OK, so I decided yesterday to take a day off from this site — after all, I do have actual paying jobs and other creative collaborations that require my attention — but after checking in on MLSsoccer.com this morning I knew I’d have to at least post this.
NEW LOOK: The first bit of news is a major redesign: Major League Soccer’s new look jettisons the “rotating magazine” theme that has become a standard approach to news sites (including this one). According to the description of the ideas behind the new approach, the league’s website upgade will allow them to swap out themes depending on the type of news that’s available. This is the way newspapers worked for years, and I like the philosophy A LOT.
NEW ATTITUDE: The other reason I felt compelled to post this is the commentary by Greg Lalas, “Turning 18, MLS & its supporters are entering a brand new era.” It’s something my friends and I have been discussing in various ways for about a year now. At what point does North American soccer stop looking elsewhere for approval, recognize where it is in its development, and starting taking pride in itself?
According to Lalas, that time is now. The MLSsoccer.com writer has expressed similar thoughts before, and has received various rations of shit for for those opinions from soccer fans who believe that MLS — and North American soccer in general — is something just shy of a clown act.
The reaction, as enlightening as it was from a journalistic perspective, jabbed at the fan in me. It made me feel as if all my fellow soccer fans in the United States and Canada actually disliked their own league, our league, the only viable top-flight league many of us had ever known. Or even had the chance to know.
My initial counter-reaction was to get defensive. I didn’t understand why we all weren’t trying to help this young league we’d all craved for so long. Why weren’t we together? Why did they feel the need to diminish something that they should care deeply about: the development of the game and the establishment of a league of our own that can stand next to any other league in the world?
Today, when I look back on those essays, I have to agree with the critics. I was naive. I was half-blinded by hopefulness for a league I’ve been involved with – as a player, a fan, and a journalist – since its inception in 1996.
But not anymore. My eyes are wide open. And as MLS enters its 18th season – opening weekend is March 2-3 – hopefulness has given way to reality. And the reality is: MLS, our league, has become one of the strongest soccer leagues in the world.
He goes on to make his case, which anyone is free to dispute.
Is MLS “one of the strongest soccer leagues in the world?” To me, the better question is “Is it a legitimate top-tier league for its region?” And of course it is. Even people outside the U.S. and Canada are starting to realize it.
To me, what’s most important about this editorial is the attitude Lalas and the league are demonstrating as we head into the 2013 season. Whatever MLS may be today, no serious critic can legitimately question its long-term sustainability. This isn’t the go-go-booted NASL, perpetually toppling on the brink of some cocaine-addled abyss. Major League Soccer is here to stay, and thanks to its January agreement with United Soccer Leagues, there’s reason to believe that success at the top of North American soccer will begin applying logic and discipline to the rest of the pyramid.
I enjoy watching the top European leagues play on television, but for all that abstract appreciation, even watching great soccer with other fans at Madra Rua pales in comparison to standing in Section 105 with the rest of the Timbers Army — even when the team sucks. The Charleston Battery may never experience the level of passionate fan support found in Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia or Kansas City, but the fan culture we cultivate here can be uniquely our own. My goal with this site is to highlight that continuously emerging local supporters’ culture, wherever and whenever I can find it.
Bottom line: World-class soccer culture already exists in North America — it’s just unevenly distributed. We don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to be proud of it.