The 24th Minute- My MLS Journey Continues

It has been a few days since I admitted my football snobbery may have caused me to prematurely dismiss Major League Soccer as unwatchable. Therefore I have decided to educate and immerse myself in the MLS and I feel like I have already learnt so much. Barely minutes of viewing MLS highlights led me to the realisation of something quite magical. Major League Soccer plays host to a whole list of footballers who have tried and failed to make it in England. The sort of players who made every supporter’s heart sink each time they were fortunate enough to get near the ball. At first listening, this might not sound like a glowing endorsement of Major League Soccer. However I have found there is a certain glory in witnessing bad players move to bad leagues in the hope they can live the dream or at least find their level. Colorado Rapids striker Caleb Folan is a wonderful example of just this. Having failed to impress at Hull City, Folan thought why not attempt to crack the MLS. He shouldn’t have bothered.

However there is much, much more to the MLS than dire British players enjoying their retirement in the States. If you are a football fan who (like me) adores reeling off pointless statistics that almost nobody cares about then you have died and gone to average football heaven. The MLS and its fans love statistics. Commentators roll out numbers without even explaining what they relate to. Form seems only to exist in numerical form. It is rather wonderful. I could say Houston Dynamo’s record is 8-3-3 and people would know exactly what I am talking about, it’s as if words might one day become redundant in Major League Soccer.

Now I hope MLS fans don’t think I am trying to mock or disparage their League because that is definitely not my intention. However what they must admit is that Major League Soccer is completely and utterly mental. In no other league would Juan Pablo Angel score for fun or Luke Rodgers (a former Port Vale striker) partner Thierry Henry upfront?! It is bizarre yet fascinatingly intriguing.

Talking of intrigue the MLS and its brief history is crammed full of amusing little details that draw me further and further into its circus. Take my new adopted team Toronto FC. Any guesses on who scored the clubs first ever competitive goal? Why it is former Millwall and Preston striker Danny Dichio of course!  It turns out Toronto FC were founded just five years ago and Dichio is now a bit of a cult hero for the clubs supporters. In fact in honour of that landmark goal Toronto fans now sing a Danny Dichio chant in the 24th minute of every match! Major League Soccer is honestly a secret garden full of weird and wonderful football facts and I have found the way in.

As previously discussed we have established buying and hiring former European players doesn’t guarantee MLS success, quite the opposite in fact. My early research suggests that the accomplished teams seem to have more American players than European. Top of the Eastern Conference are Columbus Crew who don’t have a single European on their books. Consequently U.S.A’s national team seems to have an exciting future with Twenty-three year old New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream, San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski and Brek Shea are just three of the U.S.A’s big MLS talents.

I am yet to watch my new “local” side Toronto FC in action but do not have much longer to wait. They play Columbus Crew on September 10th who by lucky coincidence are Toronto’s big rivals. The Reds have never beaten Columbus Crew in their five year history but I have an emerging good feeling that my first game as a “TFC” fan will also be their first win over “The Crew”.



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7 responses to “The 24th Minute- My MLS Journey Continues

  1. Ryan

    Read the blog. I think what is important to realize here, is FINALLY North America is starting to build a foundation to join the world’s greatest game. Vancouver Whitecaps now have a U-14 Squad, trying to develop Canadian talent, and TFC is already starting (JUST) to field players from their farm system. In 10-15 years, you might see something REALLY surprising…people are surprised at how good the Japanese and Korean leagues are?

    Well with MLS starting to become more and more successful, the dream is, in 10-15 years we won’t need 2nd rate European talent (as much) because we finally have that system in place to develop our own. Hopefully our international sides will improve.

    As for stats? Ummm…you think we have mind numbing stats for soccer? (We call it soccer by the way, so as not to confuse it with what you refer to as American Football, which we call just football). Try watching how we blast stats at football, hockey, basketball or ESPECIALLY baseball. Most sports nuts in North America think soccer doesn’t have ENOUGH stats to tell us which player is better than which.

    In fact, it’s almost a valid point…under your system, truthfully, the only players that get attention are goal scorers. And if you didn’t score a goal as a striker, clearly you had a crap game. Not necessarily so once North America analyzes you! You’ll find 10 years from now, our statisticians will be bombing over how many giveaways, takeaways, successful pass percentage, percentage of passes that are long vs short…successful through balls…all that stuff will be available for even third league teams.

    You don’t believe me? If MLS actually becomes successful (which it isn’t yet, it’s still a dream)…you wait, trust me. Everything I said will come to pass.

    And if it isn’t successful? Well then it will remain as it is. Largely ignored on average because people are too busy obsessing over Super Bowl Sunday. Because in America, THAT is football.

  2. Helsinki Gooner

    Read the post – gotta say it had me chuckling – “In no other league would Juan Pablo Angel score for fun or Luke Rodgers partner Thierry Henry”…that sums up the MLS really, at least in terms of the standard of play. Like Ryan said, I’d expect that to improve, but it’ll take time – in the meantime, the Danny Dichio’s and Eric Hassli’s of the world will be the big import players – and will do well, which will help the league with developing a solid fan base.

    The statistics bit is also pretty funny – it’s just a north american thing…they have a good number of stats in the prem too(apparently Denilson from Arsenal had some of the best opta-stats in the league – but anyone watching would tell you otherwise), but people just don’t obsess over them. I disagree with Ryan on this point – the stats do say something, but don’t tell the whole story as to how the game went, or how someone played. I think it’s just a cultural thing – with baseball being the supreme example, of how everything is based on the individual rather than collective team – which goes well for baseball, not so well for football (soccer, if you must).

    But i find it is this cultural difference that will be the biggest challenge for europeans to really find interest in MLS – i mean, the teams aren’t clubs as much as they’re franchises – you can’t get promoted or relegated. Getting back to statistics, the problem, imo, is that the commentators in particular apply the north american culture to a non-north american sport, ie blabbing on about stats instead of discussing/describing the play that is happening, making it painful to listen to…

    I’m from Vancouver, and a Whitecaps supporter, and i understand it’ll take time till the MLS is successful enough to not need retirement age stars, and younger nearly-men – and i sincerely hope it does. but in the meantime, maybe the game is too different to adequately compare to England?

  3. The Doctor

    Well, it is admirable in you’re quest too alert you’reself and other Europeans you have to understand that everything in the MLS has to do with American sports. For example stats, since baseball was the pastime in the early 1900’s, are a big part of what we judge our players on in American sports, football, Basketball, baseball and hockey. In America, if were talking about sports with friends, we real off endless amounts of stats, to prove our point, or to discuss how good a player is. That must be a cultural difference but in MLS and most american sports it is huge. So, get used to it. The one thing you’ll notice about American fans and MLS is that we hate when foriengners speak negatively on our league. More over we hate when forigners, come over too our league, and think of it as a retirement check. David Beckham, who was suppose to bring soccer to popular culture relevance, has been ripped, and critisized more than any other player in the league, for his loan spells, and for the first four years, lacadasical play, but I will say this year he has been one of the best players in the league, because for whatever reasons he looks like he was trying. And if you remember Juan Pablo Angel, did score goals for fun his first yeart at Aston Villa 20+ goals if I remember right, and he only did that his first two years here when he was younger, this year he can’t buy a goal, and last year he scored goals, but that was aided by being his teams penalty taker. Players like Lothaur Matteus, and other European players who come over to just get a last paycheck our heavily critisized by fans and media. Theirry Henrry, even though one of the league leaders in scoring is heavily critisized for what seems like lack of effort and disinterst. We expect that if you come over here for a big paycheck you at least have a decent work rate. Also, a big point that you pointed out is Americans tend to do best here. MLS fans are very protective almost of American players and American coaches and would rather have our own players and coaches here than foreingners. Foreign coaches especailly or highly crtisized and foriegn players you will realize or overly critisized by american broadcasters, and much more so critisized if they make a mistake then an american makes the same mistake later in the game the forigner will be much more critisized for it. I sometimes feel Americans are xenophobic and don’t get it, and would much rather have Americans in Europe like Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Jozy Altidore playing in MLS, than in Europe, even though the coaching and level of play over there is much better and more conducive to their growth as players. Another point you mention is stadium naming rights recognition, this is the way it is in all American sports, it start 15-20 years ago and now every stadium in every American sports league is named, after a major coproration, and Crew Stadium is one of the few in all American sports that doesn’t have a naming right. I expect this unfortunately for you to be incorporated in Europe soon, if not already as Aresenal stadium is the Emirates and Boltons is the Reebok. Unfortunately, owners are greedy and coportations pay millions of dollars to have their names on stadia, and I don’t like this either. But thats American sports business for you, no one likes it.

  4. Jonathan H.

    What annoys me is that you take umbrage with the fact that most Stadiums here have a corporate sponsor, as if it’s a particularly American form of greed and corporatism, when it is foreign football teams like those in the Premiership that have corporate logos like 188 Bet and Aviva across their shirts. In fact, MLS tried to go without them for their first few years but just couldn’t afford to do it.

    In no other major American sports league do they have sponsors on their uniforms for all to see. Stadium sponsorships are much, much less overt, and in fact I can name more shirt sponsors for Premier League teams than I can for Stadium sponsors for NFL teams, and I watch a lot more NFL than EPL.

    This seems like an interesting topic for a blog, and I wish you great luck (and will probably read again soon), but don’t let your bias get in the way of your editorializing. I think it would harm your endeavor if you trot out the same lame arguments or misconceptions that American soccer fans deal with too often from foreign observers.

    By the way, did you know Soccer comes from the English abbreviation for ASOCCiation Football? The fact is, we had our own code of football (gridiron) popularly entrenched by the time football started taking off, so why would we call two different sports by the same name? They do the same thing in Canada and Australia too, so it’s not like it has anything to do with being American. This is by far the most tiring thing to hear as an American football fan, because it comes across as an accusation of ignorance, when in fact it is the person who is criticizing who is ignorant of the origin of the term “Soccer.”

    • Hi Jonathan, If you haven’t already I urge you to read from post one. I hope you will take it with a pinch of salt however as although I believe I touch on real issues that affect Major League Soccer it is supposed to be slightly tongue in cheek at the same time. I do take issue with the Americanization (for want of a better word) of the sport and that is one of the reasons I have chosen to learn more about MLS. I think if you read the blog from post one the “Football Not Soccer” title will make more sense to you. Thanks for reading. Jimmy Stone

  5. Flashman

    Welcome to MLS and specifically Toronto FC…

    I wanted to impress upon you the significance of Danny Dichio’s goal. In the teams first year, they started with 3 shutout losses on the road, without Danny Dichio, who had not been released from his contract in time to start the season. He joined the team for our home opener, in which we lost 1-0.

    Then in the fifth game of the season, our second home game, he scored the first goal for Toronto FC at 23:13 of the first half. Minutes later he was red carded for a goal mouth dust up, and possibly ear gnawing. Toronto FC went on to win that game 3-1.

    It is important to realise that adoration the fans hold for Danny are based on the 4+ games without a goal scored by our team, which he ended, as much as it is for the heart, and indeed proffessionalism he brought to our new club.

  6. __wowza

    a lot of “euro snobs” as they’re known as around the internet community are quick to forget that the MLS competes with four major professional sport organizations on a national level (MLB/NFL/NHL/NBA), and a plethora of other professional football organizations around the globe. simply put: these organizations have a vast head start on or beloved MLS, along with the funding and fame that goes with them.

    the perspective offered here is an interesting one as most of the league coverage has been reported by north americans, with most major outlets only going so far as saying “football culture exists in north america, how bout that?”. i can say without a shadow of a doubt that this blog is shaping up to be one of the most interesting reads i’ve seen on the MLS.

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