“I remember back in the league’s first year of existence, in one game we had to play in a baseball stadium that was converted into a soccer field (it was more common to play in a converted football stadium). It would have been fine except for the pitcher’s mound that was left on the field that we had to play over. I just had to tell my players, ‘Play around the mound’.” – Ron Newman, First Head Coach hired by MLS (Kansas City Wizards)
There’s no denying it, since 1996 Major League Soccer has come a long way. The league started with 10 teams. 15 years later, there are 18 teams with plans of making it 20 in the next couple of years.
That’s great, but how many people actually care about MLS – or just soccer – in the United States? The game is more popular than it was back when MLS started, yet it still falls outside of the top sports in the country. Soccer fans thought some of that may have changed after watching the 2010 World Cup get so much attention from ESPN along with the heart-throbbing matches and finishes that took place. Unfortunately, it’s still the same.
I’ve played Fantasy Soccer for a number of years and decided after the most recent World Cup, maybe some of my Fantasy friends would be interested in getting in on the excitement. It was for not. I asked over 50 of my sport-loving, Fantasy-playing, football/baseball/basketball junky friends to join a free and simple Fantasy Soccer league to experience a little more of the biggest sport in world. Most didn’t reply, and others said they didn’t think they knew enough. If you play Fantasy sports, you know that second excuse makes no sense because you rarely have to know a lot about the sport to be able to play and compete.
I figured nothing changed and just accepted the fact that America still has a long way to go to becoming a country that appreciates the sport. Not to mention, it’s not even the fourth biggest sport, still falling behind hockey.
As for MLS, I get to witness firsthand what is happening to Sporting Kansas City. The team re-branded from Kansas City Wizards in late 2010, got new colors, a new logo, everything. A couple of weeks ago, they opened Livestrong Sporting Park, what is being considered the best soccer-specific stadium in the country. There are no arguments about that.
On opening night, the atmosphere was unbelievable. The fans had waited more than 15 years for a real stadium to play in and they got it. The place was maxed out with an attendance of over 2,000 the capacity for soccer games.
Roughly one week later, they played their second home game of the season there. There was a noticeable amount of less people, around a few thousand under capacity. Albeit they announced it as a sellout, I find it hard to believe that many people that had tickets, decided not to go on a perfect Friday night. To compare, I have pictures at kickoff from each of the games, you can tell which game each of them are.
This was only the second game (third if you include the U.S. Men’s National Team playing there) at the best soccer stadium in the country. In every other big sport, that place would be sold out for the entire season.
I know Kansas City isn’t a great market, but seeing tons of empty seats in the club’s second home game says a lot about the sport here.
MLS and soccer are getting bigger, but they still have a long way to go. It’s pretty obvious to me. Some people may think the bubble is ready to burst, however, there are plenty more stories just like mine that say otherwise.
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