NPR column on “America vs. MLS” gets Twitter buzzing, but what’s so controversial about it?

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One of the big talking points this morning in the world of Twitter and soccer — and by the world we mean the United States and by “big talking points” we mean the usual suspects in U.S. Soccer media — is this short post by Frank Deford for National Public Radio.

Deford’s take is that American soccer, meaning MLS, hasn’t yet caught the imaginations of sports fans here, and that it isn’t likely to as long as Major League Soccer isn’t among the top leagues in the world.

And?

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Of course, that’s chapped several undersides in our “quick to react” soccer culture, and many are just calling Deford an over the hill, ancient-thinking click-baiting troll.

But that’s neglecting a couple of things:

1) Frank Deford is, on the whole, quite far from a troll, and one of the most respected writers of sports journalism’s modern era. Sure he has his salacious headlines, but on the whole his treatment of topics like this is far from patronization.

2) Doesn’t he have a point? I’m not talking about the fans in MLS, NASL and USL markets pumped about their local teams. That culture is brilliant, growing and going to keep moving up in interest. And soccer itself will continue to grow here, eventually reaching the heights Deford projects.

From NPR:

Soccer in America has a curious impediment to its popularity, and the problem is soccer — that is, everybody else’s soccer.

After all, Americans not only believe that we are the blessed exceptional, but that we have the divine right to always have the most exceptional entertainment right at our fingertips. The British Empire, theatrical division, seems to have taken up residence here. And hey, nobody has any problem with immigration if you’re a baseball, basketball or hockey player.

Yes, the World Cup attracted terrific interest, but then, so does Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, every time she has a baby. Then it’s back to all the first-rate exceptional diversions that we have right here.

Sure, Deford drops the inevitable “soccer moms” and diving/theater blasts, but in terms of MLS making the major leap most of us desire, no one is claiming the league is there, so why be upset when someone tells you the same? Plus, considering the long head start the States gave Europe, catching up in world-renown is almost impossible to do in 20 years. In this piece, Deford says that Beckham didn’t get the sport moving here — debatable — but he’s lavished praise on Becks/MLS in the past.

Deford, it should be noted, is not a soccer fan and many may be reacting to their distaste for his distaste as opposed to his point.

Put it this way: India and China are huge nations that are sure to be forces in soccer by the time most of us leave this Earth, but short of the Indian Super League and Chinese Super League signing the world’s best players and sponsors in the primes of their careers, it’s going to be a slow build.

Neutral American viewers, largely, are drawn in by the best of the best, and they tend to like it better when those “best” are playing at home. See NASCAR defeating open wheel racing as a prime example. In fact, one of the biggest sports in Europe that is also saluted by the U.S. is basketball, and the NBA is the biggest league in the world right now. Cricket and rugby, not so much.

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source: Getty ImagesSo here’s my point to Deford’s post: It really doesn’t matter. The opinion he presents is one that is going to be trumped in time, guaranteed, unless MLS vomits all over itself. United States businessmen have either bought or are consistently linked with big clubs in England. Ownership is a status symbol, and when it’s more important to have that be Stateside, those folks will vie with bigger businessmen for American club ownership.

MLS has some things to sort out, as do NASL and USL and any other interested ruling party in U.S. soccer. For one, this country is huge which makes minor and major league play quite a costly endeavor. And courting the European team fan to watch a currently inferior product is a challenge that demands a great stadium atmosphere. Some have it, some don’t… and it shouldn’t be ignored that the brightest ones hail from longtime soccer markets like Portland and Vancouver.

If you’re asking me, there’s no question that U.S.-based club soccer is going to arrive at its destination of being a major competitor on the club scene. It’s 100 percent unreasonable to expect it to be there now, or in five years. Being upset with Deford for stating the absolute obvious — to me — is like being mad at someone for observing that some butterflies are in cocoons while others are already soaring through the sky.

But hey, NPR got your attention. And Alexi Lalas underlined your hopes in a very real and salient way:

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?

Zlatan explains tough second season at Old Trafford

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic at his most humble is still a man riding his ego through the clouds.

The LA Galaxy striker gave an interview to the BBC in which he detailed why his second season at Manchester United didn’t go according to plan.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Ibrahimovic, 36, said his “mind was ready” but his knee was not when he followed up a 28-goal, 10-assist debut at Old Trafford with just seven appearances with one League Cup goal.

From the BBC:

“When I was ready, I said to myself ‘I am not there’,” he said. “They had a Zlatan before. After, I was not ready to be that Zlatan. I was selected in many of the games but I told the coach: ‘Listen, I am not ready. I don’t want to disappoint you. The respect I have for my team-mates and the coach. Select someone else who can do the job better.’ I stood up and did it, even if I am Zlatan.”

How’s that for humble? There’s only one Zlatan…

Report: Bristol City offers $4m for USMNT GK Steffen

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Championship side Bristol City has lodged a $4 million bid for Columbus Crew and USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen, according to MLS insider Sam Stejskal.

Viewed as a potential long-term American No. 1 for his country, Steffen has thrived at Columbus since returning from a stint at Freiburg in Germany.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Stejskal reached Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter, who said multiple teams are interested in Steffen but did not confirm the Bristol City bid. Berhalter said, “We want to be a place where we get players and we develop them and we help them advance in their careers, wherever that may be.”

Steffen, 23, starred at Maryland before making the move abroad. He’s proven a fantastic young pro with a knack for stopping penalty kicks.

Bristol City finished 11th in the Championship last season with 30-year-old goalkeeper Frank Fielding, who had played 153 league matches for the club since 2013 and led the club to promotion from League One in 2015.

Some have openly questioned whether the Championship is a clear upgrade from MLS — don’t count this typer in that group — but this does seem like win-win for Columbus and Steffen if the player wants the move. The Championship has been good for the development of several American players including Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin (on loan from a Premier League club), and Lynden Gooch.