Friday, August 1, 2014

Drain Bamage and Lajor Seague Moccer

Or...MLS is a physical league with exciting, end-to-end, fast, athletic games.

How do you like your soccer, futbol, or (gag) footy?

Do you enjoy seeing full-speed, head-on collisions? Do you like the occasional cleats-up, full-blooded tackle? Maybe you thrill to the sight of tone-setting midfield messages delivered from an angle kindly described as "mostly from the side."

Maybe you prefer to see teams move the ball smartly from the back, through the midfield, to the attacking third. Perhaps a well organized defense, which most often wins possession by goading teams into poorly chosen passes, is your French Tickler.

Perhaps lightning fast counters make your pupils dilate and your heart go pitter patter. Do you stand and shout whenever the goalie's fingertips miraculously push the ball wide of the post?

Probably, each of the above in-game occurrences twists your synapses at least a little bit.

But, what of the above most-popularly defines Major League Soccer's style of play each week?

The average "I don't watch MLS"/Euro-snob/Full of BS/"I define my level of intelligence and self-worth by my negative attitude towards American soccer and its horribly inept, not able to walk and chew gum at the same time players" classifies Major League Soccer on the evolutionary timeline somewhere around troglodyte.

The casual fan simply states "MLS is okay. It's getting better. Why does it take so long to get out of the stadium parking lot after the game?"

The more dedicated MLS fan gravitates to "Major League Soccer is fast, maybe a little too fast. It's rough, maybe a little too rough. It's athletic and a little sloppy, but it's getting better."

The dedicated fan would be the winner of the "Describe Major League Soccer" competition. The dedicated fan has seen the leaps, stumbles, valleys and peaks of North America's top league. The dedicated fan sees the light within the game, the immensely talented young American players sprinkled throughout MLS. While the dedicated fan cringes a little when a game goes the way of undefined head-scratcher, that same fan simultaneously smiles and worries at the thought of where MLS is headed.

The dilemma for those of us who follow MLS is this: will the league persist with the idea that fast, strong, athletic and bordering on an insanely level, take little risk, playing field (see Larry Johnson's post a couple of days ago) is the way to go. Or, will Major League Soccer (more precisely, the individual clubs) truly grasp the underlying golden calf of American soccer? The millions of youngsters knocking the ball around almost every corner of the United States.

These kids are good. Good like, way better than the average kid playing ten or twenty
years ago.

Many of the prognosticators out there bemoan the rapid expansion of Major League Soccer. The anxiety, rightly, springs from the idea that there is not enough talent to go around and that with each new team added to the league, the product suffers. Two options exist to fly right past the worry that the product in Major League Soccer stadiums is suffering. Significantly increasing the salary cap is the most obvious solution. The less obvious solution is trusting the young American player.

I vote for both, and I believe the next three to five years will see the clubs within Major League Soccer look more like their brethren overseas.

With the advent of a new TV contract (almost $100 million/year) and team academies producing more and more of the newest additions to team rosters, the proof of Major League Soccer moving away from physical, fast, athletic play to a more mature and cultured game is starting to be seen. The transition will speed up over the next few years.

If Major League Soccer can hold tight and keep from shooting itself in the foot with all the new money flowing in, the next step (in about seven years) will be quite wondrous to see.

Around about 2020/2021 Major League Soccer should have at least 24 teams and possibly more. The next TV contract will dwarf the one just signed. By 2020/2021 Major League Soccer team rosters should be spilling over with proven American talent on par with some of the best leagues in the world. If you haven't had a chance to go out and see the youth players in this country lately, do yourself a favor, go watch some academy games. Hell, go watch some kids play in the park on the weekend. There are truly talented youngsters all over this country.

Hopefully, in seven years time we won't be talking about Drain Bamage and Lajor Seague Moccer or how excitingly physical, fast and athletic our league has become. Hopefully, and take note right now (it's going to happen), a number of the best players in the world will be American kids.

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