|Can the Galaxy do this three times in row?|
"What's it going to take for Major League Soccer to make it?" I heard it in 1996, when I left my job covering the Yankees for the New York Daily News to work for the MetroStars. I heard it when I went to ESPN The Magazine, every year when we planned our league preview, as it were. I heard it when I walked through the door at the Star-Ledger and made small talk with a few folks.
My stock answer has always been, "It needs to hang around until people stop asking that question."
It's almost there.
I don't want to waste any more energy on the topic because I find it rather lame, because the second part of my stock answer was always, "More is that people who love soccer love MLS."
I love soccer, and I love MLS. And I'm not alone. Saturday night, the league will kick off its 18th season. We'll see if the Galaxy, minus one sex symbol and (momentarily) minus one soul-searcher, can become the first team in league history to win three consecutive MLS Cups.
Bruce Arena nearly pulled off that feat straight out of the gate, winning with DC United in '96 and '97 only to be upset at the Rose Bowl in '98 by the first-year Chicago Fire. Dominic Kinnear and the Houston Dynamo won back-to-back Cups in '06 and '07 and, well, it's hard to fathom, given Kinnear's success, that Houston hasn't won another title since then.
|It's hard for me to root for Red Bull, but easy to root for Petke|
One thing you know has to be gnawing at them is the continued failure of the New York team to get over the hump, both on the field and at the gate. I must admit, I walked out of Giants Stadium eight seasons ago, with the fans calling for my brother's head, and I've rooted against them ever since. As we enter the 2013 season, I feel my anti-NYRB stance softening just a bit, because Mike Petke, their new coach, is such a likeable guy, and I'd like to see a local kid succeed. I'd also like to see fewer empty seats at the Red Bull Arena, the beautiful stadium that rose out of New Jersey wasteland.
I don't root much anymore, truth be told. Just as in baseball, I've dropped allegiances to teams and players to root for good stories, this holds true now in soccer. So, I'll root for teams that put goals on the board, like Frank Yallop's San Jose Earthquakes, who scored 72 a year ago. I'll root for the teams who have the most passionate fans, like Seattle and Portland, because I like to see dedication rewarded. I'll root for American players, not because I'm anti-anybody, but because it's always good to see players who might some day represent the U.S. stepping up and producing.
My biggest challenge now is to convince my two teenage sons to get on board. Both play soccer. Both love soccer. But both have gravitated to the English Premier League. They play in a fantasy league. They turn on the games as soon as they get up on Saturday morning. They have closets full of shirts (Spurs, City, Villa and more), but only have their cousin's old MetroStars jerseys in their MLS collection. Major League Soccer hasn't grabbed them the way the EPL has. We need to work on that.
Like the "What it going to take for MLS to make it?" question, there are many other questions that haven't gone away in the league's first 17 years. Questions about "quality of play" are always thrown around, as if there's some metric to tell you where the league stands compared to others.
The debate is all well and good, but there's no answer to the quality of play question. On any given night, you can turn on a game that is phenomenal. The next night you might turn on a game that has you muttering that the game was just set back 17 years in 90 minutes. This is also true of every other league in the world. I've sat through my share of stinkers in countries other than my own.
But it's the great games that bring you back. I've seen enough of those over the last 17 years to be as excited as ever that another season of MLS is upon us. I stopped asking the questions a long time ago. If you love soccer, I suggest you might want to do the same. It's a waste of energy.