The American Soccer Landscape

Frankie believes that last pass is what separates MLS from the EPL.

Frankie believes "that last pass" is what separates MLS from the EPL.

[TSG: Thanks to @AOBoston on Twitter for passing along the link to the article.]

The Columbus Dispatch ran an interesting story today entitled, Soccer’s Footprint is Expanding. The wide-ranging article tackles a variety of topics including the popularity of MLS, the rising tide of support for soccer in the US, the influence of European clubs and television coverage of the sport.

A couple of the things in the article jumped out at me…

The Gap Between MLS and European Clubs

Frankie Hedjuk produced this opinion on the gap between MLS and European club teams.

“”The biggest difference is the (European teams) have pure finishers and that’s the next level for our game. We are physical enough and can run up and down the field with them, but it’s that last pass that is the difference maker between those teams and MLS teams.”

From the MLS and European soccer I have watched, the gap seems bigger than “that last pass.” I’d probably throw game speed (not fitness) and touch in there as well. What do you think?

The Rise of “Tribal Like Passionin the MLS

Perhaps I am just getting old, but it was surprising to read that the MLS commissioner Don Garber would remark that “[I was] walking around the field with Clark Hunt before a playoff game last year and I did not feel comfortable walking close to [The Nordecke] supporters section (and) I shouldn’t.” (Emphasis added by me.)

Believe me, I am all for the “tribal like passion” as Garber calls it, but I draw the line at suggesting that intimidation of other fans, and executives in this case, is somehow a good thing and what MLS clubs should be striving for. Please let me know if I am lacking some historical perspective here relative to Garber, the MLS, etc.

European soccer hooliganism is not something that should be emulated by American supporters of US club teams or our national team. Not to mention that such activities would just seem fake given the corporate upbringing of MLS clubs. Do we really want opposing fans / families concerned about attending MLS games given the current state of support for soccer in America? The sport needs all the fans it can get.

(Aside: I am a firm supporter of  heckling opposing players within bounds of decency.)

Viewership of Soccer on Television

I knew soccer broadcasts don’t get great ratings compared to other sports, but I didn’t realize that gap was so large. The article cites a 1.1 rating for the Barcelona – Manchester United Champions League final followed by a 7.3 rating for the last weeks USC – Ohio State college football game.

In other words, the biggest club soccer championship in the world was watched by approximately 1.26mm viewers while an early season match-up of two college football powerhouses (though not in the same conference) was watched by 8.39mm viewers. (The CL final being a mid-week match versus the college football on a Saturday did help to broaden the gap.)

Simply, soccer has a long (long) way to go in the hearts and minds of American sports fans. And until it makes some good headway expect USMNT games to struggle to find quality outlets to broadcast games.

16 responses to this post.

  1. Pretty surprised on the numbers on the Champions League final, however I have to wonder if/how internet feeds contribute to the ratings in any way. I know I watched the game on espn360 because I didn’t have tv access. I felt like with my friends and facebook that a lot of people were watching the game, and there was more buzz about it online then there was about any football game this year. I think the fact that those of us who are in college/recently graduated are very in tune with the soccer world and even MLS is very promising, as we are the ones that will bring our kids up with trips to the new MLS stadiums and watch the games from home on the weekend.

    Certainly we have a long way to go, but the leaps and bounds of quality publicity and coverage that soccer has recieved in the past five years combined with the expanded coverage for the national team, the mls, the epl and la liga on ESPN and the World Cup next summer makes it a great time to be a soccer fan in America, and increases the likelihood that a lot more people will suddenly fall in love with the beautiful game and join our ranks.


  2. Posted by Dylan on 2009/09/20 at 6:47 AM

    The EPL, because it is widely consider the best league in the world, also has an international talent pool. The MLS, is mainly US based, with some of our neighbors coming in.


  3. Posted by Matthew N on 2009/09/20 at 4:55 PM

    The assertion that it is dangerous for unpopular folks to go near the Nordecke is absolutely ridiculous. To think that you would even believe that for a moment is absolutely nuts. I’ve never seen any sort of violence in any of the matches I’ve been to in Columbus. The Nordecke is full of people just having an amazing time. I’ve never met a more friendly group of random people in my life. This is just ignorance on the part of a bunch of eggheads who have no idea what it is to be the common fan. There is nothing even close to resembling hooliganism and I take issue with the fact that you even believe this garbage. The fear of hooliganism is an absolute joke. This won’t happen here and you’re only perpetuating a myth by bringing it up. You know what, this guy better not come near the Nordecke because I bet the guy hasn’t had an ounce of fun in his whole life.


    • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/09/20 at 5:00 PM

      and you can’t compare TV ratings of a midweek mid afternoon soccer match that barely gets promoted versus a college football game on primetime Saturday night that gets promoted every five minutes for two weeks on ESPN.

      the MLS isn’t trying to compete with the EPL and other leagues (or at least they shouldn’t). MLS lacks quality everything. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a MLS hater. I love the MLS. I just think it is okay to admit its shortcomings. They can’t afford to pay the big money so they aren’t going to get/keep the best players. I think Hedjuk’s statement is a little too nice, but it is mostly correct. The MLS just needs an overall improvement in quality which will come in time (as the league becomes more popular and the salary cap gets raised).


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/09/20 at 5:22 PM

      Matthew, you missed my point.

      I wasn’t commenting on the Nordecke or what they do or don’t do. Rather, I was criticizing Garber for suggesting that having intimidating supporter groups that make people feel uncomfortable should be some sort of goal for MLS teams.


  4. I heard in an interview with Freddie Lundberg and he said the MLS quality of play is comparable to the Dutch League, which kind of surprised me.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/09/21 at 4:10 PM

      well how many people strive to eventually go to the Dutch league. some people forget that just because the team is in europe doesn’t always make it a better league. People say that Europe is the highest quality because they have the highest quality leagues, but saying all Europe soccer leagues are better than MLS teams is like saying all fat people eat twinkies all day long.


  5. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/09/20 at 5:36 PM

    one thing holding the MLS back is the existence of the salary cap. If the MLS market was unregulated, teams would be able to accept and use donations from wealthy supporters to go out and get more quality. You know there are plenty of LA Galaxy supporters willing to dish out money to the board just like Real Madrid gets loads of cash from the king of Spain. Additionally, there would be no problem attracting talent IMO because after all, who doesnt want to come to America? maybe class players just pased their peak who cant find playing time at their clubs get ginormogantuan offers from big cities like New York, D.C., Los Angeles, etc. and it will be the arrival of Beckham to the gazillionth power


  6. Posted by Andy on 2009/09/21 at 7:49 AM

    Okay, I’m a re-born newb here. Played growing up but for two decades have not been following the sport seriously until my son made a club team recently and have fully immersed myself back into the sport.

    I won’t even begin to claim that I know what I am talking about and I know I am one of those “fans” that get derided here and elsewhere as being a newb and not knowing what I am talking about. But I want to post a comment to Antonio H.

    While it would be nice to see a massive influx of cash into MLS to bring in top-tier players, I personally would not be a fan of the results if that influx is in an unregulated manner. I really don’t want to see MLS become in hierarchy like EPL, La Liga or Serie A where a very select few teams compete for the league title every year. There is something to be said for parity. Yes, I want to see better play in the MLS but once we go down the road of funding as you suggest, we can never turn back.

    But I do agree that we do need to get more money for players into MLS. Hopefully it can be done in a way that will not bankrupt the league. Pouring in cash to quickly raise the play level will serve no purpose if the league collapses upon itself a few years later.



  7. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/09/21 at 7:49 PM


    you make a great argument but i dont think we can have both. If we want class players we have to be willing to pay them top dollar, meaning no salary cap(or maybe a very very VERY generous one). but if we want parity between teams that prevents the hierarchy of the EPL/LA Liga, etc. then we have to keep he salary cap. is it a Catch 22?


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/09/21 at 10:36 PM

      I think there is the challenge to even paying top dollar given the viewership and the game attendance.
      Remember, the MLS is not commanding nearly close to the tv rights that an NFL or MLS is.


  8. Posted by Andy on 2009/09/22 at 6:46 AM

    I don’t think I’m talking about a catch 22 Antonio, maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough or I’m not understanding your point. I do believe that we need more cash to bring in more top, or near-top players. I was not arguing that point at all, I totally agree. The current salary cap is way too low. My point was just that there needs to be some control over it. Un restricted cash flowing into just a few teams is a bad idea IMO. Maybe I’m wrong as I’ll admit, I haven’t the faintest clue about the financial requirements of a MLS team and the league, much less an EPL team/league. Can a Columbus team compete for money with LA if patrons are allowed? I doubt it. Yet Columbus is defending a MLS Cup.

    However MLS goes forward, I would sincerely hope that it is in a way that small market teams will still be able to compete. Maybe ultimately that is futile and perenially the big market teams will dominate. I get that, but have a league where the small market teams can at least have a chance to win a cup. Do the bottom EPL teams ever have a prayer of winning the league? We know the answer to that. But the NFL has figured out how to have teams like the Green Bay Packers have a chance to win it all.

    But again, it needs to be done in a way that does not bankrupt the league. MLS at this level is far better than no MLS at all. And no, I don’t have the answer! Ha!



    • Posted by garbogas on 2009/09/22 at 9:34 AM

      I think that the MLS is taking a responsible patient approach to growing the game in the US. I’m sure their ambitions go beyond the current salary cap and level of play in the league, but they’re letting the popularity of the league dictate the league’s financial structure.

      If and when more money flows into the league (more attendance, tv contracts, advertising, gear, etc.), the league will allow more money to flow out of the owner’s pockets into the hands of better players.

      Whether or not MLS is taking this process too cautiously is a question that I don’t know the answer too, so if anybody has any input, I’d welcome hearing it. I will say that next summer’s World Cup ought to speed the process along.


  9. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/09/22 at 4:28 PM

    Well you got me beat. On another note expect to see Patrick Vieira hanging around the MLS next year. he said he wants to give it a shot after his last world cup(if he even makes the squad) next year


  10. Posted by Dylan on 2009/09/24 at 9:20 AM

    I have a suggestion. I would love if you guys would cover some of our MNT players that are here in the states. Like Holdens performance the other night in the champions league. I know it’s a players abroad kind of web site, but not even covers these guys. It’s not easy for me to keep up on them and how they are playing, I try but you know how it goes.
    Anyways, just a thought. I love the site and your insights to the game and team, just puttin that out there.

    AO for life!


  11. […] Wasn’t it just last September that USMNTer Frankie Hedjuk was lamenting “the last pass” and lack o…. […]


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