Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MLS's "Tradition" Problem

One of the issues that has gotten tiresome over the years with MLS is the league's incessant need to constantly push recognition of team and league traditions. Tradition is extremely important in soccer and all of the great South American and European clubs have been around close to a hundred years (Santos for instance), if not more (Manchester United). But MLS, now in just its 17th season, has less traditions to tout. There are not really any derbies to be played since only Los Angeles hosts more than a single team. But there are not several London teams or Buenos Aires clubs to challenge each other. There are also relatively few celebrated former players: the Jaime Morenos and Brian McBrides of the world. So MLS is constantly trying to artificially create club cultures.

This issue is apparent once again as Real Salt Lake is seriously considering retiring Coach Jason Kreis's #9 jersey. This number actually does have a prominent role in soccer culture globally, so the fact that the team is thinking about retiring it (or any other number) is really absurd. Retiring jersey is much more closely associated with NFL, where great players' numbers are no longer given to other players. For the Miami Dolphins, there will never be another #13-that honor will always belong now to Dan Marino. But Marino played his entire career in Miami, whereas Kreis's best years (1996-2004) were all in Dallas (91 goals in 247 appearances), not RSL.

Another trend that has grown tiresome, are the preponderance of artificially created rivalries. The term "rivalry" is thrown around my MLS and in MLS press coverage all the time. Before Philadelphia Union had played its first MLS game in 2010, reference to a rivalry with DC United and New York Red Bulls was already commonplace. Perhaps drawing from major college "bowl games" (i.e. the Orange Bowl or the Rose Bowl), the MLS has a preponderance of little recognized rivalry-based cups. For instance, the "Atlantic Cup" which DC United has won 7 times (woot-woot) against the Red Bulls (twice) and the "Trillium Cup" (Columbus Crew vs Toronto FC) which was not invented until 2008.

All this is to speculate on a question: rather than rigging schedules to draw attention, could it be that the side spectacles (mini-cups and marches to stadiums and such) are taking away from what is most important to MLS's fans: enjoyment of their teams. Why not encourage media coverage of the CONCACAF Champions' League or the US Open Cup? The Champions' League winner afterall, would get to play in the FIFA Clubs World Cup and highlight the growth of MLS and American soccer to the world.

Maybe in 2011, it is time to put the gimmicks aside.

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