Why I Think You Should Care About the MLS Playoffs (…Or at Least Pay Attention…)
The Major League Soccer playoffs began last night, with Chicago Fire losing the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Play-in Game. Will Bruin scored both goals for the winners. It was a decent contest, worthy of being carried on national television, as it was broadcast on ESPN2.
I know most of the people who would read this blog consider MLS season over because the Union have no more matches to play. I’m certainly a bit down about the season being done, too, especially with the way the last few matches went. I understand that scorned Union faithful will find no ability to root for another team, or care enough to keep following. However, it would benefit the league if we gave these playoff games some viewership ratings.
The number of people who are fans of MLS or any of its teams pales in comparison to the masses of baseball or NFL fans. Even when, say, Eagles fans last year said “to hell with it, I’m not watching the playoffs because the Eagles aren’t in them” it doesn’t dent the ratings and interest that much because there are so many people who will watch the games because they love the game. Soccer, in this country at least, doesn’t have those numbers. You don’t see large groups of people gathering to watch home matches at friends’ houses or bars. The fans who do get together for road matches are the people who attend the home matches.
The point is that we, as a relatively small fan base of a North American professional sports league, owe it to the league that we support one of the member teams of to watch these matches. I’m not saying anyone is a bad fan if they don’t watch EVERY match. I don’t plan on staying up to watch matches like Vancouver-LA @ 10:30, but when the time is more convenient, like the first match of the playoffs, I will watch.
Let’s be honest: after putting ourselves through the drek that was the Union’s 2012 season, I think we could use some time watching players of better quality (yes, I’m fully aware that European league matches are readily available for viewing. I’ll watch those, too). I like to think that fans from the greater Philadelphia area and suburbs are intelligent sports fans with passion to spare. Following along this post-season is a way to keep us educated more so than reading the generally brief summaries or simply reading the box score. The postseason provides us with the opportunity to see a domestic match with two of the league’s best teams on national television. The league has also done well to spread their broadcasts out so that they can generally all be viewed. For instance, there are five consecutive days of matches that will be broadcast in their own timeslots with no overlaps. They’ll all be carried on NBC Sports Network or NBC.
MLS doesn’t have the widespread following where it can get good television ratings with the apathy of the fans whose favorite teams are no longer contending for MLS Cup. I like the games having a national carrier. It allowed me to watch Union unfortunately, but not surprisingly, lose to Sporting KC while I was visiting family in Arizona. I’m sure it will help in some little way convey the viability of televised soccer if a few of us chose to pay attention to these readily available playoff games. My hope is that the league’s popularity grows and it will necessitate stations getting better commentators for all teams (also, local guys don’t travel to broadcast road matches live, they’re watching TV like us. WTF).
I would LIKE to think that with greater viewership would come greater criticism, and force the league to get better refereeing, but we all know that that’s an unattainable pipedream. I’ll enjoy following along during the quest to be crowned MLS champions. I hope some of you will, too, if only because you enjoy the game.