Tales of Bittersweet Loyalty

More than One United: A Call to Arms for MLS

July 27, 2011

I love soccer.

I love United.

There is only one United.

I love the Premiership.

And I love Major League Soccer.

I mean that sincerely.  I really do.

Those jokes, about MLS goals being “touchdowns” and MLS fans not speaking English are old, tired—and inapplicable. MLS matches drew on average 17,000 fans in 2010, a number that will increase substantially this season because of new facilities and perpetually-sold out expansion teams in Vancouver and Portland. The enthusiasm of those Pacific Northwest MLS crowds is incredible—35,000 a game, all in colors, singing, chanting and waving scarves.  Traveling en masse to away games.  Those games look and sound like Premier League or Bundesliga matches, except for the accent.

And remember—this is all happening in two cities where the NBA failed (Seattle and Vancouver).

MLS TV ratings are steady, if not overwhelming, despite being filler programming on ESPN2 on the worst night of television: Fridays. (Imagine how much better it could be if ESPN put more of its marketing machine behind the league.) Yet it feels like there’s a stigma against MLS: You have to have a European team as your favorite to be considered a “real” soccer fan.

Which frankly is (expletive deleted). We as American soccer fans should be humiliated.

For decades, in the pre-Internet era, we were starved for more than the skimpy (at best) coverage of European and Latin American leagues.  Our lack of knowledge, stemming from no domestic league, was severe.

But we endured.  We grew to love the game despite the traditional powers thumbing their noses at an “American soccer fan.”  The 1994 World Cup on American soil converted many of us, including me.

And now, when we have a viable, entertaining domestic league with compelling, American superstar players—we meekly re-colonialize our soccer passions.

Why can’t someone be accepted as a genuinely knowledgeable soccer fan—and have MLS be the league he follows? When someone asks you who your favorite soccer team is, you should say with pride: “DC United!” or “LA Galaxy!” or whatever MLS team is your favorite. And if the person starts to snicker at that response, you should say, uhm, something that rhymes with “duck shoe.”

We should be proud of our league.  MLS has been a godsend to us American soccer fans by bringing the game home.  Our steadily-improving national team is now almost exclusively trained by MLS clubs, though stars may parlay national team success into more lucrative stints in Europe. I’d argue that the quality of play in the MLS would make it the fifth or sixth best league in Europe, top-to-bottom.  Sure, England, Spain, Germany and Italy are far better, but I’d argue MLS is close in quality to the French Ligue 1. None of the other European leagues come close.  The leagues in Scotland, Portugal, Holland and Turkey are too top heavy; Russian teams benefit from the weather too much.

And we are attracting talent, players that want to come to play here not because of the paycheck, but because of the quality of play.  Say what you want about David Beckham coming here at the “end” of his career—Los Angeles revived his career in less than two years, with no less a suitor than AC Milan trying to get him back to Europe afterward. Thierry Henry left Barcelona for New York with plenty of miles left; surely any number of top-flight European teams could have signed him for more than what New York offered.

We at Perfecting the Upset are as much to blame for this neo-colonialization as anyone else: If you look at our Allegiances, you’ll notice that under soccer, there are no MLS teams represented. [Ed: Prior to this article, there were two MLS teams in the “Additional Allegiances” column, however.]  Yes, I know that next to my name is a Manchester United logo—and proudly does it reside there. But I was a United fan before MLS was born; World Cup 1994 made me a soccer fan, then my RSN made me a United fan in the same year by showing them every week until MLS started. Plus, I lived in England for most of my career, where my love for United was integrated with access to Old Trafford.

But I must confess that when I joined Perfecting the Upset, I didn’t even ask our esteemed editor Rahat to put a DC United logo on my allegiances.

(In fairness, part of the reason was that I didn’t want the extra workload.  But in a way, that proves my point, too.)

It’s time for us American soccer fans to be proud of our league.  We should proudly say that we watch MLS, and that we support our MLS clubs wholeheartedly.

I’ll go first: Please add DC United to my Allegiances.

There is are only one two United(s).

[Ed: MLS fans are also encouraged to check out Bradley Freedman’s “That Sounds a Bit Dodgy” on MLS importing announcers.]

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  • Admittedly, I’ve had similar problems in becoming a staunch Houston Dynamo supporter.  Aside from some playoff matches, I simply haven’t been as loyal or devoted as I should be (especially compared to waking up early on weekends and heading to the bar for Arsenal).  This is why I left them off my allegiances.  But I’ve now added them on along with your DC United.  Hopefully this get me to focus more on what happens in the MLS.

  • danitosupreme

    I know MLS will have arrived when people stop calling it “The MLS”.

    • This would be an error on my part.  We’re simply too used to referring to leagues with “the” as a prefix, so it naturally rolls off.  Sreesha also got me for saying “The United” in his previous article.

      • danitosupreme

        It’s not specific to you — I hear it all the time all over the place. It’s just that your note triggered that thought, but I don’t think it’s not valid. When people are familiar enough with the league and accept it as real, it will have gained the traction and penetration needed for people to understand it doesn’t require the definite article.

        • Agreed.  It’s symbolic of our lack of understanding of MLS.

          Also wanted to clarify that it wasn’t on Sreesha’s end. Didn’t want to lessen his credibility as an MLS fan because of my misuse of the article.

  • Abigail Meisterman

    “There is are only one two United(s).”

    There’s also only one Wayne Rooney. But Chad Barrett sure as hell challenges that!