The other day I wrote a column for the Times about Major League Soccer, which stimulated comments on the NYT web site, most reflecting the readers’ knowledge and passion for the sport and the league.
This response only strengthened my point that modern communications – the web and cable TV – have involved American fans with the best soccer in the world, and raised hopes and expectations for MLS.
I’d love to address a few points the readers made:
1. I did not fully represent the fan experience at MLS matches. Excellent comment. I have watched matches on TV and have matches at Red Bull Arena and am well aware that fans have come up with clubs and traditions and chants that can only grow over the years. They have seen the singing and demonstrations of love (and disdain) from the best leagues and want to be just like it (maybe without the nastiness.) The rebellion in New Jersey over the sacking of Mike Petke is one example of loyalty.
2. I did not stress the new stadiums. Another good point. The league has pushed clubs to come up with soccer-specific stadiums, medium sized, so that crowds of 25,000 will seem intimate yet large. Early soccer stadiums were functional but I was in the new Kansas City stadium two years ago and it was state-of-the-art.
3. How could I underestimate Lionel Messi? Fair enough. After watching Messi pick Man City apart, I wrote: “Up to now, I have resisted talk of Lionel Messi among the very greatest players — dismissing him, in a way, as a finisher.” This struck some readers as ludicrous, given his all-time stature in assists as well as goals. Let me add: Messi has earned those statistics by staying with the same club in the same league since he was a kid, but obviously he is a great player. I think I resisted ranking him among Pelé, Cruyff, Maradona, Eusebio, Puskas, Drogba, you name it, because I have seen him limited in some of the biggest World Cup matches. (Not that every great player can win a World Cup; four I mentioned did not.) I did see Didier Drogba carry Chelsea on his broad back in a Champions League final in 2012, and had never seen Messi carry his team the way he did last week. I stand up for my comment – as a mea culpa.
4. I need to subscribe to beIN. My correspondent Joel Berger has virtually ordered me to spring for the upgrade so I can see La Liga. I should. But I am not. My cable bill is huge anyway, and as a humble pensioner I just don’t want it to go any higher. I’ll take my chances watching Champions League and Premiership and World Cup qualifiers.
5. How could you say MLS is “perhaps the eighth- or 10th-best league in the world?” Key word there is “perhaps.” Attendance figures put MLS eighth in the world, but perhaps we can chalk that up to American affluence, American ability to put fannies in seats. (The U.S. still holds the World Cup record, going back to 1994. Somebody remind Sepp Blatter.) After watching Our Lads get burned by Denmark – oh, yeah, leave Nicklas Bendtner alone upfield; the game is almost over, anyway – I’d be willing to concede that a top club in a less-attended league could eat our boys’ lunch. Still, MLS is growing in all ways.
6. You clearly know nothing about soccer. Ouch. A few readers did point out that I wrote a book, “Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer,” that got a lot of attention last year. The paperback edition will be out in a few months, with a new chapter about the 2014 World Cup, which I watched on the tube. I also picked Germany in Cigar Aficionado magazine. (Picked Manuel Neuer to be one of the stars of the Cup; said Spain was worn down.) I know what you are saying: “Dick Tracy!” It is great to be in the electronic age with world soccer fans.