Thursday, July 3, 2014

Never Not Zero Zero

Since the fifth round of the Crew's 2011 season I've never not written a recap for a regular season Crew match. That works out to be 100+ recaps as well as various summaries on reserve matches, friendlies and preseason. Looking back, I’ve never really struggled to put one together. I think some of that comes from my approach to games but most comes from just enjoying running back over a game with a curious mind.

That streak ends this week. Or ended. Or sort of ended with this FC Dallas vs. Crew match this past Sunday. I’ve thought quite a bit about why I haven’t conjured up a post on it. Maybe this is my post on it. Maybe the World Cup has sapped my MLS interest…

Or, maybe. Just maybe… the game, after all these recaps over the years, just wasn't worth writing about.

I really dislike that last idea, though. As bad as some games can be, my thought is that there is always something, no matter how small, to pull from any match. Maybe it was Ben Speas not finishing a game yet again (he’s only ever gone full 90 once in his MLS career). Perhaps a comment on new signing Alvaro Rey or how Berhalter is now deciding to focus on results. Something.

It’s all there to cover and think about but, in the end, the game was still a 0-0 final between two slightly below average MLS teams on a summer Sunday afternoon.

So, is that it? The reason for no recap? Like a crazy person, I’m genuinely asking myself. I think of other leagues and sports when less exciting teams face off. I’ve seen enough of the Blue Jackets down at this level. Or even the Cleveland Cavaliers or Browns. I've been following Stoke since they got promoted and Northampton Town in League 2, even. But there is something different about it when it’s MLS. Like, too much of it is out of the control of the teams and too predetermined. And it happens a lot.

Hardly a week goes bye where I don’t catch at least a couple non-Crew MLS matches. Sometimes as many as 4-5 on a lazy weekend, so I’m confident in saying that I’ve seen my fair share of duds. Look at the table right now. There are four teams on zero goal difference halfway through the year and another seven (7!) that are +/-3 goals. That is not parity, that is not “competitive,” it is fucking average. And it isn’t even a genuine average because the league controls so much of the movement of players.

MLS makes no bones about keeping things level between teams because they think Americans like that. I suppose they do when you have 300 lbs human males crushing into each other at full speed, or you are picking from hundreds of pro level prospects, but when you are watching a game that requires 11 guys playing as one you need 11 decent soccer players for it to be aesthetically attractive and something a normal person will want to pay and see. I love having Federico Higuain on the Crew, he is a great player, but how watchable it is when he flicks one over to Adam Bedell only to see him mishandle it out of bounds. I like Bedell and look forward to his development but should I have to pay 30 bucks + parking and 8 dollar beers to see it?

Look at basketball right now, especially college. It’s a mess as far as the sport is concerned. NBA as well. Remember those days that helped take NBA to the next level? Boston, Lakers, Detroit, even Chicago? They dominated and the league grew into what it is financially today. Were college ball and NBA to start where they are now with same rules - no one would watch that garbage.

Garbage is what most new soccer fans will be watching in MLS half the time. The “millennials,” a few of whom I work with, loved this World Cup but when you talk with them they mention other leagues (Bundesliga mostly, if you must know) and not MLS. Even if you goad them into watching MLS, they’ve already seen (and can see) good soccer in better leagues. They know the flipping difference. Asking them to watch MLS is like asking a gridiron fan to choose between the CFL and NFL. This is globalized generation with little to no war or great hate or fear. While they love their country, you can see the global view in the ironic social media meme's of bald eagles with automatic rifles in front of an American flag.

MLS has some great players as well as a handful of great minds running some of the teams - to where if you turned them loose, they could create rosters able to produce fantastic soccer. Instead you have a league actively focused on keeping greatness from happening. If parity is false or contrived, it doesn’t work. Before you point to the NBA or NHL, look at a list of teams that have moved cities over the past, say… 20 years or so. Also, if parity was so important you wouldn’t have college football dominating the sports landscape. People seek greatness and latch on. Look at the what the Patriots, Cowboys, 49ers, Steelers do for the league. Fans across the nation tune in to winners.

Nobody is tuned in to this 0-0 rescheduled MLS match between Dallas and the Crew, hell only 5000 fans of the reported 20k fans that bought tickets showed up. Why would they? Take away the planned fireworks and this is what is left.

Broader example of the media not caring is MLS commissioner Don Garber showing up on the very popular ESPN morning show "Mike and Mike" to talk about retaining soccer fans and getting them to tune in to MLS. ESPN had a "Sports Center update" before the interview that made no mention of the meaningless MLS games the previous night, which I though funny.

After being bombarded by league cheerleaders for three weeks during what otherwise is suppose to be an awesome World Cup event -  Maybe I should just turn into a normal old fan and go to a few games a year and make Steve Sirk's weekly Crew piece my only MLS read. Who knows.

Crew face Colorado away tomorrow night. A much needed three points for Berhalter's side. Should be an interesting one.

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