Monday, January 9, 2017

MLS Will Have to be the 'Chosen League' to Evolve the World's Sport

It's hard to believe that not too long ago, there weren't two point conversions in the NFL or three-point shots in the NBA. 

As sports fans in the U.S., we have gotten used to our sports evolving. In recent years, each of our major sports have consistently looked for ways to streamline and make their sports better games to watch and fairer to the players playing them. There can be no doubt that each sport has made fundamental changes to modernize and be more attractive to watch for fans. In fact, all of them at the professional level, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, have rules committees in the off-seasons to govern over changes that may need to be made to improve viewing and spectating experiences for fans. MLS is not able to govern its own rules for soccer because of FIFA constraints.

Also, MLS is not in the same position as its counterparts from pro leagues of the other sports in the U.S. because MLS is not considered the primary leading world league of its sport. There is stiff competition from other soccer leagues around the world that MLS has to contend with year-round. These other leagues with better reputations for skilled play are smoothly accessible on cable Tv. There are periodic national team and club tournaments also available on cable Tv. All of it creates a surplus of soccer to watch and puts a label of 'insignificant' on MLS. Unfortunately, its a label that won't be shaken easily.

For the foreseeable future, MLS is a league that will be played primarily to and for American and Canadian fans. This is the reality of MLS. Unlike its counterparts, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, a larger majority of MLS fans will be U.S. or Canadian raised. Typically, having American consumers is not problematic for selling a product. Surely, with enough clients to sell to, a high-quality product that people want will be successful. The problem for MLS is that too many people snub their noses at them in favor of other soccer around the world. 

Then, there's the problem in the U.S. of getting more fans to embrace the sport. Even with all of its penetration into popular culture over the last several years, soccer is still perceived by many casual sports fans as boring or 'lacking scoring.' 

The FIFA bribery, embezzlement cases that led to the indictments showed an enormous gap in leadership. For decades, the organization responsible for guiding and administrating the world's sport deliberately maintained a status quo to avoid having to deal with outside influences. During this very long period of time, American influence was more than likely considered as undeserving, naive, gullible nonsense. Why would FIFA ever have to consult for American purposes?

Now, there is supposedly new transparency at FIFA and a new openness to the U.S. ways of doing things. All the criminal ways of the past at FIFA has allowed for thinking that an American influence at the organization might not be such a bad thing. 

MLS has developed its league in as many American ways as possible. If permitted, MLS might do much more.

Evolving the sport of soccer might end up being the biggest contribution MLS makes to the sport. Making subtle rules changes for the betterment of the spectating audience should be the template for how the league marches in its future. 

MLS could bring common sense to the game. When 18 players suit up for a game, yet only 14 (11 starters and three substitutes) can possibly play in that game, for us Americans, that's a hard thing to understand. It doesn't work that way in any of the other major sports. All players can enter a game in those sports. When a team can't place a shot on goal in a championship game, maybe it's time to look at who is the game played for. Is this a game solely so that players can attempt to exhibit their skills or is it a game played for an audience interested in seeing the most exciting kinds of plays displayed. 

MLS must be unleashed at all layers. It is the greatest hope the world's sport has for a modern, contemporary game that encompasses all aspects of athleticism and skill that the game offers. 

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