MLS vs. US Soccer: Anecdotes of a Gold Cup

revsI 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.

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Soccer Business Bits: Commish Speaks, KC Stadium and More

mlsWith the Confederations Cup in full swing and another MLS weekend behind us (for attendance figures and a nice year by year comparison, check here), we thought we would note some key business moments from the week that was.  In MLS, Commissioner Don Garber continued his occasssional “blog” posts with another edition of the “Commisioner Speaks“.  His comments are not notable for their content, but more for the fact that they exist it all.  We have repeatedly discussed the importance of soccer utilizing non-mainstreatm media sources to spread its message and the necessity of being ahead of the technology curve.  Occassional blog posts from the commish is a way to accomplish that.  MLS fans are far more invested in the League than fans of other major league sports (are Twins fans really concerned about the viability of MLB??)  It is a smart move for MLS to have the Commissioner participate in these occassional blogs and fan Q&A in order to keep that connection strong.

We have also posted on numerous occasions about the efforts to build a stadium in Kansas City.  Well, some first renderings are out as the project remains targed for a 2011/2012 opening.  These new stadiums are great for fans, great for the League and fun to think about.  Obviously, the final construction doesn’t always look like the initial renderings, and the pictures remind us all that this will be large complex with a stadium attached.  Nevertheless, kudos to KC for moving this forward.

Speaking of stadiums, here is the interior webcam of Red Bull Arena in Harrison.  This should be one of two new MLS parks opening in the Spring of 2010. The other, in Philly, seems to have some catching up to do. It is pretty exciting for the League to have these two new venues opening in such close proximity.  With the stadium struggles in DC and the total lack of movement in New England, it seemed that the Eastern Conference would never catch up to the West in stadiums.  Now there will be two new stadiums to enjoy on the East Coast.

Finally, soccer websites have been abuzz for the last few days with the news that Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones has apparently announced his intention to play for the United States.  Jones is the son of a German mother and American father who has lived his entire life in Germany.  For footiebusiness, we are interested not in the prospect of such a talented midfielder suiting up for the Red White and Blue, but for the FIFA ruling that allowed this to happen.  The new ruling does away with the age limit (21) for players to switch national teams unless the player has already participated in an official competition.  This will allow players who participate in youth matches for national teams but do not get called up for the full national team in anything but friendlies, to switch if their careers take a differnt turn.  This will also add to the layers of legal manuevering to ensure that promising players are “cap tied” at an early age.

Soccer Business Bits: Hello Philly!

phillyWe promised a post on soccer gambling, but with the big announcement in the City of Brotherly Love, we’ll put gambling to the side for now.  At City Hall, the Philadelphia Union were officially announced in front of more than 500 “Sons of Ben” and other supporters.  With the League Commissioner and City Mayor in attendance, the Blue and Gold colors and sharp new logo of the team were also unveiled. The team is set to start play in 2010.

As we have discussed, the Union will play in a brand new 18,500 seat stadium in Chester, PA.  Importantly, the new stadium will be served by both highways and SEPTA (South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority).  With the dissapointing attendance at some of the suburban stadiums (Chicago and Dallas) and recent success of urban stadiums (Seattle and Toronto), the accessibility of the new stadium in Chester to Philly will be important.

Season ticket sales in Philly have lagged behind those in other expansion cities, but with 11 months until First Kick, plenty of time remains to sell tickets.  Interestingly, the Union have created a supporters section where you can only get tickets if you are a member of a supporters group.  According to reports, the Sons of Ben have more than 5,000 members already. All ticket prices are here.

The success of Philadelphia is important for MLS.  It creates a link between the East Coast cities in the League while bringing one of the larges TV markets into the fold.  Philly fans are passionate; it remains to be seen whether they are passionate about soccer.  The City of Brotherly Love will get a taste of soccer this summer when the CONCACAF Gold Cup rolls in for a double header at Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Eagles).  These games may be an important bellewether for the popularity of soccer in town.