The 1-1 draw in Seattle, and the subsequent aftermath, told me plenty about where the Colorado Rapids are at this point in time and – in a sense – where MLS is right now.
For the Rapids, a battling display, on a testing surface, against a tricky side, emerging with their first-ever point in Seattle, to extend their unbeaten run to five games.
As a spectacle, it wasn’t much to look at, yet maybe we were spoilt with the adrenaline-pumping comeback in Montreal at the end of June. That was some game, but if all games toyed with our emotions so, then I suspect most of us would be exhausted by about week seven.
The fact is, at this stage of the season – more than at any time – it really is about the result, not the performance. The mad scramble for the finish line is underway, Wacky Races-style. It doesn’t matter how you get there … just get there, and then let the play-offs do their worst.
Almost 40,000 watched the Rapids try to silence the Sounders on Saturday and, no doubt, there were a few thousand views on where Sounders’ coach, Sigi Schmid, went ‘wrong’. There’s a man, two-times MLS Coach of the Year and one of the most respected soccer minds, who will still have his decisions queried.
Full Match Highlights
As a coach, that’s the nature of the beast. You’re the man making the call, yet everybody else thinks they have a better grasp on team matters than you. Oscar Pareja also has his team selection scrutinized. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve learnt over the years that the guy in charge usually makes the right decision.
Fans have their favorites, and will wonder why certain players are not getting game-time. There’s often a simple explanation – fitness, form, match minutes, certain formations, taking the opposition into account, consistency with the current XI, etc.
It’s not the actions of a responsible, success-seeking coach who leaves out a player he feels could be a game-changer. Chances are, the best 11 usually start.
Back to Seattle on Saturday, and theirs is the set-up we all want for the Rapids (and MLS). Big crowds, big atmosphere and big occasions with every home game.
It confirmed that soccer is making headway in the USA, albeit in particular pockets of North America. Here in Denver, the passion for playing is obvious. There is also a passion for the Rapids, but the growth is being held back by those who can heavily influence public opinion – the media.
Why do I say that?
Pretty simple really.
“This is a football town.”
That’s a quote I’ve heard quite a bit since landing in Denver back in March, and it reminded me of a loyal US soccer fan who, when asked ‘why the sport had yet to fully take hold in his country?’, replied with: “Because it’s not ours. We didn’t invent it.”
Denver is a jam-packed sports city. I get that. Much of the focus is on the Broncos, Nuggets, Avalanche and Rockies. I get that also.
But answer me this. How many of those sports would be able to attract more than 500 teams, lured in from 13 states, to play in a youth tournament (as Real Colorado managed back in May)?
For whatever reason, few I would suggest.
Pareja and Moor Post-Game
The people of Colorado love soccer. That’s pretty clear. There is a deep knowledge and understanding of the sport. There is mass participation, yet this clear passion for the sport is not reflected in the mainstream media.
Too many media folk in these parts earn their corn following the 'traditional' North American sports of football, basketball, hockey and baseball. As a result, there isn't the level of interest in soccer, or volume of journalists with the necessary expertise and experience.
The morning after the Rapids’ 2-1 home win over New England, I listened to a local radio station – one which claims to deliver the best in live and local sport. My journey into work took me about 45 minutes, yet not once did I hear mention of the previous night’s result. On the contrary, I heard plenty about the countdown to the start of Broncos training camp … which was still a week away!
Like the Premier League in England, the NFL (and the college game) commands much of the media spotlight here in the USA. The NBA – and even its summer league – also muscles soccer into the shadows.
The USA has yet to fully accept soccer. Or, should I stress, the U.S. mass media is still to come around. Attitudes, bred by arrogance, ignorance and fear, need to change.
NBC has recognized the value in soccer and has jumped on board, which is brilliant.
Soccer is here to stay, and we look to the likes of Seattle and doff our cap in an admiring manner.
One day …