Why get behind RSL?
This week they play the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Mexico’s Monterrey. This is the first final of the CCL that a team from Major League Soccer has participated in.
Frankly, the performance of MLS teams in the CCL in the past has been an embarrassment to the MLS, especially when you consider the fact Division 2 teams like the Montreal Impact and the Puerto Rico Islanders were going deep into the tournament, while MLS teams had already been knocked out.
The CCL is the chance for MLS to test itself against the best teams from CONCACAF. It is a good measure of the quality of MLS teams. I have argued Don Garber should make winning the CCL a priority for the league. If an MLS club wins the CCL, they get to play in the World Club Cup, with the opportunity to play the best teams from Europe and South America.
MLS has created a model of football which is original in its concept, with a league based on parity and with tight financial constraints on its clubs. This is all very well, but does it create good football?
We will see on Wednesday. This is when RSL face the daunting task of playing Monterrey in Mexico, where no MLS club team has ever won a game. I, for one, hope they win it all, and in doing so prove MLS can produce clubs which can play the best football in CONCACAF.
Recently Major League Soccer and its brain trust decided to add a few more teams to the playoffs with a total of 10 teams out of 18 to participate. The top three teams in each conference will get a bye as four ”wild card” teams with the next best records battle it out in two single match deciders which will determine who gets to the Quarter finals. MLS has struggled over the years to get its playoff structure right.
Football purists seem to want the team with the most points at the end of the season to be celebrated as Champions as is the case in Europe. Rather than having parallel and unrelated competitions running at the same time culminating with different champions, the North American sporting tradition values the monolithic winner-takes-all championship which must be earned regardless of regular season form. The regular season is just about making the playoffs and positioning yourself for the playoffs.
While finishing the season with the best record is a badge of pride, winning the playoffs is what North American sports is all about. In some sports, like Hockey, winning the trophy for the best regular season record is seen as a bit of a curse.
The football purists will not be able to convince the North American sports fan that valuing the best overall record over everything else is right just because that is done in Europe and elsewhere. Frankly, the nature of football in Europe is such that, in most leagues, before a ball is kicked, the team that will finish with the most points can quite easily be predicted. This is because European football makes no effort at bringing parity to their leagues.
The playoff format gives the underdog a chance, and North American sports fans love an underdog.
Parity and the inability to predict a winner is what keeps fans of specific teams interested in the North American sports market. If it could be predicted that the NY Red Bulls would win from day one, why would fans even show up to watch their teams?
Frankly, I would love to see the Vancouver Whitecaps finish the season with the most points and would celebrate that, especially since they have not done so since their predecessors, the Vancouver 86ers, did so long ago. There is nothing, however, like the wild ride of going all the way and winning a championship final as the Whitecaps did in 1979, 2006 and 2008. These championships created memories that will last a lifetime.
This is a battle the football purists are going to lose. The playoffs are what North American sports fans value most. More teams involved in the playoffs means more fans are engaged with their teams for a longer period of time.
Another good move by MLS in my view, and another reason why MLS should resist the pull of football conservatism from Europe.
I must say the Whitecaps have been doing a great job with their kickoff countdown on their website. Every day they have been doing a video counting the days to kickoff on March 19. Today’s was a visit to Fratelli’s bakery on Commercial Drive, one of the Drive’s great institutions.
Carl Valentine, one of the heroes of 1979, seems to be relishing his new role with the club, and I have to say I am delighted he is back with the Whitecaps and having the fun he deserves to have. I hope the team continues to nurture its relationship with the heroes of 79. Lets get them back into town to participate in the rebirth of our team at the top level.
The daily countdown features have been well produced, humourous and dare, I say it, very emotional as well. For me the Vancouver Whitecaps are my favorite Vancouver institution. Like Barcelona FC, the Vancouver Whitecaps are more than just a club. The fact it will become celebrated again in this city is the stuff I have been dreaming about since 1984 when the team met its terrible demise. Again, all thanks must go to Greg Kerfoot and Bob Lenarduzzi for saving the Vancouver Whitecaps back in 2001.
The Phoenix is about to rise from the ashes! I must say I am really getting into a celebratory mood.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are coming back to take the position they deserve in this city.
Recently I visited the Portland Timber’s site to have a look at where they will be playing their games in Major League Soccer. I was intrigued by what I found. The new Jeld-Wen field really is a bizarre concept, being a redeveloped baseball stadium. It does not really fit into Major League Soccer’s concept of a sleek mid-sized new soccer stadium. It is a weird hodge-podge which looks unattractive at first.
Once you get over the sheer strangeness of the place, I’d have to say it looks like one of the better and more interesting places to watch a game in Major League Soccer. If I were to take a wager on which place will generate the best atmosphere for a football match in MLS, I think I will bet on Portland.
Why? For one thing, Portland fans (called the “Timbers Army”) were the most organized of all Division 2 teams and put on the best show as soccer fans. Frankly, they put our Southsiders to shame in terms of numbers and organization in singing and chanting.
While one end of the park has almost no seats behind the goal, the other end has a massive curve of seats behind the goal which looks like it has about half of the total seats in the place. If they fill that curve with their ultras, and with the fan organization they have in place, I think they will put on the best fan show in MLS. An organized fan group on that curve will be able to put on a terrific show with banners, flags, etc to rival anything in Europe.
Portland’s curve (call it the “Curva Portland”) reminds me of some Italian football grounds where the ultras gather on the curved banks of seats in stadia with running tracks- like Roma’s curva sud in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The acoustics of Portland’s curve will be fantastic, because there is a large roof over head which will channel the noise out on to the pitch. Furthermore, directly across from the curve is a massive building on the other side which will bounce the noise back on to the pitch.
Portland may have the weirdest stadium in the MLS, but in terms of fan culture it might just turn out to be the best ground to watch a game in the whole league.