I made the trip up to Foxboro this weekend for the Gold Cup Tripleheader. It was a night of perfect weather, a great US/Hati match and a stinker of an MLS game. I made the trip with a buddy with whom I played soccer in college. While I have immersed myself in MLS and US soccer over the past decade, he had been neither to an MLS game nor a US game. He drove up from the City of Brotherly Love and is a big Philadelphia sports fan. He has expressed some lukewarm interest in the Union, but wanted to “see the product” before he buys.
His experience was unfortunately instructive. The US game was scintillating. Fans of both teams were into the game, the soccer was back and forth and there was tension throughout. The Revs/Wizards game was a different animal. The soccer was of poor quality, the crowd quiet and the match lacked drama. On the way back (sorry Grenada, we didn’t catch the third game), my buddy expressed how entertaining the US match was, while noting that he almost fell asleep during the Revs game.
In defense of MLS, both teams were missing many of their best players both to injury and the Gold Cup, and every League, all over the world, puts up stinkers. Yet a common issue on this blog is the big question facing MLS; how does the League bring the multitudes of American soccer fans into the fold? Displays like Saturday night are not the answer.
The new franchises (TFC, Seattle, RSL) have managed to bridge this divide. The Revs, Red Bulls, etc… have not. Behind me at the game was a teenage youth player of an apparently high level. He was at the game with a relative who knew little about soccer, yet this youth player regaled his relative with the biography and history of all of the US players. This youth knew nothing about the MLS teams involved, knew none of the players and was dismissive of their skill. “Individually they are ok, but they can’t play in tight spaces.” Of course the player that commented was directed at was two time Argentinian World Cup veteran Claudio Lopez. This youth player had no idea that athletes of that caliber were plying their trade in MLS.
The League is making strides; we’ve documented those repeatedly. Yet it was remarkable how many fans came to the triple header after the Revs game was over because they had zero interest in MLS. I’m not describing anything new; we’ve certainly posted about this issue many times. However, I thought the anecdotes were instructive. My friend? He promised to give the Union a try, but has decided against season tickets.