The Wonderfully Woeful – Watching the MLS

There is no way to really write this without coming across as completely condescending, but please know I don’t mean to be, it just kinda happens.

Two nights ago, being Sunday March 6th, the MLS kicked off the new season for 2016 and I, kind of spur of the moment, decided to actually give it a go.

I can’t say exactly why I did so: maybe my American Twitter brethren sub-consciously convinced me, perhaps the lure of watching world class players of yester-year battle it out with Ldil versions of themselves on the pitch (and lose) was just too overwhelming, it might just be that as America fascinates me that much – their football, ahem soccer, does too? But more than likely, I was just proper bored.

Whatever the reason, I settled in to Chicago Fire take on New York City FC – and my curiosity wasn’t half rewarded.

The game was completely crazy, a seven goal thriller in which the names I’d never heard of before easily outshone the likes of David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. City eventually ran out 4-3 winners, as their superior attacking talent just got them over the line.

The team in sky blue were far more clinical and took advantage of the simply diabolical defending that was on display on one more occasion than the Fire, which saw them come out winners. But Chicago really could have, should have, at least got them selves a point.

I then followed that first game up by watching reigning champions Portland Timbers take on a potential candidate for which team I will support, Columbus Crew (the other being Houston Dynamo). The quality of this game was far greater, as you’d expect from last years finalists, with the Champions eventually running out 2-1 winners – despite a majestic bicycle kick from Federico Higuian.

The latter game may have been of a much higher quality than NYC v Chicago, but it was that game that I preferred much more just because of the sheer enjoyment of it all. Timbers vs Crew was massive fun too, especially thanks to the dude chain sawing a log after every Portland goal, but the comical defending in the Windy City led to a chaotic game that was just a blast to behold.

Each defence played with a very ambitious high line, which was constantly exposed by the other teams’ forwards resulting in constant attacks on goal (Highlights of other MLS fixtures quickly revealed that this is a trend that happens through out the league).

It was fast and frantic, it was relentless and crazy. Both sides went at each other, equipped with lightening pace and determination, constantly. It was quite reminiscent of my own personal time on the pitch in the Sunday Leagues, where there is an absence of tactics and both teams’ only objective is to get the ball at the other end of the pitch as quick as possible. There is no time to dawdle on the ball and build up play patiently due to high lines and pressing attackers, it’s not as if anyone has any thought of doing that anyway. The ball goes forward as quickly as possible, all the time.

Again, without being condescending as I mean this in the best possible way, it also reminds me of going to watch the English non-league too. That’s because at non-league level there are just less restrictions at the stadium, around the whole place. At non-league there aren’t 1,000 stewards telling fans what they can and can’t do, which makes for a larger chance for random things to happen. The limits of opportunity are expanded ten-fold.

Obviously MLS isn’t quite that slack, but the way this relatively new fan culture has been developed means that weird and wonderful things can happen in the stadiums, without being scorned on. Timber Joey in Portland, Chicago Fire playing a literal fire siren after they score. Just loads of little quirks that separates the MLS from any where else on the planet.

The MLS does lack in a collective quality, there are sprinklings of talent and, from what I’ve seen, each team has at least one technically gifted player, but for the most part the players are more attuned to physical attributes rather than skilful ones.

This lack of apparent skill, however, makes for incredibly exciting games of football, which are end-to-end for the entirety and lead to buckets of goals being scored.

I watched my first MLS game out of a little curiosity and Sunday evening boredom, I’ll be returning for the blistering, exciting football, oh, and the pretty brilliant fans.

 

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