SANDY UT - SEPTEMBER 25: Fans of Real Salt Lake cheer during a game against the Colorado Rapids during the second half of an MLS soccer game September 25 2010 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Utah. Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids played to a 1-1 tie. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
I, like most Colorado Rapids fans, will not be rooting for Real Salt Lake to continue forward in the CONCACAF Champions League tonight during their game against Costa Rican club Saprissa. You can attribute that simply to the fact that I'm a Rapids fan and rarely will you find me rooting for Salt Lake to win anything. That's just how rivalries work. Am I an asshole for doing so? I don't like to think so, but apparently the various MLS fans around the league - specifically the louder ones on twitter - have a different perspective. It's a perspective of Country over Club.
Club over Country vs. Country over Club has been a debate long held by various football fans all over the world in various leagues, but is this really a true case where the phrase is applicable?
I would argue that no, this isn't a comparable situation to... well, anything in the world. Were Arsenal fans today rooting for Spurs in the UEFA Quarterfinals so that the EPL would be better represented? If there were, I didn't meet any of them. I can't say I've ever seen an Argentinian rooting for Brazil to win the World Cup just so South America would be better represented. As a Syracuse fan I sure as hell didn't want UCONN winning the championship game in the NCAA last night, Big East pride be damned. To me saying that you have to root for Real Salt Lake in a competition so that the league gets better press might as well be saying that if you're American, you should be rooting for Fulham or Everton to win the EPL simply so Clint Dempsey or Tim Howard will get more press world-wide and better represent the country as a whole. So far I haven't even heard a reason better than "Because we're in America, dangit!" to give a rooting interest to the boys across the mountains.
Even dumber is the 'support the league!' argument. If Toronto FC was the team who made it to the semi-finals against Saprissa, do you honestly think most of the people in America would be cheering as hard for a win? How about the Vancouver Whitecaps? If RSL falters today and the Caps manage to sneak into the finals a few years later by some miracle, would them being the first MLS team to make the CCL final really get you as thrilled? Something tells me the answer would be no. Why limit your options to only American teams if the entire idea is just supporting the league? I wouldn't be rooting for the MLS squad to win this regardless of them being RSL unless it was my Colorado Rapids who made it to the semis. I wouldn't be rooting for Columbus, I wouldn't be rooting for Los Angeles, I certainly won't be rooting for Real Salt Lake. I don't want an MLS team to win the CCL just for the sake of the league winning the CCL, I want my team winning because they're my team. A hard concept to swallow for some, I suppose.
MLS fans seem to think that this is a big coup for MLS, but what would a win tonight for RSL accomplish? Would it bring new talent to the league when the big names of the game notice that an MLS team won a semi-final game of one of the weaker Champions Leagues around the world? I doubt it. Would Mexican or Costa Rican fans start following MLS by the thousands? Doubtful. Even with a win tonight Real Salt Lake would still need to beat someone in the final. Perhaps we can start talking about the implications for what it means to the league when they're actually in the final, lest we all start looking like Daniel Hernandez. (What day was the MLS Cup final again, Daniel?)
So no, this is not a club vs. country argument. And if you still seriously think it is, perhaps you should try asking yourself... if you were a Portland fan, if you would want Seattle winning the CCL match? The other way around perhaps? I'm sure if you were a Chivas fan you would be cheering your head off for the Galaxy, right? Something tells me that you wouldn't be quite so quick to cry into your bedsheets about somebody not rooting for an MLS squad winning a game BEFORE the final. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty much 100% sure that Real Salt Lake will be a finalist in this year's CCL despite the fact that they're going into one of the toughest stadiums to play in North America. A 2-0 lead should be enough to keep RSL afloat, even if they wind up losing to the tune of 2-1. There is no reason that I've yet to hear to convince me that I should simply drop my team affiliation to root for the biggest rival of my club, 'Country' be damned. Real Salt Lake does not represent me, nor does it represent any of you, no matter how much you try and live vicariously through them. This isn't about country, RSL would just love you to think it was.
Perhaps I'm just not a patriot. You know, unlike your average American Barcelona bandwagoner.