The Seattle Sounders FC needed a coach so they went out and signed the best coach money could buy. That would be Sigi Schmid, who is essentially the Mike Holmgren of MLS. After winning two MLS championships and being named 2008 Coach of the Year, Schmid may very well be the best coach in American soccer. But what does that mean, really?
Often viewed as the minor leagues of the world’s football, MLS is the league where lesser players dominate and good players go to die. Veterans of European soccer make their way to MLS when they know their time is up. At the same time, American players who could never cut it across the pond find their way into MLS starting lineups. All of this leads me to wonder what the MLS will mean here in Seattle.
Part of the reason Americans can get behind the NFL, NBA, and MLB so strongly is because we are witnessing a sport played at its very highest level. The NFL has the best football players, the NBA the best basketball players, and MLB the best baseball players. MLS is the exception to the rule. Sure, it may technically be a major professional sport, but the game’s highest level is played in Europe, not America. Fans don’t attend MLS games for the same reasons they don’t attend Minor League Baseball games or NBDL games; the game played at a lower level just isn’t as much fun to watch.
This presents an interesting quagmire for MLS. Hardcore soccer fans are more apt to shun MLS in favor of the English Premier League, while the casual soccer fan (or non-fan) is likely to stay away just because soccer isn’t that appealing to them. Personally, I don’t consider myself much of a soccer fan, and chances are I’m part of the majority. I’ll watch the World Cup, but that’s about it. Even in a 0-0 World Cup game, chances are you’ll see some things done with a soccer ball that you’ve never seen before, and that’s intriguing. With MLS, the intrigue just isn’t there. In an exciting MLS contest, there’s a good chance you probably won’t see anything you haven’t seen before. We know this going in, which is why we simply don’t go. It’s the same reason why cliched chick flicks don’t register at the box office, or overused jokes don’t make a star out of an aspiring comedian. America needs new, exciting, fresh, and original. The MLS doesn’t provide that.
So I ask, how do we really feel about the Sounders? Right now we feel great. The team is brand new, we have celebrity ownership, we’re making big-name signings left and right, and we’ve sold more 2009 season tickets than any of our league’s counterparts. But what happens after that initial sheen wears off? What happens after the first season is complete? What happens if we don’t win? Seattle fans have made it clear across all sports that they cannot support a loser (save for the Mariners post-2001). It’s what caused us to lose the Sonics, what forced NFL blackouts through the ’90’s, and what plagued the pre-1995 Mariners. In a sport that is already struggling to establish a fan base, how will we truly, ultimately embrace Major League Soccer in Seattle?