In America you have two forms of fans, like in any other country; those who love the sport and those who follow it, but not religiously, and want to tell you the negatives about it. Major League Soccer has that, and now that the league is in its 19th season, both sides will continue to grow in numbers. In this piece, I decided cover the two sides opinions and see why feeling are so mixed when it comes to soccer over here in the States.
It's better in life to be a positive person, so let's talk about the great things first! Every team that is currently in MLS (I'm not counting the three new ones coming in) has at least two supporter groups. The Cascadia region of the country has been shown all over the world and has been dubbed 'great' plenty of times. Portland, Seattle and Vancouver fans show up every match. In fact how many of you have seen the videos of the Timbers' Army singing the USA National Anthem before matches? Plus there's a guy with a chainsaw in the stadium. Try that in Europe! Section 8 in Chicago is known for their nose for the Chicago Fire matches. New Jersey Redbull's Viking Army march to the stadium every week. And then there's Chivas USA's Black Army, whom are trying to buy the club from the league. In short, the support here is fantastic and there's a real community buzz backing our football teams.
The ticket prices aren't bad here either, especially compared to Europe, but they aren't ridiculously cheap still. For a season ticket, you are paying at New Jersey Red Bulls 829 American dollars, whereas the cheapest ones are the Chivas USA where it's 342 American dollars, likewise their stadium mates LA Galaxy are 676 dollars. Of course, some teams like to keep their ticket prices quiet because they don't want to show how much they are taking out of their fans. These prices aren't horrible for pro sports. In these towns you can easily spend in the NFL and NBA a couple of thousand dollars. So, in comparison, it's really not that bad.
Now, the attendance figures in MLS are slightly exaggerated because the Seattle Sounders play in a massive stadium and pull in 40k per match. The rest of the league is averaging 18k because of smaller stadiums, and in some aspects, harder places to get to. Think of it this way, people are selling out their stadiums, for a sport the country didn't invent. Portland sells out their tickets every year within ten minutes of them going on sale, and the same could be said of Sporting KC. It really is fantastic.
Of course, where there is good, there is bad. The negative nancies of the sport will love this next section. Three major areas need to be improved upon - over expansion, taking care of the original teams and development of players. As a soccer fan in the States, we've been down this road before, and it killed a league, the good old NASL. Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, has expanded into New York City FC, Miami (Because we need Beckham, right?), Orlando City SC, and now Atlanta Phoenix. They have also said there's going to be one more team added, probably San Antonio. The NASL kept expanding to get more fans and more money and they killed the league in the process. We're not saying that going into these cities will kill the league, but it will dilute the talent pool and make it even thinner than it needs to be. Who knows if Miami and Atlanta can support their respective teams? Miami has failed twice after all.
Garber doesn't want to support the original teams it seems like. He's more interested in the shiny, happy new thing out there that's being created. Two of the original clubs, New England Revolution and DC United, play in what most people would call joke stadiums. DC United has gone down this road before with almost having a new stadium, and if you want to see it for yourself, google 'DC United Stadium deal'. New England has a very good stadium. They play at the same stadium where the NFL's Patriots play. They need a smaller stadium in Boston though to make it work for all of them. So far, it hasn't been a smooth partnership.
Try as the league might say they do with regards to player development, they don't back it up at all. They have an academy system, home grown contracts and a draft, for players to ride the bench for years, play in a mini-reserve league and wash out of the league without any real opportunity given. They'll point out their deal with the USL (a lower league) for development but players don't make it there most of the time. Most of the top players are left at their clubs to get training time. This has been said because they need to boost the numbers of staff. On this year's draft, only a couple really have played, and as the subs in blow outs. Of course, every so often, an Andrew Ferrell of New England will come through but it isn't happening enough. The league needs to take the players and loan them all to the lower league so they are better in the long run. They need game time, it's as simple as that.
The MLS is a fun league with a lot to offer, but it just needs knowledgable people in the right places and people who know football and what is required. Repeating past mistakes doesn't really help the sport grow here.
By Stephen Brandt - Liverpool fan - @