Thursday, September 24, 2009

Are you There MLS? It's Me, Richard

AMSL Hard at Work

It's not often you get honoured with your name in a post title.

How did we get here exactly?

Well, last Sunday morning, as part of my weekend gig writing the Sweeper at, I attempted to reveal what I thought were the underlying ideological fault lines in the on-going salary cap debate in Em El Es between Ben Knight and Fake Sigi.

My one major regret in the piece was heavily insinuating both Ben Knight and Duane Rollins support a slew of measures up to and including promotion/relegation, which they don't. Mea culpa, but my intention was to position lifting cap restrictions at one point (closer to the middle) on a spectrum between two opposing ideological camps, with a European promotion/relegation system on the one extreme end and a return to all American, NASL-style shoot-outs on the other (a cursory stroll through any contentious Big Soccer forum will unearth proponents for either position). I tried to argue the salary cap debate was taking place in the middle of these two ideological extremes in the hope of providing a little more to the reader than a simple prima facie account of the preceding argument, which had been better provided elsewhere.

To his merit, Fake Sigi intelligently critiqued my piece, disagreeing on several key points including the one I responded to above, but then he made the mistake of traveling here in search of half-intelligent MLS reporting, which led to this.

Reading Sigi's flame I got thinking about the state of football writing in North America, from duNord to the 24thminute to MatchFitUSA to Some Canadian Guys (all highly recommended btw). I think we can all agree that the bizarre world of North American soccer, from the Hexagonal to the USL Premier Development league, is a niche interest pretty much completely absent in any meaningful way from mainstream print media in North America. Therefore it's left to a sizable army of internet nerds to fill in the gaps; because it's essentially a free-for-all (lord knows I have no journalistic credentials whatsoever), writers closest and most dedicated to the source tend to hog the mic stand. And, unlike mainstream media outlets, they're only beholden to write about the sport for themselves and fellow NA football enthusiasts who'll share a link or two.

Which is generally a very good thing. The problem—and excuse me while I borrow a few terms from my dusty and yellowing philosophy degree—is that dedicated N. American soccer pedants often confuse positivist claims with normative ones. I challenge you to find someone as aware of the current single entity system and the various issues involving the infeasibility of loosening cap restrictions in MLS as Fake Sigi. But does that intractability therefore mean the notion of changing salary caps should be a priori dismissed completely out hand? Does it dictate the worthiness of the notion on its own merits?

You often see the same thing in debates about what should be done with Canadian Soccer Association. Those who come out of the other end of reams of documents on recommendations for restructuring the CSA, memorizing bullet points and learning the ins and outs of the provincial football fiefdoms in this country, often soften their stance on reform to the point where they begin recommending a task force to go out and bring back another set of recommendations. A thoroughly accurate positivist assessment of the sport morphs into a normative one when people start saying things take time because it's complicated and we should respect the CSA because they're trying hard to make things right.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not always a good idea to leave the pedants to define the terms of the debate about the future of soccer in North America. Sometimes a bit of distance, the cry of a few outside voices, can bring fresh and much-needed perspectives to the debate. That Eurosnob over at the Football Factory doesn't give a toss about whether or not the San Jose stadium gets built and couldn't name more than three players on the Canadian national team. Neither can your little brother playing fullback in his middle school soccer team. But they are part of the mainstream of the sport in America, and as hard and annoying as it is, as North American soccer bloggers are the only ones there to do the dirty job of bringing these lost souls into the Em El Es fold.

Why, you might ask, should I give a shit about someone who doesn't give a shit about MLS? Well, there's always the practical reason of helping to insure the security of the sport in North America by attracting potential supporters. But there's the much more fun reason of gaining an outside perspective on a league that is currently under the purview of a self-selected cadre of internet nerds.

And you're not going to attract anyone new by persisting with an online dick-measuring competition about who can better remember average attendances from NASL's 1984 season. So with that, A More Splendid Life is going to begin with our beginnings. Touching off from my series on Toronto soccer history, for the next few weeks this site is going to include a series of posts re-introducing myself MLS. It's not going to be some definitive history, nor is it going to be an attempt to bring aforementioned outsiders back in the tent.

It will be an error-ridden series of impressions about the league's origins, where it might be headed, and the football cultures it has spawned. It will be written from the perspective of a North American football outsider, which I still consider myself to be, so it may contain a few points you might disagree with and possibly some blatant factual errors too. Please feel free to comment leave comments and corrections as I go along.


canadiansoccerblog said...

You got honoured with a name and a photo! You're definitely on their radar now!

Seriously though, good post. To avoid any future confusion about the general tenor of your work, though, consider our approach: constant self-references about ineptitude and lack of knowledge.

The last paragraph of this post is a good start. Just remember the Some Canadian Guys motto: "highly entertaining, somewhat informative".


Jason Davis said...

Excellent idea for a post series. I can't wait.

Duane Rollins said...

"And you're not going to attract anyone new by persisting with an online dick-measuring competition about who can better remember average attendances from NASL's 1984 season."

I'm confident that this is the only place in the world where you could ever possibly read a sentence like that.

Don't ever change Richard.