Monday, January 27, 2014

Major League Soccer: Is It Worth Watching?

Painting: Death at Sea
Artist: Georg Luhrig

Blog By: Vidda “JibJab” Grubin

Major League Soccer, our team the Columbus Crew, and sport in general offer all of us something which is often hard to define, and mostly forgotten or misunderstood in modern society. As spectators, our sport (in its purest form) provides us a chance to escape into what should be a competition free from the anxiety and occasionally crushing reality of human existence.

The above statement is the liberally educated, and annoying way of saying “Life sometimes sucks.”

With its rules, regulations, stop lights, yield signs, and “ism’s”: capitalism, socialism, communism, religionism, and fanaticism’s of all shapes, sizes and delusion... modern life can be all sorts of big bouncy balls of misery inducing suckage.

Picture your world as a tiny room filled to knee level with smooshy rubber balls. Each ball is approximately the size of those wonderful red dodge ball balls of your long ago elementary school days. (For those of you squirming and mumbling “When is this jib jabbering bastard going to talk about Major League Soccer? It’s in the damn title!” Please be patient, and keep your “Stand Your Ground” spastically twitching finger off the trigger)

Back to the room full of red rubber balls. The balls represent facets of our, oh so fascinating, human condition. Upon each red elastic potential projectile is stamped concepts such as: ‘Get Ahead’ ‘Pay the Bills’ ‘Be on Time’ ‘Walk-Don’t Run’ ‘Private-No Trespassing’ ‘Pre-emptive Attack’ ‘Drones’ ‘Nosy Spying Assholes’ ‘You’re Fired’ ‘Bankruptcy’ ‘Divorce’ ‘Mom, Dad, My Girlfriend is Pregnant’ and my all-time favorite ‘Dirty Diaper.’

Whenever one of these “life-events” pops magically into our everyday world a red rubber ball starts a-bouncing. The norm for most of us sees at least four or five of the wicked red monsters bouncing crazily around our tiny room at any given time. Sometimes we attempt to catch one or two while artfully dodging the others. Some days we simply plop our overwhelmed asses down in the sea of red balls and let the ricocheting responsibilities wack us over, and over, and over. I don’t advocate this docile tactic with regard to the ‘Dirty Diaper.’ It’s just not a good idea. On the other hand, when faced with ‘Mom, Dad, My Girlfriend is Pregnant’ I highly recommend at least a day of lying prone and unmoving amidst the red rubber. Oh, and keep a pint handy.

Certainly all is not doom, gloom and red rubber missiles? You are correct. There is lots of space in your room, space filled with joy and happiness; but, what’s the point of talking about that cuddly kitten, heart-string tickling nonsense? Let’s talk soccer.

Because of crushing, anxiety inducing, reality, we humans crave escape. More precisely, we yearn to find a place where, whether participating or spectating, we know the playing field is level and our deep-seated unconscious understanding of the random competitive nature of life can play out as un-redballaffected as possible. Soccer contains within it the tantalizing promise of just such an escape.

That “tantalizing” promise is not an empty promise. Put a group of human beings on a 120 yard by 80 yard pristine green field, or upon a rock-strewn dirt playground. Throw out a soccer ball, and let un-redballaffected nature play-out. This is what each of us yearns for deep inside our soul. This is why we watch. This is why we play. When something crosses over from the red rubber ball side into the humans, a patch of dirt, and a soccer ball side we get pissed, and rightfully so.

(As an aside, I do realize that we all get lots more out of sport than the topic I’m addressing, things like exercise (which most of us need more of), camaraderie and the odd ego boost)

We don’t shrug our shoulders and smile when hearing about the latest athletes to test positive for PED’s. Well, some of us might, but that’s a blog entry for the Psych Profile of the Pathetically Justifying Personality Disorder blog. Those PED users are spitting on our escape seeking souls. Worse, they are tearing apart the heart and mind woven tapestry which leads us to endeavor to participate or spectate.

When Lance Armstrong doped in order to win the Tour De France, he stepped over the ancient line which separates our everyday lives and the part of our lives where we hope to experience life untouched by the everyday.

When FIFA broker’s back room deals for where World Cups will be held, we are offended. We instinctually know that FIFA is messing with the sanctity of the hoped for playing-out of un-redballaffected nature.

Other examples from soccer of cheating our soul of what it yearns and seeks escape within: Betting scandals; players who twist the outcome of a game by means such as purposely attempting to be shown a red card; owners bribing officials to make favorable calls for their team; players diving in order to draw fouls not commited; leagues which manipulate the distribution of players to its teams or change the rules under which the league and teams play.

The last item in the list above is an inelegant dig at Major League Soccer and its structure, or, in some instances, lack thereof. It is why this Helltownbeer blog entry exists, and is the sole reason for the preceding, mind numbing, paragraphs. What I’m trying to say is, Major League Soccer has begun to increase the number of big bouncy balls of misery inducing suckage within its tiny room.

Before I continue let me state, without reservation, that I have been both a supporter of the single entity structure of Major League Soccer, and impressed by the deftness with which the people who run the league have handled the ups and downs MLS has encountered over the years. This past perspective does not preclude me from being baffled, and even upset, by some of the recent happenings within our league.

Throughout most of our league’s history the playing field has been relatively consistent and level. There may have been things done to try and prop-up some franchises over the years. (Miami Fusion, Tampa Bay Mutiny) There may have been instances where allocation rules were bent or manipulated to allow certain players to go to certain teams. Some of these happenings have bothered me, as I’m sure they have bothered other MLS fans; but, the end result has generally been an honest, competitive, game on the field of play.

If the field of play is to stay honest and competitive, and MLS is to continue growing as a single entity business/sports league, then the people making the rules must understand they are at a significant moment in the league’s development. This moment has been brought on by the usual

Gobs and gobs of money, in the form of billionaire owners and hundreds of millions of dollars in TV and advertising revenue, has invaded the American soccer scene. The Dark Lord is knocking on the front door. It’s decision time.

Choices recently made by our league point in a disturbing direction. One team spending $100 million dollars, while others spend $3.5 million? MLS fronting the money so that one team can pay a whopping transfer fee for a single player, while other teams sign, perhaps, one moderately priced designated player. When decisions like these are made, especially within the context of single-entity, they tear apart the heart and mind woven tapestry which leads us to endeavor to spectate. If the murky temptress fortune has arrived (don’t kid yourself, she has), a clear headed evaluation of what Major League Soccer hopes to look like thirty years from now needs to be undertaken, and the resulting conclusions carefully considered. Only then should significant decisions be made.

Does our beloved league open the front door, accept the cash while politely denying the Dark Lord admittance, and become a transparent, aboveboard single-entity juggernaut hell bent on creating a level playing field upon which the managers and players can compete for our escapist needs? Or, does our beloved league open the front door, invite the black-robed death merchant in, and stumble sickly down a path of back-room decisions made on the pretense that they are good for business? Or, does our beloved league open the front door, take the cash, toss aside single-entity and see how far the individual owners can ride the flying coffin that is unchecked ego-driven capitalist competition?

I sure hope those in charge of Major League Soccer choose kicking the creepy bastard out after accepting the money, while simultaneously keeping single-entity, shining a light on the process of running the league and sticking to a model which gives each team an unwavering amount of the new found greenbacks. If this is the choice made at this crucial moment in American soccer’s history all of us can stand proudly wearing our scarves, hats, and team jerseys knowing that what we watch in our stadiums is as un-redballaffected as possible.

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