo Messi and Xavi, not Landon Donovan and .

And let me say there that presentation of MLS is lacking. Soccer Night in America? Really. Has NBC sued for that yet? I would argue that between all the levels of soccer in this country, every night is Soccer Night in America. New slogan or new campaign.

So if it’s a choice between FCB/Villarreal and Colorado/Houston, I’m going La Liga. Or United/Spurs against Chicago/New York, I’m going with the Reds. I would rather watch a game of a high technical level or high energy and passion instead of a glorified High School game. In the past ten years I have probably seen a dozen MLS games in their entirety and have left feeling underwhelmed in the main.

When the Sounders launched in 2009 with accompanying excitement and fanfare, I didn’t get on the bandwagon. Last fall and winter I sensed the buzz around the Portland Timbers and wanted to jump in but work took over and I missed another chance to get in on the ground floor. I told myself after Wheelock’s comments that I would give the league another go this summer, but there’s Gold Cup and Copa America to watch, plus vacation and general sitting around to be done. For me, I may be an American but the game I love is in Europe, and what little time I have to devote to it will be spent watching from across the pond instead of my backyard.

1 comment:

  1. I agree on numerous points. I don't have time to dedicate to MLS - I can barely follow Arsenal. The only thing MLS has is scheduling, i.e. they don't have games on Saturday and Sunday mornings during church (thank you schedulers for putting all of Arsenal's games in the last 3 months of the season on Sunday mornings).

    In addition, the quality is not good. I have tried to sit through a game. It is rough as you well know. And if there is no emotional connection (which there isn't), then I am not going to invest the time. Sorry.