Abu Zilif writes:
MLS made me a soccer fan. I stopped hating soccer because I got to experience the World Cup while I was traveling in Germany, but without MLS I would have become one of those people who follow the USMNT like they follow Michael Phelps every four years. I got to come home, settle into my normal life, and have a place where I could go and chant and sing and do all the things I'd seen in Germany while actually having a stake in the game. That was the most important part. MLS allows you to be a real fan, to have a home stadium and a chance to smell the smoke and have a handshake with a player, and that's all the difference in the world.Yesterday, in part to deal with the stress of making last minute applications to music schools in London, I went on a walk and listened to the It's Called Football podcast (subscribe in iTunes if you haven't already) featuring an interview with Philadelphia Union Prez Tom Veit. Now the Union have gotten some flak recently for being behind schedule on a number of matters, most importantly stadium construction, and Tom helped put some of those fears to rest by focusing on how the Union will provide the Philadelphia footballing community, led prominently by supporters group the Sons of Ben, a proper footballing atmosphere.
Atmosphere. What is amazing to me is how the Union have already sold seven thousand season tickets in advance of a single signed player. In a league like MLS, clubs are often nothing more than the outlet for a long pent up desire to join the rest of the world in the experience of watching live football. I went on a visit to England over Christmas 2006 and went to see Aston Villa play Charlton at the Valley, followed by Colchester City at QPR. These were pretty milquetoast fixtures, but they were my first proper live club matches. I will never forget the feeling of rounding the corner in East London to see the Valley tucked in behind some row housing, the feeling of walking with fellow supporters to the ground, the songs, the booze, the betting, the anger, the excitement, the hilarity of it all. They were both dreadful fixtures on the whole, but it didn't matter. When I came home I bought my TFC season ticket package pretty much as soon as I could, not knowing what to expect.
Zilif hits the nail on the head: "MLS allows you to be a real fan, to have a home stadium and a chance to smell the smoke and have a handshake with a player, and that's all the difference in the world." Some would say that building healthy, competitive clubs is the only way to secure long term support—fans won't simply savour the live game experience per se forever. But remember: MLS is young. League football had been around for twenty plus years in England before fans started arriving in trainloads in the early 20th century, often arriving at grounds without knowing at all what they were about to see, not caring where Bolton or Sheffield was in the league table.
Players came and went, trophies won and lost, but the ground was the gathering place, the spiritual home for the club and its supporters, the meeting place for a community of friends otherwise separated by geography, class, and ethnic background. It's my belief too in MLS' early phase, getting the ground right is crucial. Let's hope Toronto city council remembers that today when they vote on installing grass at BMO Field.
Over the next couple of weeks, AMSL will be examining Major League Soccer through a series of anecdotes, stories, and opinions, to help get a better sense of where the league could or should be headed in future. Please see this post for an idea of what I'm after, and please do send in something either to amoresplendidlife[at]gmail.com or in the comments section below.