By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Jan 6, 2015) US Soccer Players – While we are all so very concerned about where up-and-coming players such as Frank Lampard, Jermaine Defoe, and Steven Gerrard will end up (or when they will arrive in Lampard’s case), what about if you want to watch professional soccer in person this time of year?
Flying to England is apparently one option, but a drive to a local arena or rec center might offer you another one. Professional indoor soccer is still a going concern in 2015. The Major Arena Soccer League has teams from coast-to-coast and might be playing somewhere near you.
As it shook out over last summer, a number of teams from the USL-affiliated Major Indoor Soccer League left that organization to join with the smaller arena league, the Professional Arena Soccer League, to form a coast-to-coast league, the MASL. This overview is highly condensed and doesn’t get into any of the politics and ownership shifts. You can safely assume that there were issues. 40 years into the professional indoor soccer experience in this country, we have the same problems of scale, infighting, politics, lack of infrastructure investment, and undercapitalization that we’ve always had.
To no one’s surprise, the teams from the MISL (Baltimore, Rochester, Missouri, etc) are generally doing better than the teams that were in the PASL last year. Those teams are also generally playing in bigger facilities and averaging more in attendance than teams out west. Again, no surprise considering the scale of the old MISL. It’s season one, and anybody looking at last season with the separate leagues understands the disparity between the MISL and PASL teams.
MISL was a stronger league, and their teams have already set a standard for professionalism. Look at the presentation, effort, website, and list of employees and you can see that difference. For the new MASL, getting every team to a minimal standard isn’t going to be a single-season project.
If there is one thing we know it’s that soccer doesn’t sell itself in this country. What we have indoors this season is a regional league with attendances that are sometimes three figures playing in local centers. In the same league are teams playing in legitimate arenas who sometimes outdraw the local American Hockey League club. That’s the primary question for the MASL moving forward.
Call this a transition season, but those are still legitimate soccer players and coaches out there trying to win and earn a living. They know the score, but they deserve respect for trying to make a go of a version of the sport that still draws fans in some parts of the country.
You can go to the MASL’s website and click through to their media partner to watch a game of the week. If that game is coming to you from Missouri or San Diego or Baltimore, say, you get a sense that in these places, the game is finding its level. From the games I’ve watched, some teams are starting to emerge from the dump and chase era, where being physical often trumped trying to play.
For indoor soccer, it’s always about trying to balance skill in a sport that can start to look a lot like basketball. A player sets up high with the ball, the other players circle around the goal, there’s a pass around the perimeter, and then it’s a scramble to create space. Just as in basketball, what the best versions of indoor soccer did right was to allow creative players the room to create. It’s that creativity and the personalities that go with it that push indoor soccer’s popularity. That’s true even in a relative to scale era where the stars of the league might not crack an MLS roster.
In the new MASL era, a goal is one point, the squads often include professional futsal players, and there are people in the stands. That’s all good. But six to eight franchises don’t make a national league. No one ever doubted that 2014-15 would be a transitional year for the MASL, but the question is next season and beyond.
It’s never going to be 1984 again, but in 2015, professional indoor soccer still has a place in cities such as Baltimore and San Diego and the like. Does it have a place at the same scale in Turlock and Brownsville?
Tony Edwards is a soccer writer from the Bay Area.
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