Sunday, August 2, 2009

8/2/09: America Itching For Top Flight Footie. MLS Itching To Prove They Can Fill The Void.

"The Summer of Soccer in America" as some have coined it rolled on tonight. As high priced Barcelona matched off against the high priced(at least for two players) LA Galaxy tonight at the Rose Bowl in front of 93,000 plus spectators. They were treated to a tough match, where the MLS's LA Galaxy held their own and then some in a 2-1 loss to European champs Barcelona.

Beckham had the moment of the night with a beauty of a free kick:

The 93,000 adds to the eye boggling numbers from the World Football Challenge that included the teams(AC Milan, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Club America). As the World Football Challenge brought through the turnstiles 336,813(56,135.5 average) in six games. 336,813 for what ammounted to friendly games that meant nothing.

Let's just say that the organizers of the World Football Challenge got that special mix right and are now rolling in the money because of it. I figure it's safe to say that this won't be the first and last World Football Challenge.

But, the World Football Challenge(or rather Preseason Jog) isn't the only competition this Summer that has brought in the soccer curious. Add to that the 70,000 that showed up to watch the MLS's Seattle Sounders face off against Chelsea in another pointless friendly, the 79,000 that watched USA vs. Mexico at Giants Stadium in a pointless national tournament called the Gold Cup, and etc. and big financiers are starting to crank their heads a bit, even in this recession.

As Jerry Jones has noted that he might be interested in MLS and the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium was built with soccer in mind.

Even ratings for soccer games have been up this Summer (and will keep TV investors from pulling the plug despite MLS's limited success on the tube), with the U.S. vs. Brazil Confederations Cup final reaching 4 million viewers.

The numbers are not a surprise, human beings are naturally curious of what they don't know. The big foreign talent friendlies making big numbers isn't a suprise either and has it's history dating all the way back to the Jewish team Hakoah Vienna bringing in 46,000 to the Polo Grounds in 1926. One of many records from visiting international sides enjoying a little preseason competition stateside. The curiosity in the sport runs rampant when top flight talent arrives. But, finally there is a league in place that hasn't overspent(unlike the NASL) and has actually built their own grounds(unlike the 1920 to 1930's ASL other than Fall River and the NASL) and is starting to get themselves in a position to profit from that curiosity, especially with solid additions like Seattle & Toronto.

Curious Americans to soccer friendlies is nothing new, Hakoah Vienna who beat up on West Ham United 5-1 the previous year, brought in 46,000 in 1926 to the Polo Grounds.

As all of these attendance numbers lead in the direction of more attention towards MLS to fill the void for these fans once the pricey friendlies have gone away. Now, if only these people could embrace MLS. I'm addicted to the Crew and MLS, and I can't really understand the American soccer fan who isn't. But, the league needs to bridge whatever gap there is, to show these Americans that MLS is an attractive form of soccer and that MLS is also more competitive than friendlies with nothing on the line. Further, MLS needs to show these fans that they are slowly and steadily going to reach the level of the top flights around the world. MLS needs to also continue allowing atmosphere to grow in their parks. They need a reason to make the average American curious.

Each year the talent improves, more money is brought in, and more prospective owners buy themselves in. The future is bright down the road and who knows 70,000 could be watching a Thursday night game between Columbus and Toronto 10 years down the road.

I don't know if that's what I want(as I like my current ticket prices) but I'm sure MLS and the money toting hordes won't mind. I also in the end won't mind, because then Jim Rome-esque individuals would have to shut up because soccer, when it happens, will have arrived officially in an American league format.


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