By Drew Zuhosky
This Sunday, three months after the Portland Timbers took the MLS Cup title in a 2-1 victory over Columbus Crew SC in Columbus, those two teams will meet again in one of 10 matches played on the opening day of the Major League Soccer’s 21st season.
Yes, there is a professional soccer league in this country, and it’s gaining in popularity.
Just look at the attendance numbers from the 2015 MLS season. According to MLS figures, 7,335,053 supporters attended matches last year, accounting for an average of 21,574 spectators a match.
Additionally, half of the 20 MLS teams garnered an average of over 20,000 supporters per game last year, the most in a single MLS season — with Seattle Sounders FC leading the charge, welcoming 44,247 fans a game to CenturyLink Field.
However, the MLS has taken some licks from soccer pundits and critics around the world. In 2014, Arsene Wenger, the manager for Arsenal FC, was quoted as saying “You have two steps. Being completely at the top finishes when you are 34 at the latest. After that, you have different leagues like the MLS and the Indian League.”
The very idea that MLS is considered to be a dumping ground for older soccer players is absurd. At the core, MLS is a league with an eclectic mix of international and stateside talents. If you watch MLS regularly, you’ll be able to see that mix of players every week, especially in a big spotlight.
Back in 2012, the Los Angeles Galaxy won the MLS Cup 3-1 with a lineup of players including Omar Gonzalez, who left MLS for Pachuca of the Liga MX, Irish striker Robbie Keane, who previously played for Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United and Aston Villa, and the legendary David Beckham.
Even recently, MLS has become the home for some of the top international players. Last year, the Galaxy signed Steven Gerrard, formerly the midfielder for Liverpool FC, to a $9 million contract and Orlando City SC signed midfielder Ricardo Kaka to a $7 million contract.
Still, there’s a notion that soccer isn’t popular here in the United States. To that, I say balderdash.
As per figures released by the Pew Research Center and Harris Interactive last year, soccer is the fourth-most popular sport on television in this country.
In my personal opinion, the popularity of soccer in this country is to the point where it could overtake hockey. As for those who say that soccer will never make it in this country, I think it’s obvious that they’ve never bothered to even watch a match.
If they took the time to watch a game, they’d see how wrong they are. Those are the type of people who say that soccer’s boring because the teams don’t score enough.
In actuality, the low-scoring soccer matches are very exciting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched soccer over the years and have had my heart race over a 2-1, 3-2, 5-4 or 0-0 match.
The defensive efforts and goals scored are dramatic in soccer, but a scoreless draw, especially if it’s between two evenly-matched teams are just as exciting, if not more so.
Like it or not, soccer is here to stay in this country. The next time a soccer match is on TV, do yourself a favor and watch.