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.
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.
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.
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.
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.