We’ll be back next week with another exciting version of “Overlooked and Underloved,” but there’s only one MLS game this weekend, so it’s rather pointless. Watch New England-D.C. United. And done.
Now, let’s talk the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and those losses by MLS teams. Personally, I think it’s super fun. Scrappy underdogs battling the pros of Major League Soccer. It’s the Super Bowl for the little guys and not particularly important for MLS clubs. So when eight teams lose, I get excited. There’s nothing more dull than favorites winning all the time.
But I’m already an MLS convert. The problem here is that the upsets leads to posts like this one on Awful Announcing that includes the following sentence: “It’s one of those things in sports when there’s no explanation for what you’re watching. Imagine a D-III or NAIA team go on the road and win a college basketball game at Arizona or Florida or Louisville. It’s insane.”
You and I know that, for a variety of reasons, that’s not entirely true. It’s not flat-out wrong, either, but comparing Bates College defeating Louisville to the Michigan Bucks besting the Chicago Fire or the San Antonio Scorpions beating the Houston Dynamo is not accurate. NASL and PDL squads are much closer in talent — especially when MLS teams rest their best players — than any D-1 basketball team is to a D-III outfit or a NAIA team.
Those are facts, but ones that will be lost on the Awful Announcing audience who will see the comparison and think, “Wow, that’s embarrassing for MLS. It must be a terrible league.” And I don’t mean to pick on the guys at AA, who do a great job. It’s simply a matter of reality. The American sporting public — unfamiliar with MLS’ rules, salary cap structure, etc. and the relative importance of the Open Cup — sees half of the teams in the best division lose to squads in lower tiers and immediately thinks of a college basketball comparison, an MLB comparsion (the Yankees falling to the Staten Island Yankees), an NBA comparison (the Boston Celtics losing to the D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants), or something else that is both unfavorable and not entirely true. It’s all about perception, folks.
As a soccer fan, I love what’s happening in the USOC. As someone who wants to see MLS gain respect around the country, however, it’s concerning.