It was an afternoon in May a couple of years ago. I was topping off a six-pack, but the game I was watching ended and the house was empty so I needed to kill another hour or so. My wife and daughter went to see my in-laws and I got the ok to stay home and “rest” after getting over a bad cold. I flipped through The Plus [ESPN] and stumbled on a Major League Soccer game in progress.
“Why not,” I said to myself. I had heard of MLS but, from what I understood, people “in the know” told me it was one of the lesser professional soccer leagues in the world in terms of talent and overall flow of the game. After five beers, I don’t remember who was playing that day, but I do remember that it was a pretty competitive game and I was entertained.
Since that lazy Sunday in May, my interest in soccer has grown considerably. Here’s why you should care, too.
Professional soccer continues to grow in the United States
The USL Championship, the professional second division in U.S soccer, will begin its 2020 campaign with 35 teams with the additions of San Diego Loyal SC and Miami FC. USL League One, the professional third division, added three new sides by the end of 2019 and USL League Two, the amateur development league in U.S. soccer configuration, added 16 new clubs before the new year.
MLS adds expansion teams every year, with plans to grow into a 30-team league.
Playoffs? You wanna talk about playoffs?
In sports all across America, fans tune into the postseason, when the “best” teams face each other. MLS is no different. The postseason tournament is a familiar and exciting, yet manufactured process of attrition. I enjoy saying each year: “Yeah, they’re on a four-game skid. But, if they go on a two-game run, we got a shot at the sixth seed.”
It’s (only) a 2-hour time commitment
A typical soccer game has two 45-minute halves and a 15-minute halftime. Add pre-game festivities and a bit of stoppage time (time added to each half to account for interruptions in play) and you can be in and out in about 2-3 hours. Although I’ve been conditioned to absorb a 3.5-hour NFL game, as I close in on 40, I’ve noticed my attention span and free time in general getting shorter. In my mind, a significant drop in TV. and attendance time makes me a more efficient sports fan.
Now’s the time to get into MLS
While we’re talking about TV… television ratings for MLS games are horrendous compared to the other pro sports leagues in America. For example, the NHL has a multi-year contract with NBC and, according to SportsPro, viewership for NBC’s pay-television channel, NBCSN, has seen a steady increase over the past three years, averaging 352,000 viewers during the first 15 games of the current season. That is considerably higher than the MLS viewership throughout the year.
But stay with me on this one. This is exactly why you, the casual sports fan, should support MLS and U.S. soccer in general.
There are so many opportunities to get connected with passionate fans, local communities, and pay for decently priced merch! Chances are you can find a professional top division or lower division team in your backyard or just a couple hundred miles down the highway.
Maybe Chicago Fire FC playing host to Toronto FC is not as sexy as Manchester United at Chelsea, but there are plenty of high-quality match-ups in MLS. And don’t worry about the terminology. I still don’t know the difference between what a number 6 does on the field versus a number 8—and I don’t intend to find out.