Proud to be “MLS”

22 01 2012

As I sat in the press box at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday night, working on the four stories I field for both MLSSoccer.com and SB Nation Arizona, I didn’t really consider that the U.S. national soccer team that had so excitingly defeated Venezuela 1-0 on a last-ditch header by Ricardo Clark was not the “A” roster of national team players.

Game on Saturday night in Glendale AZ. U.S. in white.

Of course I was aware of it. But the game was still a good one, and an admirable performance at that, by a bunch of American Major League Soccer guys and a few Americans in Europe not heralded in the way Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Carlos Bocanegra are.

I really like watching those guys play, but seeing this U.S. team play hard and fast and win, no matter whom the opponent (Venezuela was a very game foe, needless to say, despite not using many of its frontline players) brought me a sense of appreciation and gratification.

I’ve been a fan of MLS since the 2008 season when I really began to follow the league. It’s not the EPL or La Liga or the Bundesliga or Serie A, and maybe it never will be. But I like the direction in which the league is headed. I like that the infusion of the Cascadia teams has increased the league’s profile. I like the openness and availability and accessibility of and to the players and coaches and league staff. I like the pattern of managed growth and the choices of expansion cities, knowing well that my current home, Phoenix, may never be on that list.

I liked knowing that I was familiar with almost every player on the field Saturday, be it through previous interviews or just from watching a lot of games. I have to thank Ives Galarcep for the opportunity to write for his Soccer by Ives web site because it forced me to follow MLS even more closely, and now it’s kind of a habit. And it helps that I was there for the start of an MLS franchise and the first season of the Seattle Sounders, making me a fan of the league by default.

Sure, many of these guys might never feature in a World Cup for the Americans, even though Clark and Jermaine Jones, who played very well, have done so. At least soccer fans in the U.S. know that the players in their domestic league are a bunch of quality character, hard-working guys who are willing to learn from Jurgen Klinsmann and get better and perhaps take the next step in their careers. And those fans should know, if they don’t already, that a league is only as good as its players, and there is quality soccer to be seen live at MLS stadiums around North America.

Support the league. Support these players — A.J. DeLaGarza and Graham Zusi and Bill Hamid and Jeff Parke and Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo and C.J Sapong and Kyle Beckerman and Geoff Cameron and many more. Appreciate what we have, because they certainly do. The 2012 season starts in less than two months.

I’m positive that Klinsmann is happy to be working with a group of guys like this, who are honored to wear the U.S. jersey and don’t take it for granted and are willing to adapt to his style. And here’s hoping we see at least a few of them contributing in big international competitions down the road.

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