|For a first look, this was pretty awful|
It was in 1998 that I went from working for the MetroStars (I was that club's original PR director) to working for ESPN The Magazine. My two years with the MetroStars were pretty frustrating, mostly because we were short-staffed and overworked and we played in Giants Stadium. And, I spent the better part of my days with the club trying to convince people to cover us.
It was humorous, at times. At least it was humorous in the rearview mirror. I remember a reporter from El Diario (the New York Spanish-language daily) telling me the paper wanted to travel with us. I was thrilled, until I found out that the reporter thought we'd pick up his travel expenses.
I remember papers assigning older desk guys to our team. They'd call the day before a game and ask if I could gather some quotes for them for their previews. I'd say, "How about I get you Tab Ramos or Tony Meola or Peter Vermes on the phone and you can ask the questions?"
The usual reply was, "No, you can just get me a few quotes."
I was a journalist, well, at least at the time I was a former journalist, and it infuriated me.
I remember we traveled to Kansas City in 1996 for a game with playoff implications. Tab got a red card when he raced the length of the field to get in the ref's face. We lost the game and the team was rightly livid with Tab, who stood in the lockerroom after the game, ready to fall on his own sword before the press. Tab was ready, willing and able to take the blame for what he'd done.
The problem was the one writer assigned to cover the team did not bother to talk to him. In the airport, I couldn't help myself. I called the editor of the paper and asked, "Did your writer talk to Tab? Because that's kind of the story tonight." When the editor said, "No, I don't see any quotes from Tab."
I told the editor that it wasn't too late, that I was at the airport with the writer and would arrange an airport terminal interview. I told Tab to go talk to the writer, which Tab did. I think the writer was actually mad at me, because he had to re-write his story. Or at least he had to add quotes to it.
So when I went to The Mag, I basically took it upon myself to cover the league the way I felt it needed to be covered, replete with rumors and lockerroom buzz and controversy. I did it on-line, in a weekly column (they had not yet come up with the word "blog") called "The Boot Room."
I made friends and enemies around the league. I even got into a few pretty good fights with my brother (he once interrupted a round of golf to yell at me about writing that his goalkeeper Jonny Walker had "made a meal out of" a foul).
|I thought Jonny was faking|
I was brutal on television, oh well. I think the hardcore fans liked it. That was my first attempt to "fix" MLS. Later on, at the Mag, I called for the entire league to re-brand. Going back to my days with the MetroStars, I felt MLS got it wrong to start, with goofy uniforms and even goofier team names and logos/badges/etc. I actually remember getting into pretty loud arguments with folks at the MetroStars.
"You get the chance to create something iconic, like the Yankees interlocking 'NY' and we come up with this (the original MetroStars crest)?" I was told it was "cool" basically because Nike had designed it. Now, I love Nike as much as the next guy. But let the record snow that none of the original Nike-inspired MLS logos from 1996 are still around. None. Of course, adidas outfits the whole league now, but that's beside the point.
I've also criticized the league's playoff various playoff formats. I've argued not for things like single-table or promotion-relegation, but simply for making the regular season conference championships put a team on the cusp of playing in MLS Cup. I basically want the winners of the regular season conference championships to host a one-game semifinal. Follow me?
So, I've been that guy. However, there's a "but..."
|Don't get me started|
I've been that guy, but I've always been critical of MLS because I love the league and everything about it. And, truth be told, in the 16 years that have gone by since I walked away from the MetroStars, MLS has done things more incredible than I would have ever thought possible. The stadiums, the fans, the sights and sounds of MLS games, have come a long way.
I've never bashed the "level of play" because I don't consider myself "expert enough" to criticize things like the level of play. I mean, I watch as much English Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga as the next guy, and I see great games and I see crap games. How's that for analysis?
But MLS, as much as I've tried to "fix" it, is my league. Even the last two years, as I was pushed back into baseball full-time, I'm always sitting down with my coffee in the morning to watch the highlight packages. On the nights when I wasn't working at a ballpark, I was often watching MLS games.
Oh yeah, did I mention that a lot of reporters are getting after it these days? From the guys who've been there since the beginning like Michael Lewis and Steven Goff, to a cast of young and hungry reporters who are bringing it on a daily (even hourly) basis. Makes my heart feel good.
The 18th season of MLS starts this weekend.
Obviously, I realize at this point the league doesn't need much fixing. Just don't hate me for trying.
It's kind of who I am.