Friday, March 7, 2014

MLS riding continued momentum

MLS enters 19th season with optimism for future generations

Opening day! Are you ready for some futbol? MLS, it's fan-tastic!

See what we did there?

Major League Soccer continues to ride momentum as it opens its 19th season this weekend and seemingly appears to grow more and more in stature but not quite as the Big 3 sports have just yet.

Any perceived negativity towards the state of soccer here in the U.S., however, is brushed aside as soccer's participatory status in this country among youth continues to produce healthy numbers in recreational and advanced levels.

The problem, however, has been the lack of continued development by the U.S. ladder in structuring potential players as they mature both mentally and physically. Countless cases of trying out for other sports in high school or beyond have reached high numbers as athletes had idols to look up to in the National Football League, National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball along with its riches and fame.

As of now, MLS is proving to be a hot commodity though with growing supporters groups, more sponsorship deals and soccer-specific stadiums sprucing up in downtown cities with investors lining up for a crack at ownership. The league continues to attract foreign talent and has provided a respectable push for homegrown players as well.

But television ratings prove otherwise. The miniscule numbers for watching MLS continues to baffle league officials despite negotiating decent packages with networks. The participatory aspect of soccer in America has always been strong but how do we translate that into spectatorship?

MLS stadiums, for the most part, have been full, averaging formidable gate receipts that places it among the top leagues in the world. More and more kids are wearing their favorite jerseys on the street, whether it be MLS or international. Pubs are welcoming supporters groups all over the country from MLS to the lower divisions.

So what's missing here?

Part of the answer is Michael Bradley. No, he's not going to get TV numbers to skyrocket alone but the fact that he decided to come back to MLS and forego several more years in Europe is. The New Jersey native even said it in his presser upon being introduced to Toronto FC's faithful this past offseason--he's here to continue to push the game into the mainstream and show tomorrow's stars that our league can pay and play.

The television ratings are soul-crushing but the pace that MLS has grown in the past two decades gives it ammunition to continue to fight and plan for years ahead. We owe that to our future national-team players.

-Tio Pelotas