Hey look! An actual post about football (sort of).
First, I keep forgetting Major League Soccer is pushing this Rivalry Week business, which if they’re going to give it a terrible name, they should at least add “MLS Rivalry Week Brought to You by Gavascon: Gaviscon And It’s Gone.”
Anyway, rather than rotate the derbies (and no, Toronto FC versus Montreal is not a derby, although Toronto FC fans hate Columbus Crew so much we don’t even want them as a local rival) and at least generate one juicy fixture per game day, the league in its wisdom is just cramming it in like Monsieur Creosote. Except it’s not exploding, it’s just kind of whining a bit.
Here are two entirely unrepresentative takes on the last round of MLS games. Here’s Steve Davis:
Crowds were fantastic in Montreal and Seattle. The grounds were full in Utah for Real Salt Lake’s Rocky Mountain rivalry.
On the other hand, plenty of dandy seats were available in Philadelphia (in fairness, a crowd of 15,689 in lousy weather wasn’t bad at PPL Park), New York and Dallas. Same for the game going on right now at the Home Depot Center outside Los Angeles.
Perhaps the season needs to steep a little more before we go biting into all the delicious acrimony and hostility of the league’s chief rivals. Applause to MLS for trying something. This is only the first spin of the Rivalry Week wheel. They deciders will have plenty of opportunity to adjust.
You might ask yourself why this matters. Geoff Gibson has the answer:
New York Red Bulls vs. DC United… 0 – 0. Sporting Kansas City vs. Chicago Fire… 0 – 0. Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers… 1 – 1. These aren’t exactly headline worthy scorelines, but they’re exactly what we got this past Saturday if you bothered to tune in for NBC’s 10 hours of MLS rivalry day coverage (and of course, you at least tuned in for one of the three). A shame because the idea was solid, but the execution just never materialized with regards to on-field excitement.
First, was it solid? Part of the attraction of a league is knowing in theory about the teams that aren’t your own. That’s what TV is for. Mashing all the derbies in one 10-hour day discourages potential viewers from wading into unfamiliar territory. At least in my MLS market, the idea of a Canadian sitting down to watch even DCU v NYRB is like asking a Texan to watch Phil “the Power” Taylor for two hours. Someone will do it. Just no one else.
There is no question that MLS is capable of producing barn-burners. After all, leaky defending can sometimes lead to slap-dash play and horrendous half-way line over-the-top passes leading to one-on-ones with the keepers.
But if the league and its backers honestly think the TV product must be primarily helped by the on-field play and full stadiums, they’re backing the dead horse. Even the best leagues in the world (just marker in the inverted commas if you need to) produce dead weekends where Aston Villa doesn’t make a million hearts sing across the universe with a late goal.
League football is what it is. Often good, sometimes shit, once in a while incredibly exciting. But crossing your fingers and hoping the exciting stuff gets on TV so lot of people who don’t like MLS see it and are converted doesn’t strike me as a mature strategy for audience growth. It’s the rest of it: club culture, the players (and being good here doesn’t count, but being interesting sure does), and knowing more teams than the one you go see in person. That’s a difficult thing to cultivate, but it’s sure better than wringing hands about some bad games and empty seats.