“The MLS”, as it is known in Europe, is kind of a big deal these days.
The league actually gets TV revenue now, as opposed to the opening years when they had to pay to get their games on the tube. There are clubs that are actually turning profits, a welcomed and hoped for goal by a league that’s long been in the red. It’s average attendances are up. The play on the pitch has improved despite increasing the size of the league. There are real rivalries now. Big-time designated players are still making an impact on and off the pitch without bankrupting the league like it’s predecessor, the NASL.
I love going to games, though I must admit that I’ve always loved going to professional games. But still, it’s great to have a place to go with friends to grab a beer and watch some quality football live and in person. Well, at least that’s been the case since the park rangers at the local invitational tournament told me that I can’t drink while watching the youth teams play anymore. Apparently parents don’t like their kids to be “heckled by drunken idiots”… whatever.
But since I’ve started going to MLS games again with greater frequency, the growing passion that I’ve seen in person at the park tells me that the young league is finally starting to develop into a worthwhile and entertaining product. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been making the effort to pay more attention to the domestic league in this country.
But as has been well reported, there still a large contingent of American soccer fans that don’t follow MLS. And for the most part, I’m guilty of being one of this much derided yet extremely coveted segment of the league’s target market. MLS diehards say we’re snooty eurosnobs, yet the league really wants us to watch because they don’t need to convince us to like soccer in the first place.
To be fair, Eurosnobs always have had a series similar, yet legitimate, gripes about the American league: the play isn’t that good (when compared to Europe), there are no intense rivalries, the league isn’t making money, no one goes to the games, the live atmosphere sucks, etc. But like I mentioned above, most of those things are on the mend or have been rectified.
So by that logic, one could expect there to be hoards of former Eurosnobs watching MLS in droves now, right?
But for those of us that who are actually trying to be converted to MLS followers, we have recently been given ample ammunition to go back to join our old ranks.
I’m not sure if you remember or not, but a few weeks ago the entire Western media industry was completely enamored with the royal wedding. And due to it, MLS was making minor, related headlines because the league’s marquee player would be in attendance. Much furor was raised because he would be missing training ahead of an important clash with the trailing F.C. Dallas and wouldn’t be rejoining his teammates until the day of the match in Dallas, and for his grave sin of wearing his “order of the british empire” medal on the wrong lapel.
“How dare David skip Galaxy training to attend a wedding!?!?”, many asked with such spite that I often wasn’t sure if they thought Becks had committed a triple homicide or if he was just skipping a few practices.
But if you’re asking me (and you are, because you’re reading my blog), I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
As has been well noted, Beckham is one of those rare athletes who’s transcended sport (much like Jordan, Muhammed ali, Pele, and Lance Armstrong). He’s a cultural icon, a celebrity, and a humanitarian. These characteristics all make for Dave being an ambassador of the British nation… in fact, I’m pretty sure there are a large number of people around the world who solely identify being British to being David Beckham.
All of this considered, I can find plenty of reason for Beckham needing to be at the royal wedding. Him not being there would have been more of a minor black eye for the British crown. If he hadn’t been, you can easily imagine the press claiming the royal wedding “wasn’t big enough for Becks.”
After all, it was just a practice that was skipped. I’m sure Allen Iverson feels me.
So if I’m not upset about that, why bring it up?
While I can certainly justify Beckham needing to jet across the pond and skip a practice for a royal wedding, I have absolutely no tolerance for him missing a game for anything less than a state affair back home.
And guess what: that’s happening now.
You see, David’s dear friend (and gigantic asshole) Gary Neville decided to retire from Manchester United this season after a long and illustrious career. And as is often the case in England, departing players are often celebrated with a final friendly, testimonial match where that player will get to play with all of his old friends/teammates one last time. Gary’s is against Juventus tomorrow, and David has indicated that he will be playing.
But what did that linked story forget to mention? In order to attend, Beckham will be mising the Galaxy’s game against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday.
So yeah, David beckham — the face of our freaking league — is skipping a real-life, regular season MLS match that counts for something, so he can go play in game for a team that he isn’t paid vast sums of money by that has absolutely no bearing on any real-life competition.
Galaxy manager and monotone muppet Bruce Arena offered this gem to justify Becks skipping:
“[We} were planning to rest Beckham in the Houston match regardless of this request as [he] picked up a thigh injury in the victory over Sporting K.C. last week.”
Uh, yeah. So you’re allowing your most valuable asset to skip your game to play in a exhibition match when he is hurt. Tell me this isn’t a giant WTF-thought.
So the decision to allow Beckham to skip a game for a non-essential event is the reason I’m all wound up right now. Clearly, the league is allowing David to wear the pants in their relationship, telling them when he thinks playing for the team that pays his salary is important enough.
Would Fulham be okay if Clint Dempsey had told them this season that he would be missing a Premier League match so he could go back to Boston for a testimonial for Taylor Twellman? No, they wouldn’t. And they would laugh at him for asking.
I know that MLS think they need Beckham and his marketing outreach, and they probably do to an extent. But as it showed when Beckham was busy putting himself ahead of the league before while skipping chunks of seasons to play for A.C. Milan on loan, they can get by just fine without him. He is not bigger than this league, and MLS needs to put it’s foot down when it comes to allowing Beckham to think he is.
If Don Garber and company want to really convince the Eurosnob set to respect and watch their league, they need to make sure the “elite” players that they use to bait us in respect the league too.