Greg Thorn writes:
Everything would change for me in 2007 when my wife and I moved to Kansas City. There, I was finally able to get intrenched in supporting an MLS team and quickly began to cheer for an exciting Wizards forward named Eddie Johnson. My support for Kansas City was soon equaled by my support for my new/old favorite team, Seattle Sounders FC. When I was living in Seattle the Sounders played in the A-League (now USL). Their games were fun to go to but lacked the excitement and star power of a top division professional team. On March 19th, 2009 my soccer fanaticism would reach a new level. I now had what I had waited my teens and twenties for, a local team to root for (Kansas City) and a hometown team to support passionately from afar!Greg had been waiting since 1994 for MLS to come to Portland or Seattle, which he describes as "soccer-crazy" cities. The A-League version of professional club football, which had been around in North America in other forms for awhile, wouldn't do. It took thirteen years for MLS to "discover" thirty thousand fans willing to pay to see live soccer; by that time, Greg was cheering a young Eddie Johnson over in Missouri.
There is something maddening about MLS' haphazard franchising. On the evidence it seems there were many other Gregs in the Northwest waiting patiently for football to come home—enough of them, as Greg proves, that some of them might have been biding their time filling seats at other MLS venues like Kansas City. And the hype over some of the newer league entries might lead one to suspect that maybe there are some North American markets that for whatever reason—history, ideology, demographics—might just be more soccer-friendly than others.
That's why looking at how MLS has grown and contracted since '96 sometimes reminds me of the Gary Bettman ethos in NHL; just push the game around enough to smaller, southern middle markets and the fan culture will soon see how hockey is intrinsically worthy enough a game to go pay to see every week. Which sometimes leads to teams like the Phoenix Coyote's, waiting in a sullen desert courtroom to die.
While the NHL is hardly comparable in terms of spending, history, and the nature of the league as an organization, and while clubs in MLS don't usually die in such a drawn out, public way, the idea is the same. X game should have broad continental appeal, so we should be able to market clubs wherever individual owners are wealthy enough to buy stadiums. Meanwhile strong markets like Seattle and Philadelphia take years to enter the scene.
But then again the long wait for Seattle, Philly and Montreal in MLS could be a good thing. Toronto probably wouldn't have supported the club so strongly had its twenty year olds not had ten years of cheap exposure to European football. Other major markets may have been waiting to get a sense of MLS' long term viability in a harsh North American market. Maybe the previous thirteen years of MLS were a sort of sampler for the some of the more skittish big markets taking a wait and see approach.
I'm not certain, but as more and more new stadiums potentially debut with strong, season long sellout crowds, the league table in five or ten years might begin to more closely reflect North America's footballing geography.