For the past two days, The Kin of Fish has recounted this Summer of Soccer, the greatest, most visible season the beautiful game has had in the US, perhaps ever. This week, we've looked at the US Confederations Cup run, and the buzz around David Beckham's return to MLS. Today, with just hours to go before the US Men's National Team tries to get its first win ever at Mexico's Azteca Stadium, we look at the amazing support of Euro Club friendies that ended just last week.
Part 3: Big Clubs, Big Crowds
Despite the rants of the few remaining soccer haters in the national sports media, America is and has been a soccer nation for years. The US is a nation of immigrants, and millions of soccer-loving Americans with digital cable or internet access can watch dozens of top-flight soccer matches from Europe and South America on a weekly basis.
It's those fans than MLS has been trying (mostly unsuccessfully) trying to convert, fans who ignore their local sides in favor of the top flight leagues from overseas. In July and August, those superclubs (Sorry Alexi) once again filled stadiums from coast to coast, putting MLS crowds to shame.
Jul 18th: Seattle WA, Seattle 0-2 Chelsea: 65,289 (sellout)
Jul 19th: Stanford CA, Club America pks 1-1 Chelsea: 31,026
Jul 19th: Carson CA, Los Angeles 2-2 Milan: 27,000 (sellout)
Jul 21st: Pasadena CA, Chelsea 2-0 Inter: 81,244
Jul 22nd: Atlanta, GA, Club America 2-1 Milan: 53,600
Jul 24th: Baltimore MD, Chelsea 2-1 Milan: 71,000 (sellout)
Jul 26th: Foxboro MA, Inter 2-1 Milan: 42,531
Jul 26th: Arlington TX, Chelsea 2-0 Club America: 57,229
Aug 1st: Pasadena CA: Los Angeles 1-2 Barcelona: 93,137
Aug 5th: Seattle WA, Seattle 0-4 Barcelona: 66,848 (sellout)
Aug 7th: Toronto ONT: Toronto FC 1-5 Real Madrid: 22,089 (sellout)
Aug 9th: Landover MD: DC United 0-3 Real Madrid: 72,368
No wonder a non-soccer pal of mine who follows me on Twitter asked, "Is there futbol on every single night?"
What do these sparkling attendances for top-flight soccer clubs tell us? Certainly there's an massive desire to see these sides in the US, regardless of what any mainstream media outlet will tell you. What's less clear is the appetite for supporting teams that many soccer fans view as less-than-major league, on a weekly basis.
Now some franchises (Seattle, Toronto, LA, DC, possibly Salt Lake) have seemingly found the magic formula to bind the teams to their communities and generate sizeable crowds even in adverse weather conditions. Clearly, many clubs like Dallas, New England, Colorado, and my horrendous New York Red Bulls have lost the scent, bordering on irrelevancy in their markets, in many cases ignored by the local sports media that "covers" them.
Now, MLS will never be the NFL. Never. But as the league is negotiating with its players' union over a new collective bargaining agreement, and with all the expansion fee money that's rolled in over the last few years (with more to come), now is the time to raise the salary cap. Signing some decent European or South American talent will be key to attract those... dare I say it... Eurosnobs to kick the MLS tires once again.
In the early days of the league, international stars like Valderrama and Etcheverry, along with the top American players of the day (Ramos, Wynalda, Harkes, Lalas) gave the league instant credibility. In 2009 there are many fewer international stars, and lots of young poorly-paid Yanks looking to impress and move to Europe. Only with an increased investment in the on-field product will MLS successfully leverage the Summer of Soccer league-wide in terms of generating attendance, growing television ratings, and signing more sponsors in this down economy.
And about that match...
Yes, the US has never won at the Azteca, or within Mexican borders. Yes, our boys should have lots of confidence after their Confed Cup performance. Yes, Landon Donovan is in TIP TOP FORM. Still, if you can't breathe, you can't breathe. I'm hoping for a point today, but won't be down if the Yanks lose to Mexico. Two winnable home games (v. El Salvador and Costa Rica) should mean six more points to add to the US' current ten. We're in great position to make our sixth straight World Cup Finals, win, lose, or draw at 4p ET. My prediction: a 1-1 draw, with Dos Santos and Davies finding the net.