The Pacific shroud had settled inland and upon Greater Los Angeles. Unseasonably cool in Carson, the few fans zipped their hoodies or downed their beer jackets watching the Seattle Sounders finish yeoman’s work in dispatching an apathetic opponent away on a Wednesday night in front of maybe 400. American soccer totem and Seattle forward Clint Dempsey was the last Sounder spared, coming off the pitch in the 87th minute of a nearly meaningless game. Dempsey has played for big clubs in Europe and around the globe in the World Cup, but tonight he was just sweat-soaked and tired. He raised his hands to applaud his few supporters and clocked out of work.
Last Wednesday’s game in Carson shows what it’s like to be a pro in MLS. The glory is, at best, spotty in American soccer. Dempsey moved from the soccer cradle of the EPL to empty stadiums in the suburbs. The Stubhub Center was abandoned, like other stadiums in retread MLS cities. It’s easy to think how glamorous being a pro athlete would be: money, travel, playing a child’s game for a living, but when you fly week after week to dead arenas and (pardon the sports cliché) “have to get up” for a game against a despondent team in a deserted park midweek… sheesh. They ain’t all Timbers-Sounders kids. Yet. I still believe that soccer has nowhere to go but up in this country. I know this is an easy position to take, but people thought the same thing in 1976 and where did the NASL go? American soccer will survive if MSL focuses on slow, steady growth.
MSL hasn’t guaranteed its long-term future yet. Recent moves, expansion and loosening salary constrictions, are proving strong signs of life, but the league can’t maintain draining clubs such as Chivas. It is like an infection. the more Dempseys and Bradleys we bring in, great press and stories, but we must focus on stable, measurable stats. Attendance numbers have dwindled for the L.A. Galaxy since Beckham left (he was that important) and TFC failed at throwing money around and dissolved into a useless puddle again. These are some big markets with flagship franchises and they are not yet thriving. So slow the roll on your bullish take, MLS needs to focus on cleaning house before inviting more people to the party. The opposite of what it is currently doing in the Southeast, handing out franchises like it’s Halloween.
It’s scary to think how successful an expansion Chivas USA was. Like the Sounders after them, Chivas came out like gangbusters only missing the playoffs in their first year. They qualified for the playoffs four seasons straight, 2006-2009, winning the West in 2007. This franchise used to have All-Stars and Coach of the Years. They used to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League and send players to big-time European clubs (Brad Guzan) and the USMNT (Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan). This was a proud, growing club once upon a time. So don’t ask for whom the bell tolls Orlando and Atlanta, entropy and apathy can happen anywhere. MLS must set their house in order and do the right thing by Chivas USA: find solid, committed owners who’ll keep the team in the West and produce a winning culture. If not, shades of the NASL may arise.