Friday, December 9, 2011

English Soccer League Major Ramble

JULY 2011: Four hundred thousand fans watched English Premier League clubs match up against several franchises from Major League Soccer on New World soil.

The Result: Thirteen total games. One MLS win. Twelve MLS losses. MLS Goal Differential: -22 (or less than a goal for and over 2.5 against)

Estimated Gate: $12.1 million (for good measure).

You don't have to go far in the Major League Soccer ocean before you bump into a comparison to one English football league or another. Every once in a while, you'll also come across a player training in Germany and say something nice about how the quality of MLS players can stand up to players in the Bundesliga.

I figure it about time I thought about it, myself. After all it is my responsiblity as a free wheelin' blogger, right?. Hmm. Okay, done. Even without the head to head friendlies, I'm done thinking on it. I was done before I thought on it. Which must be why I hadn't touched the subject in the past.

People seem to think of where MLS teams would fall in a one game match against some other team from a far away league. A Super Bowl like game. I hear that MLS teams could compete against bottom table PL sides or top table Champ League clubs (seems to be most common assumption). But, ya know, soccer is never about the one BIG GAME. Or the best 11 v. 11.

That is the reason I brought up the friendlies last summer. It was a test that matched up weakened, mid-season MLS sides against rusty, out of season, PL sides. Sort of a strange thing, admittedly. But, if you watch the sport enough you realize that it is always about that uneasy balance. Games are only as important as the side or country makes them. Who is healthy, who is pouting. Who the fans are chanting for. Who the manager doesn't get along with. Who was out drinking too late the night before.

A good example might be the Europa League and Stoke. How exciting is it to be a Stoke fan and watch them play European sides. Contrastingly, look at Manchester United falling to the Europa League. I expect them to exit at first chance.

Even that, however, is unfairly looking at top clubs in the world. The infrastructure it takes to make it to top competitions is so far and away beyond what we have domestically it doesn't even warrant comparison.

I've mentioned my Northampton Town Cobblers a few times over the years here. I like keeping up with them. Yes, nPower League 2. I'll even catch a game or three a year on the internets. I'll also catch a few FA Cup games between lower league teams online or on FOX Soccer. Even, gasp, Football Conference club action from five years ago on youtube. Only live game on English soil I can claim is a Kettering Poppies game over a decade ago.

What I see in these (those) games might not be titanic match ups involving the best athletes on the planet. What it does showcase is, for me, the difference in player savvy, creativity, heart, love, passion, and understanding. All things that Major League Soccer can't seem to find. No foundation underneath it and heavy rules and regulations above it.

I'm sure a full strength LA Galaxy could give West Brom a run for it's money in a meaningful game, on a beautiful 73 degree day... at full strength... playing in the Home Depot Center. I have not doubt in that.

And that is exactly what bugs me about reading most things comparing MLS to other leagues. Particularly comparisons to the English Football League System.

There are 6,000 + teams playing organized soccer in England.

My personal thoughts are that MLS sides, as they are currently structured, would not last a single average season in nPower League 2. In fact, I think they might find themselves betwixt the Anglican Combination Division Six (17th tier) and Southampton Saturday Football League Division Five (19th tier) were they to continue on past one season. And even then, they may have to forfeit a few because of the driving on the wrong side of the road and all.

Athletes and talent, the United States has. No question. Organized soccer structure that can sustain a leading place (club or country) in the world, still trying to find it. And that "IT" is why most venture out on fantasy comparisons between leagues. We have the player pool and money to pull "IT" together. We just need someone to do it.

No comments: