By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 20, 2012) US Soccer Players — Given my lengthy response to the first one, we're going to go ahead and wade right into the reader mail this week. We'll start with a technical note. I was asked if it makes more sense to send in an email rather than reply to my articles in the comments section. That's a good question. I would say if you're looking for other people to respond the day the article went up, the comments are for you. If you're really interested in what I think, send me an email. You don't have to make it formal and include your full name and city, but I'm happy to include those details if you want to make them available. I'm not going to put up anybody's before the @ sign email address. If you don't tell me who you are, you're anonymous.
Derrick writes: "I saw on the latest Forbes list that Manchester United is once again the richest team in soccer. Would you say they're also the most popular in the USA?"
Uh… maybe. To catch everybody else up, here's what we're talking about. It's tough to judge what popular means. If we're talking about clubs in general and basing it on TV ratings, Manchester United would be behind a few Mexican Primera Division teams. Chivas, Club America, UNAM Pumas, and there's an argument for a couple of others draw a lot of support in the US market. You can tell by the TV ratings and people wearing their gear. If we're limiting it to European only, it's tough to tease out.
By gear alone, it's whoever happens to be winning at Champions League level. Right now that's Barcelona, and I'm seeing people wearing more Barca shirts than United. But that's a limited sample set based on the Mid-Atlantic region. For all I know, half of Des Moines is suddenly interested in Chelsea and spent on their shirts. The TV ratings aren't helpful. Anything shown on Fox's main channel outdraws every other European club soccer property.
I would say in terms of mainstream American appeal, should Chelsea win the Champions League you'll see significantly more Chelsea shirts worn as casual attire in the United States. To me, it's the Champions League driving the interest just like all of those people here who woke up the morning after the World Cup final and realized they were in desperate need of a Spain shirt.
What does that really mean? I'll return to my initial response. It's difficult to determine real fandom in any sport for any club, especially when the fashion aspect takes hold. There are teams that make it difficult to wear their brand, others who arguably make it way too easy. If your primary colors are navy blue, white, and grey and your logo is iconic of the biggest city in the country, that's almost always going to be an easier sell than something that requires an explanation. At the same time, something that classic might not tell us anything about whether or not the person wearing it could name four regular players on the roster much less tell you what happened in the last game.
Again, it's a question of definition and scope and that's where the ratings tell a significant part of the story. Even there, I think it's unrealistic to expect the same level of interest for the other domestic leagues as we see for the Premier League. There's not the same level or depth of coverage from the US outlets and there's the multiple language barriers. The Champions League solves that and it's why a European super league would be an easy sell in the United States.
It's the easy part that would be so important here, removing the degree of difficulty in really trying to follow these clubs like you would a local team. That's also where Mexico's Primera Division already has an advantage, since they're treated like local teams on easily available over-air Spanish-language networks and print media.
The mysteriously first-named B. Forster writes: How disappointed should we really be that the Champions League final doesn't involved an MLS team? Mexican clubs can spend more than anybody else in CONCACAF, so they should be the ones winning the regional championship. MLS made runs, got three teams in the quarterfinals, and couldn't knock out the best team in Mexico. Is there really any shame in that?
'No,' replies the not quite as mysteriously first-named me (it's Joseph by the way, but nobody has ever called me that). And it's a good point to make after Monterrey's reminder that they've figured out how to beat pretty much anybody at CONCACAF Champions League level.
It's not exactly a secret that Major League Soccer's message is decidedly mixed here. They talk of what the League will be like in 2022 and the push to make it one of the world's elite, but at the same time they stress the importance of the Champions League right now without spending at Primera Division levels. In fairness, what choice do they really have if they're not going to immediately start spending on depth.
That's one of the distinctions between the Primera and MLS right now. At Champions League level, Primera squads are stronger after you get past the superstars. That's what even a team like the Galaxy runs into. In theory and on paper, they're the strongest club in Major League Soccer, but they lack the kind of depth taken for granted at Primera level.
Nothing new here and all of these are points many have made more than once from a variety of people. The roster exemptions and other squad tweaks MLS has allowed in recent years are an improvement, but they're not the significant changes that need to happen to really compete at Champions League level. An MLS team winning the tournament in these circumstances would have to be considered an upset. Unless MLS chooses to reset the regulations on how their squads are built, that's going to continue to be the case.
Jeff writes: "I want to go off-topic. You mentioned Van Halen in an earlier article, and I wanted to get a list of your top VH songs. Why I'm asking is that I'm working on a theory that the current love for Roth-era VH is just a fad and the Hagar-era stuff holds up."
Off topic you say? Sure Jeff, why not. When the original Van Halen broke up, I was at that crucial age where my hometown had just got cable. My first exposure to Van Halen was the Hot For Teacher and Jump videos they were showing on MTV and David Lee Roth's new solo stuff. Why do we need the preamble? Because Yankee Rose remains my favorite Van Halen-esque song even if Roth was the only Van Halen member on it. 'Ah, so we're getting the standard pro-Roth list, right?' Nope.
- Unchained (my favorite Van Halen song and it uses drop D tuning to make the intro work)
- Seven Seals (Hagar era and from an album most would put bottom of the list)
- Push Comes To Shove (Fair Warning is my favorite Van Halen album)
- I'll Wait (not a fan of the 1984 album for the most part)
- Fools (Listen to the intro and tell me who it sounds like)
- Ain't Talkin bout Love (Not a fan of the first Van Halen album either)
- Humans Being (soundtrack single that does the best job with a patented Sammy bridge)
- Stay Frosty (new album, that's too long overall but still quite good)
- Dancing In The Streets (cover, and you really can't hear what I like about it except with headphones – Eddie's almost out of place keyboard riff that's Who-esque in its execution)
- Could This Be Magic (The Women And Children First album is severely underrated)
As for your theory, I don't think it requires a lab coat and a Roth-approved 'research assistant' to make that point. People were making it when I was in high school in either direction. It's a fun argument. Records sold versus long-term importance of the material, and all the time we're talking about a massively popular American rock band that's never had much of a problem filling arenas. And we're back to talking about soccer.
An anonymous emailer writes: "Jay (nope, that's not it) I read your Hall of Fame column about the problem with honoring early MLS players. Who do you think is the best player to ever play in MLS with the weight put on his MLS contributions? I would say it has to be Carlos Valderrama. Why? Because he adjusted his game to MLS and it worked with two different teams. He got a lot of grief for staying in the middle of the field, but his distribution was without comparison. He deserves to be in the MLS wing of the Hall of Fame, and I've yet to see any player do what he did in this league."
That's my point, and though we could play around with names you've already made it for me.
Jason writes: Why do you guys capitalize 'league' but only when it refers to MLS?
It's a show of respect for the North American first division… even when we might be criticizing them. Thanks for writing in everybody.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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