Thursday, March 2, 2017

What's Missing

On a day where the St. Pete City Council confirms the date for a special election including the re-imagining of Al Lang Stadium, those of us in South Florida continue to wallow in our own self doubt, pity ourselves and look up to the heavens for something.

Now, that something isn’t David Beckham like we all believed it would be three years ago. As a Strikers fan, we are on the verge of something that is quite interesting (if not disturbing).

Imagine a scenario if you will that in 5 years time the MLS has three Florida-based teams. Taking into account today’s environment, those three teams would be Orlando City SC, Miami Beckham United and the, ugh, Tampa Bay Rowdies. Am I supposed to be happy or pissed off? The growth of the game of soccer in the US is definitely important to me. I was picked on so much for being the soccer kid in school and now we have soccer-specific stadiums. The expense has been the Fort Lauderdale Strikers which takes me into a talking point.

What is the point of MLS? At its inception, FIFA mandated that US Soccer have a professional league in order to be awarded hosting rights to the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Our founding fathers at the time knew what happened to the NASL and made the decision to create the MLS in the image of American sports leagues. With franchises instead of clubs, the MLS was born. You can’t blame them. The passing of NASL 1.0 was epic. Everything and anything had to be done to avoid a similar calamity. American sports leagues are very stable and so to follow that lead makes business sense.

But soccer has that little something different that no other sport has. It provides opportunity. To me the World Cup is the greatest thing ever because every country is included. Albeit most countries don’t have any shot of winning, they do have an opportunity to make it and play those “world-class” countries. Kuwait in 82, USA in 90, Saudi Arabia in 94 and so on and so on.

Soccer leagues around the world have that same inclusion, just to a different degree. Though slim, a 4th division side in England can theoretically play in the Premier League. That is what the seasoned soccer fan is accustomed to, that is part of the game. The MLS is completely void of that excitement. Actually, and disagree with me, it seems that more excitement is generated in groups trying to make the MLS, than the actual MLS games themselves. Why? Because its the only time we “the little guy” or “outsider” can make it to the big leagues.

It took Philadelphia 7 hard years to push and push to get into the MLS and get a stadium. It was a remarkable story that included a supporter’s group and ownership that fought every obstacle and made it happen. Since they’ve been in the MLS, can you name 3 players who’ve played for the Union?

There is no drama in the MLS, but it is our first division. I honestly find more joy in watching MLS teams compete in Champions League play because that is where that drama exists. Imagine if an MLS team wins the CL? They get to go to the Club World Cup, and play Real Madrid or Barcelona in a competitive match. Wouldn’t that be something?

The MLS is great for so many things. It has increased the level of play of the American footballer. It has made better US coaches. It has forced soccer into mainstream media. These are all things we can thank the MLS for. Plus we have soccer-specific stadiums. So I’m not bashing here, just working my way to something else. The MLS has done all this, but it came at a price and that price was the theater.

I’ll take one stab at a fix for this. MLS should expand to 40 teams and have 2 divisions with pro/rel between them. Then the last place team in Division 2 needs to play in a playoff against the champion of whatever league is deemed beneath it. If it were right now, you would have a NASL-USL playoff winner play against the last place team in D2 MLS. Winner makes it in. I think that will add some excitement, put some fire into these games and freak fans and owners out enough to make the games more interesting. And for the business owners afraid of seeing their $150 million wasted to play in the USL, well, that is the sport, it’s part of the game.

Last point I want to make about MLS here is really more of a statement about MLS Miami. So their PR firm came out and said they are committed to building a world-class club. I mean, come on! An MLS team, by definition, is not world-class. I think MLS fans know that. People in South Florida know that for sure and we can smell bullshit pretty darn well. Should I keep going? You know I’m a little bit of a Miami hater right now, but even the Miami supporters groups are getting antsy, so that cannot be a good sign.

So how does this affect a future Fort Lauderdale Strikers outfit? I don't think it does because we don't even have a team on the field. Without Pro/Rel it is very hard to imagine a strong ownership group investing enough to keep the Strikers alive. And knowing our market, if you're not providing a top-quality experience, you are not going to have attendance. Man, I'm getting very depressed right now. At least I have the USMNT. March 24 can't come any sooner.

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