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Good soccer reads #2

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There has always been a tension in North American soccer between maintaining traditions and trying new things. In some ways, this tension has to do with the type of fans pro soccer on these shores seeks to attract. Fans more familiar with soccer in other countries may find innovations such as hockey-style shootouts to break ties distasteful while many fans less familiar with the game may appreciate not having to sit through what they see as “boring” ties. Several stories have come up this week which get at this tension.

While the general pattern in North American soccer has been toward the more traditional (shootouts RIP), the use of video evidence to retrospectively punish players in MLS has moved beyond measures that other leagues have taken. While video evidence has led to bans throughout European leagues, MLS has made the decision to punish players for incidents that referees see but choose not to punish during the game. This is contrast to the Premier League, for example, which only uses video evidence to punish incidents not reported by referees (much to the relief of one Mario Balotelli). This move by MLS, which is a huge break with the long-held tradition of not overruling the on-field decision of the referee, is a hugely significant one, and one which has already brought a great deal of controversy. This may not be the last of the use of technology within MLS, as league commissioner Don Garber also announced this week a willingness to serve as one of the first leagues to test goal line technology.

If MLS has broken from European traditions in its use of technology, it has followed them in its use of advertising on team uniforms. While these sponsorships have a long history in Europe, their use is far less common in North America. An article in the New York Times this week discussed the possibility of NBA teams having advertising on their uniforms. This move would make the NBA the first of the “big four” sports in North America (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey) to place sponsors on their uniforms. In many ways, I am surprised that European soccer teams did this before American professional teams. But then, I’ve long noticed, as have others, that European soccer is far more capitalistic than the big four sports in North America.

One team with sponsors not only on their uniforms but in their actual name is the New York Red Bulls. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson wrote this week, the team has struggled to find a place in the New York sports scene. Yet in many ways, the Red Bulls are the exception to the rule of MLS growth over the past few years. As Peter Wilt writes in an interesting comparison of MLS and the Australian A-League, the North American league has grown tremendously compared to its counterpart down under.

Part of the growth of MLS has come from improved marketing. Another part of the growth can be explained by the growth in organized supporters clubs. And as the San Antonio Scorpions of the NASL showed last weekend in their first ever game, which they sold out, getting fan buy-in is huge. Like the Sons of Ben, who formed in Philadelphia before that city had a pro team, San Antonio had supporters groups even before the team existed.

The Crocketteers, a group of soccer supporters founded in 2009, drew about 300 fans to its tailgate. They were one of three supporters groups at the game, along with the Alamo City Ultras and the Bexar County Casuals.

“This game is a three-year dream for us,” said Crocketteers founder Michael Macias. “We’re really indebted to [team owner] Mr. Hartman for making our dreams a reality.”

Is there any other place in the world — and I ask this not as a rhetorical question, but out of real curiousity  – that forms fan clubs for teams that do not yet exist?

2 Responses to “Good soccer reads #2”

  1. Steve

    In regards to your non-rhetorical at the end, I’d like to pose a related question: Where else can a brand new team manifest in the top flight? That hope (which turned out to be founded) from Philadelphians was a strong driver of the Sons of Ben’s genesis. A healthy hatred of regional rivals didn’t seem to hurt either. Their “We don’t have a team and we’re louder than you” chants at NY and DC matches were pretty amazing.

  2. Matt

    You tied in the link with European soccer being more capitalistic than traditional American sports. It is too, however, more democratic in it’s structure than typical top-down professional leagues. Which in large part is what makes the game so approachable. The concept that a community (could before but less likely in today’s football climate) band together and promote a team to the highest levels.

    Here, MLS having taken over the top-down model of traditional american sports will eventually stop/slow it’s expansion. However the grass root development of the game will only continue to expand with every growing generation that plays the game growing up. There’s a burgeoning middle ground that will become evermore relevant to soccer in the US by providing avenues for supporters of the game that want to follow a team in it’s community once MLS has closed off it’s expansion. Couple that to the desire for post-youth club players wanting to continue their maturation after high school or college seems to lead to an intersection of mutual desires for more community based teams.

    There are some great cultural connections that I’m looking forward to XI bringing to us.


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