Jay Bell Asks: What League Do You Fancy?

Jay Bell, as only he can, initiates discussion on TSG.

The months of February and March is a big cluster of soccer for viewers in America. Every different league, different styles, different matchups, etc. are all in action over the next month and a half.

We’d like to know what TSG fans prefer and why. Feel free to give us some long answers in the comments because mine is pretty long too. Let us know your preferences for competition and style in the polls at the bottom.

First Kick goes to Seattle this year....Matthew already has Freddy Montero for the Golden Boot...will the season start with a bang?

MLS First Kick is March 15 when the Los Angeles Galaxy heads to Qwest Field. Honestly, I cannot wait. This is the biggest season so far. We all know the off-field intrigue this season: the entry of Portland and Vancouver into the league, Kansas City’s new stadium, the Cosmos marketing extravaganza, the final year of Beckham’s contract, etc. But when it really comes down to it, the product on the field is the showcase. A lot of people do not really admire the play or they just will not admit that they do, but I love it.

I am an American sports fan at heart. If anyone knows my Twitter or YouTube accounts, they may notice that the Arkansas Razorbacks are still my first love. The reason I love Arkansas and SEC football so much is because of the speed of play and the physical nature of the games. That is why I love watching MLS games. I love how fast the games move and admire the athleticism that is present in the league despite the players having to play through such gruesome summer heat.

GBS: Somehow gone without fanfare...

I am still enamored by the class oozed in every touch from Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Juan Pablo Angel, David Ferreira and of course Cuahtemoc Blanco when he played for Chicago, but their abilities on the ball would not stand out so much if it was not for the hectic pace of the game around them.

Around the same time as the MLS First Kick, either Real Salt Lake or the Columbus Crew will be heading into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Their opponent will either be Saprissa from Costa Rica or Olimpia from Honduras. These are two of the most successful clubs from Central America. As much as I respect those two teams, I hate the style that they represent. Caribbean and Central American soccer is so scrambled, slow and dirty (in tactics/nature, not hygiene) that it is so hard for me to watch. I can only hope that Saprissa or Olimpia will not resort to Arabe Unido-type tactics if they are winning by one goal late in a match.

On the other side of the bracket are four Mexican squads. The knockout rounds of the Champions League come at a time when the Mexican Clausura is in full swing. The quality and intensity in those matches should be great for the Champions League. Unfortunately, I just cannot get excited by Mexican football. A lot of fans love the skill and quality exhibited in Mexico. I find the style more anesthetic than aesthetic. The game is just too slow for me. That is why I enjoy watching the contrast of styles between Mexican squads and MLS teams. MLS teams that do well in the tournament tend to have a Latin American influence (Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio, Emilio Renteria, Schelotto), but still play at the speed that I appreciate from MLS.

That speed is part of why I will always embrace the English Premier League as my second favorite. There are the obvious enabling factors: quality, language, visibility and a popular destination for American players. I always enjoy the pace of the matches. The intensity of the games are at such high levels that are usually only reached on the international level.

Celebrating the American...

Part of the reason Landon Donovan was so beloved at Goodison Park was because of his work rate. The same can be said of Brian McBride at Craven Cottage.

The English game and its fans appreciate speed, intensity, grit, determination and effort; very “American” sports ideals. The league also includes dazzling skill with the ball though. Even Arsenal with all of its beautiful football still has players like Walcott, Chamakh, Song and all of their fullbacks that can play at a pace that presses opposing defenses.

The contrast of the English style and others will be on full display in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League. All four English teams advanced in the Champions League while two remain in the Europa League. What other styles are out there?

The French Ligue 1 has sped up over the years. Along with easier citizenship processes, the playing styles in England and France have been very conducive to bringing in more African players. The African continent is known for the speed and “power” of its players.

Gervinho: Seizing Ligue One

Ligue 1 has benefited from its African influx. Obviously it is tougher to view French league matches in America and few US internationals ever play there, but it is a league that I wish I could see more of.

The German Bundesliga went through a transformation over the last decade of which Klinsmann and ESPN would not stop telling viewers about during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The league has always represented the pace and physicality of the German national team. Now the league continues to replicate the growing attacking verve and prowess displayed by the Germans at the national level. The Dutch Eredivisie is not the juggernaut it once was, but the league continues to produce elite attackers. The speed of play and high-scoring dramatics make the league entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, like Ligue 1, it has low visibility in America and few US internationals ever play there.

In my opinion, much of the rest of the continent (and the world for that matter) plays at a slower, more deliberate pace. Italy is well known for its tactics and patience, perfectly described here by Eric Giardini. Spain’s La Liga takes Mexico’s technical abilities to the extreme. Barcelona is dazzling to watch, but many teams throughout the league play at a slow pace without anything near the quality of Barca. I believe a lot of the “megaclubs” in lower UEFA domestic leagues play a Latin style. Teams like Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce employ many Latin and Latin American players. Teams from the Danish Superliga and the Scottish Premier League play a more deliberate tactical game.

I cannot write at length about much South American and Asian soccer. The quality of the Brazilian and Argentine leagues is exhibited by the enormous number of exports and transfers every single year. The group stage of the Copa Libertadores runs through the end of April. The finals are in the middle of June. The Japanese J-League and Korean K-League exhibit a more technical style, while the Australian A-League is more similar to MLS. The group stage of the AFC Champions League ends in late May.

The perfect combination of everything usually comes at the international level. Even in Asia, North America and South America the more technical style of the game accelerates to a faster pace in continental competitions. Players’ initial reactions to the international game are almost always about the speed of play. There will be another set of FIFA international dates in March allowing for friendlies and UEFA European qualifiers.

No matter what your preference, every soccer fan will get their chance to indulge in their favorite styles, teams and league over the next several months. For me, I am ready to get the 2011 MLS season started and see how the US players are building up the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the summer.

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22 responses to this post.

  1. MLS is awesome! Pew! Pew! Boom!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Noah on 2011/02/14 at 8:51 PM

    My favorite teams to watch are the top few teams in La Liga, i feel like the spanish league at its apex is more about skill on the ball and picking out passes and less about getting on someone and hacking at them. The EPL is the deepest league so you get more quality teams and more quality games. i would love to start watching some other leagues around the world but i dont know where to get access to the games.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Joe on 2011/02/14 at 9:08 PM

    Having recently moved to and now from Seattle this Fall I fell in love with MLS. I played many years of soccer growing up and almost the entire time I was one of the smallest guys on the field. (till I finally hit the gym) but I was always the most physical player on my team. No one would out work me and no one was going to get through me either to the ball or to the goal. I always hated MLS due to the lack of skill that it missed for most of its existence, but I appreciated the physicality of it. So on a trip to germany my senior year of high school I was introduced to the German Bundesliga and fell in love. Here was an entire country playing a style that I loved. I am an avid Bayern Munchen fan and try to watch them as often as I can. However when I moved to Seattle I was introduced to a new MLS that I had never seen. Here was a completely different league than I had remembered. They have Osvaldo Alonso one of the smallest center mids I have ever seen but he controls games like some of the best in the world. They Fredy Montero a fleet footed scoring machine who is not afraid to come back and play defense. Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi who could run from box to box in a matter of seconds. Then I got to see some of the best the rest of the league had Beckham, Donovan, Buddle, Thornton, Ching, DeRo, Hejduk, and Braun just to name a few. The talent is there. The rivalries are definitely there (Cascadia Cup, Rocky Mts Cup and that brutal east coast I-95 rivalries)and it is ours. It may not be the best in the world (yet) but it is close and it is ours.

    Reply

    • Joe,
      I think myself (and many other Americans) echo your sentiment on MLS. Those who stopped watching MLS for the “greener” pastures of European football are starting to take a look around now and realize how much MLS has improved. I’m extremely excited for this upcoming season, and think it could be a breakout season for the league as a whole.

      Reply

      • Posted by joe on 2011/02/15 at 2:36 PM

        Josh

        I think it is hard to gage any season as a breakout season. I think this season will be great and I think that many more people will start to pay attention. It seems that the league has changed since Seattle joined the league. All of a sudden people started going to games. Almost as if the fans of each team are competing with each other. Philly sold out every home game. Portland has already passed 12000 season tickets (for an 18k stadium). Also since then supporters clubs have taken hold and shifted the MLS from a family activity to an event for everyone. What it still needs for the breakout we are wish for it will come with national exposure. Right now it is still regional. In order to see an MLS game regularly you need to live in a local area or really be looking for one.

        Reply

  4. Posted by Chris on 2011/02/14 at 9:37 PM

    I thought I would leave a few comments. First I love the blog…haven’t responded before but thought I would add my two cents. I put EPL and UEFA Champions League…but probably would change this to EPL and International play.

    I watched MLS and found it enjoyable to watch last season. Its moving up.

    My first experience real experience (besides distant memories of Lalas..locks and all) getting into soccer was watching Croatia in Euro 2008. Yes I know…. not the US…but the appeal for me with soccer is the international scope of the sport. Don’t get me wrong..as an American I love US soccer…but coming from a college football background…it was the international appeal that won me over. Having a friend from Argentina..I was exposed to a passion that to me simply did not exist for US sports. I think the US is getting there (cue dude crying in stands during the last World Cup when Bradley scored). Coming out of the cup I have been hoping to follow African soccer more closely as well…..possibly the appeal also is that with the exception of a few expedited citizenships…there are no trades…The cons is that there are so few games played that team chemistry for most teams (minus Germany) suffers. Anyway, thanks again for the work put into this blog.

    Reply

    • Now that you mention it, the Euro 2008 was huge for me as well. Up to that time, my few favorite soccer moments up to that point included the US’s draw with Italy, Barca over Arsenal in the Champions League final, Feilhaber’s wondergoal over Mexico in the Gold Cup, and the 5-4 match between the LA Galaxy (Beckham and Donovan) and the New York Red Bulls (Angel and Altidore).

      I saved the Croatia v. Turkey match on the DVR until I moved. I will always remember the Croatian players all collapsing to the ground after they lost that match. It was dazzling and devastating all at the same time.

      Reply

      • Posted by Aaron on 2011/02/15 at 9:40 AM

        Croatia vs Turkey is one of my favorite matches of all time. I loved the atmosphere, the exhausted players, it was a game to remember.

        Reply

      • Posted by Jay Bell on 2011/02/15 at 5:01 PM

        That was spectacular. A full 120 minutes. A last minute apparent game winner by Croatia – only to have a last second equalizer from Turkey. When Modric missed the first penalty I knew Croatia was doomed.

        I started the Euros when I noticed a ESPN blurb on Croatia vs. Germany – which Croatia won. I missed the qualifying games but was able to find replays of Croatia taking it to England…..twice (including a nice mishap by “Calamity James”).I still read posts where the English are peeved at Bilic for running down the pitch when Croatia won at Wembley….even now after they have had their revenge in the World Cup qualifying….

        Reply

  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/14 at 9:37 PM

    Love when we do the polls. Thanks Jay. I much prefer the technical and tactical games and continually the Champion’s League with contrasting styles.

    It’s great to see what folks on the publication favor.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Chris on 2011/02/14 at 9:48 PM

    note to mod: fixed a few grammatical errors with my post.

    I thought I would leave a few comments. First I love the blog…haven’t responded before but thought I would add my two cents. I put EPL and UEFA Champions League…but probably would change this to EPL and International play.

    I watched MLS and found it enjoyable to watch last season. Its moving up.

    My first real experience (besides distant memories of Lalas..locks and all) of getting into soccer was watching Croatia in Euro 2008. Yes I know…. not the US…but the appeal for me with soccer is the international scope of the sport. I thought the chemistry they had during that tourney made them almost unstoppable (except with the cruel realities of a penalty shoot-out).

    Don’t get me wrong..as an American I love US soccer…but coming from a college football background…it was the international appeal that won me over. Having a friend from Argentina reinforced this..as I was exposed to a passion that to me simply does not exist for US sports…even pro-football.

    I think the US is getting there (cue dude crying in stands during the last World Cup when Bradley scored). Coming out of the cup I have been hoping to follow African soccer more closely as well……After the sting of the Ghanaian loss I was probably one of the few Americans that hoped they would succeed in advancing….I also have a tremendous respect for Drogba with the off the field work he has done in Côte d’Ivoire. I know there are US athletes that also do things like this too…but even in the worst neighborhoods here…I don’t know if they have had the same impact. I could be wrong about this too.

    Possibly the appeal also is that with the exception of a few expedited citizenships…there are no trades…The cons of international play is that there are so few games played that team chemistry for most teams (minus Germany) suffers. Anyway, thanks again for the work put into this blog.

    Reply

  7. Posted by sparkie on 2011/02/14 at 10:48 PM

    Jay – great post!
    i am excited about:

    A) the start of MLS
    B) the knockout stages of the CL
    C) the last 12 games in the EPL

    A – as a season ticket holder in seattle, we are spoiled for atmosphere and quality. the additions of ‘couv and portscum only add to the best franchise MLS has to offer. i am looking forward to the preseason cascadia cup and tickets sold out in an hour..the supporters want more than the US Open Cup! sigi and team are surely planning for an all out assault for a run at the title and it should be a fun marathon.

    B – it always seems like the group stage of the CL ends and there is a void…only for the knockout stage to kick in just as you are done digesting the Christmas turkey and ham. barca-arsenal…as a man utd fan…it hurts me to say C’MON YOU GUNNERS!!!

    C – let’s hope that Spurs hold the 3rd or 4th spot – i want to see chelski in the europa league! serves you right Torres. many big games are still to play. it is all there – and with the crazy results thus far, more should ensure, though it is unlikely that anyone will top rooney’s winner this past weekend. kudos to deuce for trying after the cech save…

    thanks again Jay, well done.

    Reply

  8. Posted by montana matt on 2011/02/15 at 7:22 AM

    I really enjoy the spectacle of the EPL. It’s a fun/competitive league, and the matches always have an air of excitement and drama about them that other leagues lack. That being said, it seems like the MLS emulates the EPL sometimes (which is only natural given the shared language), and that the “fast and furious” style of play restricts the growth and potential of the USMNT. The best squads in the world right now (Barca and the Spanish natl. team) play technical, possession oriented football. It is that style of play (tiki-taka, total football) that MLS teams should be trying to emulate.

    In fairness, MLS has really improved its on-field product in recent years, but we the fans have to continue to demand quality football and develop quality, technically/tactically adept footballers. To regress back to frantic route one football would be to the detriment of MLS and the USMNT. Just ask fans of England, who are continually exposed at the highest international level due to their tactical/technical deficiencies. It’s no wonder players like Jack Wilshire and managers like Arsene Wenger and Owen Coyle are being touted as potential saviors of English football.

    Reply

    • Posted by Ben on 2011/02/15 at 12:39 PM

      Given the competition that soccer has for elite athletes in the US (football, basketball, baseball) from the youth level onward, I believe that the USMNT should favor a more tactical approach that relies more on skill and quickness than size. After all, great athletes who are 6’2″ have plenty of different options for playing professionally, but one is is 5’9″ or 5’7″?

      Given the population of the US and distribution of different heights among men, there is a huge pool of athletic talent available in that size range, but it is not going to work unless the emphasis is placed on technique and skill instead of brute force.

      Reply

  9. Posted by EFG on 2011/02/15 at 7:29 AM

    I voted for Serie A and UEFA Champions League. I love the tactics and the personalities that are in Italy and the passion exhibited in the stands. Have you seen any games in England where every few minutes explosions from firecrackers can be heard? What about flares being lit in the Curvas? (I’ve never understood how you sneak flares into matches) I also get less grumbles from the girlfriend in watching Italian matches because she loves the histronics – mainly the pleading hand gestures.

    The Champions League is the real-life equivalent of FIFA 11 online. You mean I get to see Arsenal play Barcelona? Sign me up.

    Reply

  10. Posted by John on 2011/02/15 at 8:55 AM

    MLS and the English Premier League por moi.

    Very very very very very very very very excited for the beginning of the Timbers MLS season which I am road tripping for in Denver in about one month.

    Also, the chase for Champions league spots, relegation battles, the top four, and (as well) hopefully some good Champions League finals.

    Then again, I will watch anything to do with the beautiful game as I do love catching the Tigres, Pachuca, Chivas, et all on Univision.

    Reply

  11. Posted by Nick on 2011/02/15 at 10:04 AM

    International, MLS, and then the EPL.

    For me it’s all about the connection I feel with the team. As an American soccer fan nothing will compare to marching to the stadium with AO, cheering on the USMNT. In the same vein, I’ve grown up with the Columbus Crew being the closest MLS side to me, currently a mere 8 hour round trip to watch them, but nothing compares to the feeling of being at the stadium watching soccer live with other fans.

    The EPL is pretty accessible in America, the quality and intensity is great but I personally just find it harder to root for a team that’s located thousands of miles away, whom I really have no connection with.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Gino on 2011/02/15 at 12:54 PM

    Gotta go with La Liga first simply because Barcelona are my team. Next best for me is the UEFA Champions League. Actually, so long as Barca are still in the competition, then this is really my first choice. World class players playing in the premier competition on the globe. That said, if the Nats are playing, I’m watching. I first got into world soccer because of the World Cup. Sure, the quality usually isn’t as good as elite club matches but something about watching the National Team participate in important competitions pumps me up more than even Barcelona.

    Reply

  13. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the MLS surge in popularity. I used to think I was the only one that really enjoyed watching the games but it has arrived. I think one of the keys was broadcasting in HD. It makes it truly stunning and spectacular.
    steve

    Reply

  14. Posted by Jake C. on 2011/02/16 at 4:18 PM

    MLS and EPL for me, with the Bundesliga coming in a close third. Really impressed with MLS–the rate of improvement is astonishing, really. EPL provides a great mix of pace, technique, and atmosphere. Bundesliga would need more exposure to move up in my list, but I think the language barrier will prove too much for it coming to the USA in a greater capacity (although that German commentary is fantastic to listen to).

    Reply

  15. I love these poll results. It is surprising just HOW MUCH Americans seem to consistently favor the EPL over everything else. MLS holding steady with the Champions League was an interesting development though.

    Reply

  16. Posted by Dave on 2011/02/16 at 9:58 PM

    I didn’t vote, because the soccer I follow has a lot to do with what’s easily available to me.
    I first began to appreciate the game when an acquaintance talked me into watching a college(Div III) match, long ago and far away. The locals played defend and boot it up to the foreign players, but the other side played an attractive possession game. (The locals overcame an own goal to win). So I went to the local games for a a couple years, once got a chance to see the #2 and #3 ranked NCAA div I teams play on that field, and then moved far from much soccer.
    Next up was “Soccer Made in Germany” , so I became a fan of the Bundesliga. Now, however, the Bundesliga is not easily and cheaply available to me, so I don’t follow it.
    The first world cup I watched was 1982, I remember some games narrated in English, probably condensed matches on “Soccer Made in Germany”, but the local cable company had just picked up something called the Spanish International Network, so I also watched some matches on that. It was a little frustrating at times, since I knew only a few words of Spanish and not much about football, but it was available.
    Somewhere along the way the NASL came and went, maybe a bit more coverage of the World Cups, I’m not sure which networks. I remember seeing quite a few of the 1986 WC matches. 1994 was probably the best of my “early years” of soccer; with the Cup in the US and my acquisition of a VCR I got to see a lot of soccer.
    Then along came MLS, about the time I started to learn enough Spanish to appreciate the coverage on Univisión, it was also on ESPN. But once I started watching on Univisión I discovered I could get my soccer fix year round with MLS in the summer, and Mexico’s Primera the rest of the year.
    Univisión’s scheduling meant that I watched Pumas a lot. Pumas were a team that developed young players, some of whom would go on to bigger teams in Mexico. But, one of the things about young players is that they tend to to take extra risks, and that often pays off in goals, whether scored by the youngsters or the opponents. So early on, as a casual fan, Pumas provided me with the payoff of games with goals. But as one follows a team over time it’s easy to become a bit invested in them–is player A going to move on to bigger things, is player B going to fill the hole left by a departing player, etc.
    Now, of course, there are more options for me to follow soccer, but I have an investment of familiarity with Mexico, especially Pumas, plus for me my cable package includes Univisión, Galavisión, and Telemundo in a package I would get anyway, and I have Azteca America through a low power analog broadcast, so it’s very easy for me to see games from Mexico.
    I do watch a few Champion’s League matches here and there, and the same with EPL. I would like to see a few Bundesliga and Eredivisie matches, but they’re not easily available to me, so I don’t. Incidentally, I wish all EPL teams bad luck in the Champion’s League, because I don’t want every CL match I can see on my Fox regional network to feature an EPL team.(To be fair, Fox is better about this than ESPN was.)
    My nearest MLS team is a 3.5 hour drive each way, and either family or work prevents me from going(I went to one match years ago). I follow them, but I’m not really a fan of theirs. I do think MLS is important for American soccer, and should be given credit for helping the sport along.
    My other live options are local high school or junior college teams, neither of which has been here all that long, and both of which schedule games at inopportune times for me. I do remember from back so far in the past that footie is best enjoyed live in the stadium.

    Reply

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