July 26, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
Cutting through the clutter
If youíre a soccer fan, these days you can be gorging yourself on a veritable buffet of soccer. Iím not just talking the 24/7 variety available on cable TV.
There are over a dozen European teams crisscrossing the United States playing each other, playing MLS teams, playing lower level teams, playing in soccer specific stadiums, football stadiums and even four major league baseball ballparks. The Olympic soccer tournament kicked off on Wednesday, two days ahead of the official Opening Ceremonies in London. The W-League, PDL, NPSL and WPSL are all in playoffs, and U.S. Youth Soccer kicked off its national championships in South Carolina on Tuesday.
Just look at the calendar, which for players seems to be getting more and more crowded every year. For journalists, it has gone beyond crowded to sardine-can full.
In about a 24-hour period on Wednesday, five international games were played. The U.S. Women came back to beat France in Glasgow, AS Roma beat Liverpool at Fenway Park, the Chicago Red Stars and Western New York Flash advanced to the WPSL Elite Championship game, the youth finals started, and oh, yea, Major League Soccer held its All-Star Game.
Unless you are a true diehard soccer fan, or the editor of a soccer web site, you probably didnít realize all that was going on. If you are a fan of or involved in any one of the myriad events, you almost certainly didnít realize any of the others were going on.
Thatís the problem. Even the highest profile events can get lost in the shuffle. Soccer already competes with the other major sports for space in newspapers, on TV and in the hearts and minds of sports fans.
What could be a big coordinated effort to promote the sport turns into a series of mini-events, surrounded by some bigger events, with none truly getting the attention they deserve.
Given the showing of the MLS All-Stars in the past two seasons, with embarrassing losses to Manchester United, some called for doing away with the All-Star game, others called for changing the format.
Iím glad league Commissioner Don Garber did neither.
Tuesdayís All-Star Game was the spectacle soccer in this country deserves. If there is a better place to watch a sporting event in America than PPL Park, I havenít seen it yet. The setting along the Delaware River under the span of the Commodore Barry Bridge provides a spectacular backdrop for the Sons of Ben to do their singing. They were in full voice Wednesday night, cajoling the Chelsea fans for not being more vocal, and cheering on the MLS players they jeer at for the rest of the season.
And the MLS All-Stars put on a great show, playing a little defense, scoring some goals and managing to beat the European champions 3-2. Iíd be in favor of the MLS All-Stars playing the European Champions every year.
But why not turn it into a weeklong cohesive soccer celebration, with the All-Star Game as the centerpiece, either in the middle or the end. Play the minor league championships and youth championships around the All-Star game. Get every level of the sport involved and energized by seeing everything that is going on. And otherwise, clear out the calendar for a few days. The youth players should feel that connection to MLS and vice versa, and every player should share in the spotlight, and the All-Star Game should have the brightest light shining on it.