Being Thankful For MLS

Wow, there is a lot of noise in the Major League Soccer system right now.

You either think Houston were idiotic (or poorly attempting to be sly) for not protecting local-icon Brian Ching, or you think Montreal hopes to do slimy deal-brokering with little regard to the player.  Maybe you think both.

There’s an intriguing fog around where David Beckham will next lace up his bend-it boots. LA? Paris? Somewhere else?   Was he a success or circus?  Both?  Best player in MLS or over-hyped pop star?  Both?

Locally, a rage continues building in certain New England Revolution fan circles that the team owner (who forks out all the money to bring us soccer to watch) actually does not care enough, invest enough, and know enough about the game for the Revolution to ever be successful.

The list topics that are heavily debated across the league, or even specific to the Revolution, could go on and on… there are more topics to debate than there’s time to debate them.

At the same time, there remains fervent soccer-haters, still happy to say their piece. There are even institutions, like ESPN, who are investing in the game and still seem determined to cover its day-to-day happenings as if it were a small badminton league in Eastern Europe.

To top it all off, the American fan has enough concern about player quality, our coach’s direction, and why the USA cannot step up to the elite level of international soccer to occupy their minds for the foreseeable future.

It’s enough to drive a fan crazy.

And I, for one, am immensely grateful that it all exists.

I’ll take the noise. The Beckham drama. The oddball unbalanced schedules. The new German coach whose system seems to be better on a whiteboard than in action.

I’ll take it.

During this Thanksgiving, I won’t think all too much about soccer, at least after I’m done typing this. I’ll relish time with my kids, my family and my friends. And those are the things I’m truly most thankful for.

But outside of my family, friends and job… soccer finds itself near the top of all other topics in terms of my attention span.

So I, for one, am not afraid to say it. I’m thankful for this sport.  And for our league.

Many of us need to find that special outlet where we can lose ourselves a bit and have struggled through the times where access to that special something was difficult. Mine is the beautiful game. Or whatever the approximation of beautiful we typically get.

My soccer madness was kicked into high gear at the Italy vs. Ireland USA 94 World Cup game, and the electric atmosphere and managed chaos that surrounded it.  After that game, I remember well how hard it was to find games to watch back then.  Parmalat Cup?  Sure, I’m there.

Since then, soccer fandom has since taken me to many of the soccer meccas of the world and given experiences not to be forgotten. The “curva” sections n San Siro and Rome’ Stadio Olympico. “Fla-Flu” at Maracanã. A London derby in Stamford Bridge. Camp Nou behind the Barcelona bench.  And just over a week ago, to 70,000 fans in Stade de France as I saw my first USA away game. There are many more, each of which leaves a unique memory.

However, it is more than the international flings that have me thankful. It’s also more than US Soccer, which will always be with we, nearly a given fact, rather than something I can feel thankful for.

I’m thankful for MLS. My long term soccer relationship.

Which is interesting, as I’m not a typical fan. I know that.

I support the New England Revolution. Well, I support them when I’m not over-analyzing and criticizing them.  (Which is pretty frequently.)  They are, however, my team, and now my kids’ team.

But it is MLS, not the Revolution, is what I’m more “wed” to. I really support the league. And I have since before day one.

During Major League Soccer’s first two years I was in grad school in Rutgers University in New Jersey. I missed more than one evening class because it was only a few more minutes from the Newark campus I had some Wednesday evening classes to get to Giants Stadium to watch a game.  In fact, I even used the then-imminent launch of the league as a topic for a paper in one of my business classes.   I met with MetroStars officials to discuss an internship, but chose a paying one instead.   It was an exciting time.

Wait, what?  Yes, that’s right, I started as a MetroStars fan. (There goes the Twitter following.)

I “switched” during the expansion year of 1998 when I moved to the area. There was little in terms of history and neither the Revolution nor MetroStars were very good, so it wasn’t like I was jumping on a winning bandwagon. I felt intellectually justified.

I wasn’t about to live in an area with an MLS team and only care about a visiting team.  I needed a steady stream of the game like I need my morning coffee.  (Drug addict references aside.)

Now, all these years later. Could I, would I, do it again if I had to move?  What if I moved to NJ again?  Kansas City?   Would I flip?  Honestly, I don’t know.

But it wouldn’t be out of the question.  And it’s nothing against the Revolution, but what draws me in is the game, the league, the sport, the drama. Because despite all its growing pains, its sometimes lower than hoped for quality and higher than needed physicality, it’s ours.

And I’m very thankful for that.

So give me the rumors, the complaints, the expansion-reentry-college drafts, the referees.  Give me the unbalanced schedules, odd numbers of teams and people still arguing we could have relegation, the salary caps. Give me an inexperienced coach for a bad New England team in a quiet stadium.  Heck, give me the offseason to reenergize.

But then, please MLS, just give me me the game.

And thank you.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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