MLS Turning Into A Proper Football League?

I have a confession here.

Despite the Whitecaps being about to join it and writing about it for the East Fife programme, I find the MLS a little boring. I watch few games.

It’s hard to get excited about teams you don’t really care about and a footballing environment that still doesn’t quite feel like it’s the real deal.

Now I don’t want to do a disservice to the many hardcore fans out there from MLS Clubs, but there is so much wrong with the League to many who have followed the beautiful game for years in every other continent on the planet. It still feels at times that they are playing at being a “proper” League.

What they can do to change that opinion that is held by many “Eurosnobs” is difficult to pinpoint but things like reserve sides and youth development would be a start.

A lot of it is down to the fact that the game is not seen as been a natural choice for sports fans in the US. It can be argued that the game has been forced upon a generally disinterested sporting public, with little to no decent media coverage to help promote the game.

There’s no doubting that football is huge at grassroots level. It’s the biggest participation sport amongst kids. There is also a big ex pat market from many passionate areas of the world: Europe, Mexico, Central America, South America.

Now I can only speak personally from now onwards. What I want to see from a growing MLS is a real football watching environment at games. Standing terracing, away fans, no fucking cheerleaders, a real atmosphere.

And I have to say it’s coming.

What’s prompted today’s post is one of the MLS games I caught the end of on Saturday.

Toronto FC visited Columbus Crew and took 2,000 fans with them. Fans who sang and chanted for the whole 90 minutes and were given the whole standing section behing one of the goals. Yes, the MLS is creating sheds!

That’s impressive enough but when you realise that those couple of thousand fans travelled around 430 miles across the border to take in the game, it’s even more so. To put that into perspective for East Fife fans, that’s nearly three times the distance from Methil to Stranraer or Dingwall. Wow!

Toronto and their fans have been a breath of fresh air to the MLS and the kickstart atmosphere wise that the League was needing. All new and exisitng Clubs now want to match , if not exceed, what has been achieved there.

The sight of away fans at MLS games has been increasing of late and it’s great to see. As someone who has travelled home and away to games for many years, it’s an important fundamental to me of being a football fan. It makes you have a greater sense of belonging to your Club. It’s not always going to be practical on a continent the size of North America but it’s encouraging to see what the game and their Club means to some of these fans.

With Vancouver and Portland joining recent newcomers Seattle in the MLS in 2011, this is going to be something we will see more of.

I’ve been told of stories from the NASL days of the 1970’s when thousands of fans of each club would travel across borders to take in the away matches. If this can continue in a couple of years time then the buzz and excitement will be amazing.

Maybe it is going to feel like watching in a real football atmosphere after all, but most importantly, by creating such an atmosphere, the many doubters out there will start to realise what a passionate and fantastic game football is.

Authored by: Michael McColl

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