In Limbo: The Sound and the Fury
|by Tim Froh|
Call me a masochist, but I've taken great pleasure reading the wildly ridiculous reactions to MLS' All-Star victory over Chelsea. From ESPN's normally subdued Andrea Canales came a thumping read of tremendous homerism. From MLS fans' favorite villain, Jamie Trecker, came a typically negative reaction, an article so full of inaccuracy, bombast, and negativity that it made me pity all those who have to interract with Trecker on a daily basis. Finally, from renowned columnists Steven Goff (Washington Post) and Ives Galarceps (ESPN Soccernet), came stunning articles that equally chastized the league for its "overreaction" to the Chelsea victory, and fans for reading too much into the result.
My response to all of this can be found in a line from Shakespeare's epic tragedy Macbeth: "it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (Macbeth Act V, Scene V). With each passing day it seems, the league's every action comes under increasing scrutiny. It's come to a point where we must even argue about the All-Star Game. But it's not the normal talk of other sports fans: Who's going? Who got robbed of a trip? etc. No, it's: Why Chelsea? Will they take the game seriously? What will it mean if we win? What will it mean if we lose? Will this expand the league's national footprint? etc. It's not enough to argue about the sport anymore, now we must argue about everything.
In part, this reaction is the response of American soccer journalists and MLS fans to the television ratings of this summer's World Cup. Increasingly, there is a kind of desperation to convert the "millions" of American soccer fans and soccer converts who haven't discovered MLS. It's as though if these millions are not converted now, immediately, then they never will be. This sort of knee-jerk desperation is evidenced by the reactions to this All-Star game. It wasn't enough to simply take solace in the nationally televised coverage on ESPN. Nor was it enough to be content that the league had drawn one of world soccer's biggest powers, Chelsea FC. Instead, everything was criticized, from the reactions of the fans, to the format, even to the players' reactions.
Say what you will about the All-Star game format, but this year's game was a marked improvement over last year's lacklustre affair against Premiership club Fulham FC. After three years of experimenting with this format, some fans still aren't sold. Some claim it's just not fun. Others that it will actually hurt the league if the All-Star team loses (as evidenced, apparently, by MLS' 5-0 loss to Real Madrid last summer). But if we set all these criticisms aside, what are we left with? A fun exhibition game that means very little, but is a chance for many MLS players to test their skills against the very best players in the world. That joie de vivre was on display in the first half as MLS poured wave after wave of attackers on the Chelsea goal. It was that spirit that made Eddie Robinson risk twisting his knee to save a certain Facundo Erpen own goal off the line. How often have we seen such relentless atacking spirit, such gutsy team defense, in an MLS game?
Trecker, Goff, Galarceps, and even Canales all miss the point with their articles. Trecker argued that the game meant nothing (duh!), Goff and Galarceps criticized MLS, while Canales heaped effusive praise on the All Stars themselves, but there's really only one real story. Why don't these guys play like this every week? One could label this the Landon Dononvan syndrome. Where is that hustle, heart, and skilfull play? Naturally, this points to an even bigger problem, the meaningfulness of the MLS regular season, that I dare not discuss in this article. But my point remains the same. Were the All Stars playing to impress the Europeans? Were they playing to defend the quality of their league? For a contract? These are questions impossible to answer, but we can only hope that these players similarly step up against the very best talent in the region during next year's CONCACAF Champion's Cup.