A lot about soccer and with a dash of Breaking Bad (no spoilers)

67,000 people.

Last night I watched a soccer match in the United States that had 67,000 people in attendance.  This wasn’t a World Cup match, a US/Mexico World Cup qualifier, or two European club teams playing an exhibition.  This was a regular season match between Seattle and Portland in the Major League Soccer.

If you had asked me low those many years ago when I was playing high school soccer on football fields and glorified cow pastures if such thing as 67,000 people going to see a regular season soccer match were possible, I would have thought for a moment and not be able to conceive of the circumstances that led to this.

Somewhere, someone right now is writing on a message board how this means soccer has arrived in the United States and will take over as one of the big three sports along with football and basketball in a few years.  They may even write how soccer could replace football because the concussion issue will eventually bring football low.

There is also somewhere on the Internet writing how this huge crowd was an anomaly, the result of Clint Dempsey’s return and ESPN and NBCSN making us think we care about soccer because of all their commercials.  They will point out that big attendances like this occurred all the time with the New York Cosmos in the early-70s and soccer is still at best a second class sports citizen.

As is my wont, I think they are both right.

Winston Churchill once said, “This isn’t the end.  This isn’t even the beginning of the end.  However, this is the end of the beginning.”  That works as guidepost here because this isn’t soccer overtaking baseball in the American sports consciousness nor does it feel like someone off made for TV bit of pop culture phenomena.  However, I think it represents the moment when soccer said it isn’t going anywhere.

Throughout its first 15 years Major League Soccer always seemed to be on the verge of collapse.  In fact, 2001 was almost the year the league died.  It contracted two teams and the majority of the league was owned by one person, Phillip Anschutz.

However, from the low-ebb the league has survived and I think with the signing of Clint Dempsey has started to show its willingness to pay players still capable of contributing to big clubs in Europe a competitive wage.  I am talking about the 27-30 year old player still in their physical prime like Dempsey.  The real test will be after the World Cup in Brazil next summer.  Will the league pony up the money and can it sign players from the World Cup in that age group?  These are the players still in their national team’s mix and still capable of playing in the Premiership, La Liga, or the Bundesliga.

Yes, a lot of the hype for the match was built around the home debut of Dempsey in a derby match, but it didn’t matter that the game winner was scored by Eddie Johnson and not Dempsey.  Let’s put it this way, this wasn’t like going to see the Cosmos in 1975 hoping to see Pele score and instead seeing a game winner form someone like Jorge Siega or Joey Fink.  That is the difference between this league and the NASL back then.

Last night’s match felt like a celebration of everything that the league and US Soccer has achieved so far.  It felt like a moment when all of it supporters could exhale and say, “OK.  We’re not going anywhere.  We’ve built this and its foundation is strong.  What’s next?”

For all the fans of Breaking Bad out there, stop trying to guess what will happen next.  We, like Hank, are playing checkers while Vince Gilligan and his writers, like Walter, are playing three-dimensional chess.


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