The Part Of Major League The MLS Don’t Seem To Get

The second leg of the MLS first round playoff match up between Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo took place yesterday at the Texas side’s Robertson Stadium.

The first leg was a cracker, despite finishing goalless (see Blog of October 30th) and rekindled some interest in the MLS from us this season.

With things tentatively poised, it was a slightly more cagey second game, but nonetheless still entertaining in another goalless 90 minute encounter. Brian Ching ended up scoring the only goal of the two legs, five minutes into extra time, to send Houston through and end Seattle’s inaugural season.

As we explained in previous Blog posts, MLS action hasn’t been on the TVs much at AFTN Towers in recent years, but the first leg, and especially the wonderful atmosphere the Sounders fans created for the whole ninety minutes, made us wonder if we should perhaps be more open minded about just how good the MLS was and how professional Major League Soccer really was. Maybe it is a proper football league after all. Then we saw the pitch.

It wasn’t quite as good an atmosphere generated by the Dynamo fans but they certainly put on a great effort and still impressed, complimenting the action on the pitch well.

But all that pales into insignificance because of their shocking pitch – fake, bare, covered in sand and the worst crime of all, still with college throwball markings including big red endzone wording.

Now in an ideal world there would be no groundsharing with other sports. That is what the MLS ideally want – soccer specific stadiums. It’s what Houston are also ultimately aiming for. For now though they share the University of Houston campus facilities with the Cougars throwballers.

The end result is a disgraceful pitch to play a vital playoff game on, in front of a live continentwide television audience (although if we’re being honest the NFL games on at the same time were commanding many more viewers, but those that were left were the real football fans).

It’s not just us that think it was shocking, Seattle’s Freddie Ljungberg commented in his Blog:

“Arrived in Houston and have just been training at the stadium and noticed that they have the American football lines on the pitch. I think it is an absolute disgrace that the League allows this! They had it once before in New England and I didn’t have a clue where I was because you use the line and midfield line to know where you are on the pitch. When lines are everywhere you don’t know when to shoot or do anything – it is a massive problem!”

Well put Freddie.

The Cougars didn’t even have a home match yesterday and it was in that state, but were allowed to practice on the pitch according to the commentators. WTF?

You expect to see these kind of bush league facilities in something like the college football circuit or the USL Division 2 and PDL Leagues. Hell, you can even just about tolerate it with some of the newer USL1 sides in the less popular markets, but not for what is meant to be North America’s premier league.

If the MLS wants to be a professional league and thought of as such by fans outwith the North American continent (although I doubt this is really a pressing concern for the insular League and some of their more insular fans), they need to make sure that showcase games like this aren’t played in such conditions.

They take enough franchise money from the teams they admit (and Houston joined the League in 2006 so it’s not as if they haven’t had time to sort things out) and they hold Big Brother style control in a number of other less significant issues, so why not insist that the lines and markings are removed completely? Other clubs do it and the technology is there to do it.

I know it’s a fear amongst some Vancouver Whitecaps fans that this is something which we will face come 2011, when we’re sharing BC Place with the CFL’s BC Lions.

The difference I see it though is that with true football people behind the Whitecaps they wouldn’t let such embarrassing shambles happen. Would they?

Authored by: Michael McColl

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