Saturday, March 10, 2012

MLS First Kick and My New Audition

Finally I have lots to talk about.  Get comfy cuz this is going to take awhile…

First, I finally have a new trial.  It’s with Enkoping in the Swedish first division (3rd tier).  The club is about 50 miles west of Stockholm’s center, so it’s not far from a big city which is a big plus for me.  I will arrive on Monday and train and then the club’s website shows two matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I figure I will play in at least one of those.  The one on Wednesday is against AIK Stockholm, one of the biggest clubs in Sweden.  They play in a 36,000 seat stadium, though I doubt the match will be in it.  Even still, Swedish clubs in Allsvenskan get huge preseason attendances and I wouldn’t be surprised if 10,000 people showed up to the match.  It will be a great opportunity for me if I play that game.  Also, Enkoping wears green and white just like USF so the universe seems to be sending me signs that this will be a good club for me.  I’m just really anxious to get out of Finland and start fresh somewhere else.  If you would have asked me on February 1 if I’d be happy in the third tier of Sweden I’d have said no, but now I could want nothing more.  I just need a contract and a team where I can be an important player.  Enkoping promises to be both.  Btw, Enkoping has the two little “dots” over the “o” so if you look up the club it might not direct you straight to where you need to go.  But trust me, everything I’ve said up to this point has been correct.

Second, today is March 10 which means it’s First Kick in MLS!  I have a lot of friends playing in MLS these days and even more who are floating around in no man’s land and are with MLS teams but not yet actually on the roster.  And speaking of MLS, because I know you care about my opinion, I will give my two cents.

MLS has been brilliantly run.  Commissioner Don Garber deserves a holiday among soccer fans in America.  It’s a different story from the players’ point of view, especially players who gave everything to MLS and are now retired, but overall the league has done wonders for all involved.  When I started playing soccer, there was no MLS.  When I started high school the only hope of going pro before college in the US was a Project 40 contract that paid $40,000 a year and gave you tuition money if and when you eventually went to college.  Now, in a neverending maze of new rules and bending of current rules, MLS has mechanisms in place for 15-year-olds to train alongside pros and as soon as a player is ready he’s plucked up by a team and paid handsomely.  Project 40’s replacement, Generation Adidas, has college kids now coming out making $200k a year.  Somewhere between 2006-2010, for the first time in US Soccer history it made more sense for the best college players in America to choose MLS rather than Europe or South America.  Think about that.  The league only just began in 1996 and already we’re paying young stars far more than they would receive in all but the 10 biggest leagues in Europe.  I don’t know how Brazil and Argentina pay, but I would bet Steve Zakuani wouldn’t do too much better financially by playing for Flamengo in Brazil than he is here.  The only players you hear leaving for Europe now are the big players getting sold, teenagers going to top 6 leagues and scrubs like myself trying to find a better life in Scandinavia than we had in USL.  The product on the field is much better.  I can say having watched both leagues live that MLS is a stronger league than Allsvenskan, the top Swedish league.  If I had to rate MLS generally in the world regarding quality on the field, I would say somewhere between 10-15.  I would guess it is somewhere with Belgium, Denmark, Argentina and maybe Japan.  But that is just the on-field product.  Off the field is where MLS is really remarkable.

In just its 17th season (and with most teams less than 10- or even five-years-old), MLS is easily one of the ten most marketable leagues in the world.  The leagues that share a similar level (Belgium, Denmark, Argentina, Japan) don’t have nearly the consistency of an MLS in terms of attendance figures and marketing power.  Of course, in Argentina and Japan there are clubs that dwarf the popularity of any MLS club.  But those leagues can’t compare top to bottom with MLS.  The lower end of the Danish league averages 2000-3000 people.  The league averages in Denmark and Belgium are both around 10,000.  Only financially reckless spending by the clubs in those leagues allow them to have similar levels of play as MLS.  If MLS decided to let its teams spend as recklessly as European and Asian clubs do, then MLS could be a league on par with Portugal and France tomorrow.  NYRB and LA Galaxy could build Champions League-quality teams overnight and still show a profit at the end of the day.  Unfortunately, that would also mean the end of a lot of franchises as well.  MLS has been run very well though by Don Garber.  If LA and NY had been allowed to spend recklessly, then the new stadiums going up in Houston and San Jose and one recently built in Kansas City would not exist because all three of those clubs would have folded by now.  So good for Garber.  Sure, I wasn’t happy that if I had been offered a contract by the Colorado Rapids after I was drafted that it would have been for $12,900 a year, but no other team to this day has offered more (Haka did, but then took it back), so maybe the league wasn’t ruining those players’ lives the way everyone, myself included, claimed.

Enjoy MLS opening day and wish me luck.  I’m headed west!

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