MLS: Power Ranking the 5 Things MLS Fans Should Be Thankful for on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a time where millions of Americans consume an average of 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat in one serving.
Families across a multitude of cultures gather around the table with close and distant family members, reminding each other of the invaluable things in life they are thankful for.
Now maybe it is because of the inferiority complex we share as a fanbase, but the MLS community is a small family of its own. No matter where your allegiance lies, we all share one common mission.
In short, it is a feasible big-picture aspiration: Propelling an American soccer league to the forefront of a crowded sports market.
So before we give thanks for the obvious things in life—family, friends and health—let us look at the five things MLS fans should be thankful for on Thanksgiving.
5. Be Thankful for Marketable Kits
Depicted here is quite possibly the greatest atrocity ever fashioned in the history of soccer.
The flamboyant, loose-fitting kits of MLS’ 10 original franchises were the soccer equivalent of a pair of Zubaz pants—the baggy, zebra-striped monstrosities that took America by storm in the early '90s.
As if telling your friends that you are an avid supporter of an American soccer league wasn't hard enough, try doing it while wearing a gigantic, fire-breathing horse in the middle of your shirt, a la Dallas Burn.
Fast forward to 2012. The MLS boasts some of the more elegant, tasteful and fashionable kits in the world of soccer.
True, there are still a few eyesores (FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders). But MLS has done a commendable job of fielding a marketable product.
While it is inconceivable to believe it can compete with the jersey sales of the NFL, MLB and NBA, it is even more preposterous to believe MLS can do it while marketing the black, red, teal and gold of the LA Galaxy.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn't be caught dead in that San Jose Clash kit (this coming from a man that has to proudly roam the streets of New York in a Red Bulls jersey).
As you gather around the table with your family today—hopefully while donning the dignified colors of a team like Real Salt Lake—be thankful that you are no longer subjected to the hideous kits of the Kansas City Wiz.
4. Be Thankful for Increased Popularity
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As stated earlier in this article, every MLS fan has the aspiration of propelling the league to the forefront of a crowded American sports market.
Although it is a process, be thankful it is a process that is steadily progressing.
MLS has only been in existence for 17 years. Although it is a mere infant when compared to Major League Baseball (founded 1869) and the NFL (founded 1920), it continues to show moderate growth year after year.
In 2011, MLS (17,872) narrowly surpassed the NBA (17,323) and NHL (17,132) as the third most-attended league in America.
As for 2012, MLS set a new attendance record, averaging 18,807 attendees per match. It is now the seventh-most attended soccer league on the planet—ahead of Ligue 1 (France) and Eredivisie (Netherlands).
However skewed or misrepresented those numbers are perceived to be, the fact remains that 18,807 people attended an MLS match on average.
Considering MLS is unjustifiably labeled as nothing more than a second-tier league, those are impressive numbers.
In years past, the occasional match could be seen on ESPN and FOX Soccer, but the three-year media rights agreement between MLS and NBCSports increased the league's visibility.
That agreement, coupled with NBCSports’ monumental decision to purchase the rights to the Barclay’s Premier League, will only allow the league's visibility to increase even further.
While it does not carry the glaring television ratings of the NFL, the 2012 MLS season saw a 12 percent increase in viewership on ESPN.
When compared to Fox Soccer's coverage of MLS in 2011, NBCSports increased MLS' viewership by 78 percent in its first contractual year.
It will not happen overnight, for not even Rome (or in this case, the NFL) was built in a day.
Be thankful that you are about to be a part of something great and that your loyalty was present since the beginning.
3. Be Thankful for Soccer-Specific Stadiums
No, that ball is not out of bounds.
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As captivating as the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake was, watching the match on top of football markings left the MLS fanbase exasperated and irritable.
Although in Seattle’s defense, that first leg was an anomaly.
MLS has come a long way since its inception. With the exception of a couple of teams, franchises are no longer doomed to rent out half-occupied football stadiums.
(As for the Sounders, when you can fill an NFL stadium and average 43,144 fans per match, you do not need a soccer stadium. You already have a cathedral.)
Since the Columbus Crew opened its soccer-specific stadium in 1999, a total of 12 stadiums have been constructed and opened for MLS teams.
As much as the Red Bulls are criticized for their attendance record, I can tell you from personal experience that Red Bull Arena is the most breath-taking structure I have ever set foot in.
From Livestrong Sporting Park to Jeld-Wen Field, these soccer-specific stadiums create a hostile environment worthy of hosting the beautiful game.
With a new stadium to open for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2014, and the possibility of another cathedral in New York City, the era of soccer in America finally has the habitation to nurse the progression of MLS.
Be thankful that a brilliant strike just outside the box can no longer be misconstrued as a 35-yard field goal.
2. Be Thankful for a Playoff System
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This will upset the football purists of the world.
The battle between the single-table format and a playoff system encapsulates the differences between European football and American soccer.
The truth is, Americans love excitement, drama and underdogs persevering against all odds—the three qualities that embody a playoff system.
While there is nothing wrong with the single-table format, there is no place for it in MLS. There is no joy in watching a team win a title weeks before the season is over.
As seen in the lack of interest in international friendlies and the NFL preseason (a sentiment I do not share), we as Americans generally struggle to understand the necessity to play meaningless games.
True, the current playoff system in MLS is flawed and requires further modification. But that should not imply that the single-table format would be better suited for MLS.
I said it before and I will say it again, it is not the responsibility of MLS to mirror the European approach.
The playoff system has been a mainstay of the American sports culture, and just because traditional leagues are tied to decades of tradition, that does not mean MLS must adopt those traditions.
Had the single-table format been in place, the San Jose Earthquakes would have been crowned champions two weeks before the end of the regular season.
Be thankful that was not the case.
1. Be Thankful for a League That Is Willing to Adapt
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Last week, as I searched for some form of live soccer entertainment, I came across a Long Island high school playoff match between Hicksville and Massapequa.
Much to my surprise, I realized that the match was utilizing the dreaded countdown clock.
Then it hit me. MLS was no better during its inaugural season in 1996.
The countdown clock and use of shootouts to resolve tie games personified the over-Americanization of soccer. The deviations left many fans alienated and portrayed MLS as more of a gimmick than a credible soccer league.
The decision to eliminate the aforementioned deviations after 1999 highlights the one thing MLS fans should be thankful for on Thanksgiving—a league that is willing to adapt and correct its mistakes.
Amongst baseball purists, the 100+ years of history in MLB is touted as a prestigious trademark and not the putrescent detriment it has been in the modern era of sports.
What is wrong with having increased instant replay in baseball?
Unlike MLB, the NFL has embraced and adapted to the modern era. The result: A multi-billion dollar industry that dominates American sports.
MLB, however, has only seen a decrease in its popularity.
Being able to humbly admit mistakes and correct them is an invaluable attribute every league must have. It is the one attribute that benefits the fanbase the most.
While it would be nice to have some consistency in MLS, it would only be welcomed when matters are as close to perfect as possible.
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