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Jul 012014

Sean Maslin

Alright Adam so I think it is fair to say that the World Cup has been a success here in the United States. People are watching the matches like never before, the men’s national team has done well, and our domestic league-based players have performed admirably during this tournament. So what is the next step for U.S. Soccer as a whole? How do we turn part-time supporters into full-time supporters of the game?


Adam Uthe

That’s the (potentially) billion dollar question, isn’t it?

The problem with the “success” of this World Cup (and the 2-3 prior to it for that matter) is that a decent chunk of the audience tuning it and paying attention actually has very little interest in soccer itself. The World Cup in America is more like the Olympics than the Super Bowl. Everyone is excited because the jerseys say “USA” and British people are calling the games.

I will say this…I watched the Columbus Crew-FC Dallas game that was made up today after being stormed out last night and it was a real chore. The World Cup doesn’t always produce quality soccer, but everything we’ve seen out of Brazil so far was just flat out better than what I saw between Columbus-Dallas, and there was only 1 player on World Cup duty between the two teams.

This is the most frustrating thing about MLS: There are enough people in America willing to watch high quality soccer, but the league’s ownership is not prepared to invest in its rosters. The non-Olympic crowd that is tuning into this World Cup is watching because they know good soccer has been on display.

There is a chicken-egg question that always surrounds MLS: do you need to grow the fan base until you have the money to invest in quality players? Or do you invest in players up front in order to draw crowds (and eyeballs on TV). I believe in the latter option. It wouldn’t pay off immediately, but America is more than capable of becoming a destination for the world’s best players. Imagine the current Arsenal roster playing in Washington DC. You don’t think 50K people are showing up? You don’t think neutral fans in California are tuning in to watch on TV?

MLS could become the next “EPL”, but they have to pay for it; no one is giving them a discount.




Oh I feel the same way about D.C. United-Seattle (though admittedly Seattle was without three of their top players). Let me ask you something as a Columbus Crew supporter: two of your players (Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis) are on one of the most exciting World Cup teams in recent memory, Costa Rica. How much support has your team and the league really shown towards making the connection between Costa Rica and Columbus? It feels like there is almost zero connection going on right now yet there are 75-80 stories about the U.S. Men’s National Team.

It feels like these are all missed opportunities these World Cups. How many ads has ESPN shown during their games for MLS for the games that are upcoming. Shit, at least hype the Bayern Munich All-Star Game! Where was the announcer after Tim Cahill’s wonder strike to remind people that he plays for New York Red Bulls? Why hasn’t anyone done a story on how Andy Najar becoming the first MLS Homegrown player to sign a European contract is a major plus for the league?
Probably the most jarring experience of this entire World Cup experience for me (aside from the collective fit that the internet threw over Michael Bradley) was watching a warm-up between Spain and El Salvador where D.C. United and the Columbus Crew were the second match. For the first game: 50k strong easily. But for the second match there was probably a tenth of the amount of people at Fed Ex. And you didn’t have to pay for the second game and getting out of the stadium was terrible!
This tournament feels different from the others. Finally we are starting to see non-U.S. based players from MLS make an impact on teams in the World Cup. And yet here we are still in the dark ages of publicity and advertising for our domestic-based league.
Assuage my fears: I have a strong suspicion that MLS will become a poor man’s Dutch league where we will be able to find develop players not just from the U.S. and Canada but also from the entire CONCACAF region but there will not be the identity that the Dutch fans have with their teams.
Re: Gonzalez/Costa Rica, The Crew have been putting some posts up on their website but that’s about it. The problem with “foreign” players having so much success is that MLS still seems to have this idea in its head that it needs its best players to be Americans. MLS can’t just be about growing American players in America anymore. It has to be about bringing in the best talent available regardless of where they were born. If that means fewer American prospects coming up through the MLS ranks, then so be it.

I’m glad you bring Gonzalez up because he looks like a guy who could be in demand in July once the transfer window is open. There’s no reason he couldn’t fetch a $2-3 million fee, but how much of that will ultimately make its way back to the Crew? He could be one of the biggest sales Columbus has ever produced and they won’t see nearly as big a cut of it as they should because of the single entity setup. How am I supposed to get excited about this team when it can’t take full advantage of one of the easiest sources in revenue in the sport?

As for your Dutch league comparison, there’s only one issue I have with it: the Dutch are revered worldwide for their ability to develop young talent. MLS is still struggling mightily to develop good, young players even with the addition of full time academies. This is ultimately the biggest issue facing American soccer in general: coaching at the youth level. If we’re looking for a league to compare itself to, I think the J-League over in Japan is a decent one. It started in the mid-90s around the same time as MLS, Japan hosted a World Cup 8 years after the US, it has to fight more popular sports (baseball) for attention, it competes for the signing of aging superstars (Diego Forlan plays in Osaka), and the nation’s best players (Honda, Kagawa) don’t necessarily play in the domestic league. Now, Japan is significantly smaller so you can try to play the “travel budget” argument, but they face a very similar situation to us in terms of the sport in general. Japan didn’t get out of their group, but if you watched them play you saw a team that was confident in possession, very fast, and very skilled. I look at the way they play and I say to myself “THAT is what I want to see from the United States!”. I do think the Dutch league is a good benchmark to aim for, but there has to be a lot of fundamental change the grassroots level before that can occur.

cleardot An Epic Email Exchange on the 2014 World Cup and Its Impact on MLS and U.S. Soccer
You know that is an interesting thought that you have about the Crew and MLS. It is a little different here with D.C. United because the team had its greatest success with the likes of Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno and Raul Diaz Arce. The Salvadoreans and Latinos really connected with the team early on but the club never really continued to build that relationship as those players left/retired. After Moreno retired 2-3 years ago the team has really lost that identity. I often wonder why Ben Olsen was chosen over Jaime Moreno for the coaching position and I feel that the “American” label might be a reason.

I completely agree with you though about developing non-American players. I hope this World Cup make MLS teams realize that there is talent outside of the continental U.S. The USSF and Canadian F.A. relationship with MLS bothers me. It is too close. Do you think the relationship between the domestic league and the F.A. should be contentious (like it often is in England) or a partnership. I feel like the Germans have it down really well.
Here is the $60,000 dollar question for MLS and CONCACAF: When will Canada bear the fruits of the development work done by Vancouver, Montreal, and to a lesser extent Toronto? It feels like this is the next big domino to fall on the development of the game in the region and in the domestic league.
Here is something else to add to your J-League argument: the J-League takes the Asian Champions League very very seriously and the exposure to the very different styles (Middle Eastern, Aussie, Southeast, China) has to be an asset. When you expose your players to those variety of styles it can only make your domestic league better.
cleardot An Epic Email Exchange on the 2014 World Cup and Its Impact on MLS and U.S. Soccer
When it comes to the USSF/MLS relationship, it’s actually pretty amicable. The USSF could do a lot of things differently (pro/rel) that wouldn’t necessarily benefit MLS, but for the most part their decisions are beneficial to MLS. The question is: how does that translate to the development of the sport outside of MLS. MLS is only a small part of the greater “American soccer” dilemma, but they are often portrayed as the focal point of any “American soccer” discussion; despite everything we’ve discussed regarding foreign talent in the league. MLS is out to make money and not necessarily develop the sport as a whole. It is the USSF’s responsibility to grow the sport and help us get closer to winning a World Cup, regardless of what doing so does to the bottom line on the financial sheets. From an ideological point of view, MLS and the USSF should be butting heads but instead the latter is trying hard to enable the former.

As for Canada, I have my doubts they can ever truly “grow” for the simple fact that it is so (population-wise) small. There just aren’t very many people in Canada and there’s probably even fewer trying to grow the sport. The only thing that can really help Canada at this point is pure numbers.

You bring up a good point about the Champions League exposing different styles of play. Here we are in 2014 and MLS still continues to struggle against Mexican teams. I don’t necessarily think it’s a “style” problem so much as an individual talent problem. Players in Mexico are just better soccer players. They dribble better, pass better, make better decisions, etc. than their MLS counterparts. And Mexican teams are constantly snatching up players right from under MLS’s nose and I’m not talking about Camilo either. I’m talking about young Americans like Paul Arriola and Greg Garza.

Would you almost say that MLS takes advantage of USSF? Just taking a look at what each gets from the other it seems to favor MLS. Look at the U.S. Open Cup. Aside from Seattle and D.C. United (whose coach would have been fired had they not won it last year) MLS teams do not take this tournament seriously at all. Yet it should be the other way around.  On the other hand, MLS milks the U.S. Men’s National Team for all it is worth to sell its product. I wonder if an antagonistic relationship might be better because it will force both organizations to continue to developing their academies and improving their quality of play.

I have to disagree about Canada only for this reason: the gap that they would need to jump to become a quality CONCACAF team is not that large. Given their resources (one of the G7) and just having five professional clubs with youth academies will allow their team to go from a poor team to team to at least a competent international team.
I guess my biggest concern is that nothing will be learned from this World Cup and that both USSF and MLS will continue to be complacent. Rather than selling some of their World Cup “stars” to make way for other players that they can develop but that money will be invested into buying flashy aging players who have either done something in the past or a scored a goal in Brazil.
Come on Adam, tell me I am not crazy and that I did not see Orlando City sign Kaka, who has not played well in over ten years. Shouldn’t we be beyond going against the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Australia for signing the “legends” of the game?
The more we talk about this, the more I worry that a deep run by the US over the next week or so will encourage the complacency you’re referring to. If we win today and even go down fighting against Argentina, suddenly there is little incentive for MLS/USSF to change their ways. MLS points to guys like Clint Dempsey and Matt Besler while the USSF gets to hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner and there’s little pressure on Klinsmann going forward.
As for the aging star issue, you’re absolutely on point. Again, the goal of MLS is to sell tickets and not necessarily help the USMNT going forward. People will show up to watch the aging stars.
And so we come full circle again: the US has an appetite for the game at its highest level, but MLS/ USSF just aren’t prepared to invest not just money, but time, energy, and other resources into bringing (or creating) the best talent to our shores.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today, Soccerly, D.C. Soccer, Soccer Without Limits, and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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