I tend to have a hard time agreeing on most topics with so-called MLS "experts." Don't even get me started on the propaganda machine that is MLSsoccer.com or MLS Extratime Radio; which features three men who know little about soccer and their analysis either is contradictory from week to week, or it's based around the statement that a player or team sucks. It is the podcasts and blogs with MLS in the titled that continually say and post items that drive me crazy. This past weekend I listened to MLS Soccer Talk podcast, which is a decent soccer pod; the list of my favourites are at the bottom of this blog. They brought up a topic that has been discussed to death that many have a short-sighted view of.
I'm talking about the combined topic of DP/attendance/TV ratings/Americans caring about MLS. So many are under the impression that Americans will only come out to MLS matches when known players, such as a DP, are on the pitch. I am so frustrated with this view. Only one player has had the star power to bring people out due to his DP status, and of course that was David Beckham. But that fade has obviously worn off, and fans aren't coming out to see DAVID BECKHAM and the LA Galaxy play random MLS teams anymore. I feel like MLS, teams and "experts" treat the DP like pro wrestling: It's a show, it's not real but people sometimes get hurt. Well, it's entertainment, but it's a game and it means so much more than that to many people around the world. Including many Americans and other who follow MLS. Every season we see MLS teams take time out of their busy schedules to play ridiculous friendlies against European, Mexican and South American teams. These games tend to pack in the fans and they come to watch these teams because they know the soccer will be of a high quality.
My argument is that Americans want winners and if that means not having a DP than they're happy to save the money. A lot of the people who cry out for a DP don't seem to understand in soccer it takes more than one player. Just look at LA Galaxy in Beckham's first and second season in MLS. They wore awful until they were able to bring in better quality in other positions; most notably in defense.
Other than LA Galaxy no other team has seen a solid rise in attendance figures and notoriety over a season. Yes, Blanco helped Chicago Fire reach the Hispanic market they so longed for, and Thierry Henry has made a few more people realize New York still has an MLS team. But Sporting KC, DC United, Houston Dynamo, San Jose and FC Dallas never saw spikes in attendance like was hoped for and possibly assumed. Houston, DC and Dallas have all seen better days while having winning teams and reaching MLS Cup.
We have seen spikes in attendance when teams have challenged for league honors. This happened in Salt Lake City over the past two seasons as they became a bigger presence in the league. Even Columbus was able to draw more during their MLS Cup run and the following season.
In Toronto, we have seen empty seats and less people attending matches due to the failures on the pitch of TFC. They have some exciting players, okay may be one or two, but they featured two DPs last season. But the supporters, no matter how hardcore they are, have stopped coming to watch dire, losing soccer.
With the plethora of sports to watch in America and on TV it's not hard for Americans to over look MLS during the season, whether it's on TV or in the stadiums. But by putting a winning team on the pitch and creating a winning atmosphere with quality-all around players teams can draw fans. Americans who watch European leagues and deride MLS don't do it because of the star names, but they deride it because of the quality of teams and play. You can't improve the league with one superstar on a team, but with 11 quality players on each team. DPs are a short-term fix to a long-term problem. To steal a phrase from the south, it's putting lipstick on a pig. Meaning teams are signing DPs and putting them in shit squads.
There is promise, though, lets not be too negative. We are seeing teams work wisely with their DPs. Salt Lake has signed Alvaro Saborio and FC Dallas is trying to add David Ferreria to DP deals. Not because they're superstars, but as a reward for their fantastic play over the past season. To be honest, there has been so much improvement in MLS over the past three years, however, there's still so much room for improvement.
If MLS puts quality, winning teams on the pitch then you'll see people in the seats. It's not rocket science, so why is MLS making it more difficult than it is.