Are TFC Supporters Fans of MLS?
Sunday evening is of course the night that this 2011 MLS season finally comes to an end with the playing of the Cup Final in Los Angeles between the Galaxy and the Dynamo.
And I have to admit that I am not that excited. I wish I was excited but I’m not and I can’t pretend to be. Now don’t get me wrong I am going to watch the game. But somehow I feel that I will be in the minority of TFC fans Sunday night. Most of them I feel that are in front of the TV Sunday evening might be watching “Dexter” or “Family” Guy, or “Sunday Night Gridiron” I think the only thing that would of course excite me about Sunday’s game is if TFC were somehow to be in it. And if that was the case I would be losing my mind right about now. Alas my full blown insanity will have to wait to be diagnosed for another year I guess…
Frankly I would think that there are thousands of TFC supporters such as myself that care more about our team than they do the league that our team plays in. And that made me think why that is? Why do so many of us care about the Reds yet not care nearly as much about Major League Soccer?
Part of it is that I believe that many fans of TFC still look down their noses on the product that is MLS overall. And in some respects they are probably right to do so. Many Toronto FC supporters are of course fans of the sport for far longer than the five years that TFC has been in existence and they are intelligent soccer consumers that follow clubs and leagues overseas as religiously as anyone does anywhere. They know what the game is and what professional soccer should and should not look like at a high level, especially when we pay prices often equal to or higher than what Europeans do for a far superior product.
And what they often see are players in MLS that are on poverty level wages getting significant minutes who are raw coming out of American colleges who do not look anywhere near the finished professional we all would hope them to be. We see horrendous stadia like Foxboro still being used by clubs like the Revolution. We see a league paying lip service to the FIFA calendar. We see some of the older MLS clubs embrace the “soccer mom” as their primary customer more than the true “supporter”. We see perhaps overly strict salary cap and Designated Player rules that remain in effect limiting the ability of clubs to upgrade the level of play in the league to the level they might wish it to be. We see a league that does not truly understand the importance of facilitating things like encouraging away supporters to travel in numbers. And we only recently have started seeing clubs embrace the Academy model as the way forward to perhaps bring more polished pros into the ranks in the years ahead instead of relying upon the NCAA to do it for them. And if you have ever watched any out of market MLS matches you will often see production values and commentary that are closer to community TV and nowhere near to the quality that we regularly see from TFC and its broadcast partners.
For many reasons as a product (such as some of those listed above) MLS is far from perfect. It is not however as bad a product as many might think, especially those observers from overseas who sneer at “sawker” and think that we are quaint folk from the colonies who know nothing about the sport. No we don’t have relegation/promotion. Yes we do have playoffs and a draft. Yes we do have a salary cap and some of our teams have near to stupid club names. But that should not aloow anyone to discount the entire League.
Things are however starting to change. For the first time in five years this past season we were in Toronto able to see many out of market games on television. For those that subscribe to GOL-TV or TSN2 they would be able to see weekly games and highlight packs. The MLS Live application was after a few glitches good to go across Canada this year. And I think the impact of continued loosening of the salary cap and DP rules respectively are going to start having an impact on the product on the field league wide sooner rather than later. New stadiums in Philly, New York, Vancouver (refitted in this case), Kansas City, San Jose and Houston to name but a few are either on the drawing board or less than three years old. Most teams have at least one DP. Academies are being built. Local TV contracts are being signed in places like Los Angeles to big dollars. Attendance is up. TV viewership is slightly up.
So Sunday evening instead of Peter Griffin and Dexter Morgan entertaining me I am hoping that David Beckham and Andre Hainault can do so instead. I urge you to let David and Andre try and entertain you as well.