Sepp Blatter Wrongly Criticizes MLS; Ignores Portland and Other Successes

Bryn Lennon

Sepp Blatter is no stranger to taking shots at MLS for not following the European model of business and having a schedule opposite that of most major leagues.

During an interview with Al Jazeera, Sepp Blatter seemingly had a few choice words for our own beloved domestic league and even the fans that support them. According to Sepp the United States doesn't have a strong professional soccer league here yet, referencing that MLS clearly isn't on par with European leagues who face less competition from other sports and have been around for decades longer.

Here was his exact quote:

"There is no very strong professional league (in the U.S.). They have just the MLS but they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society."

Really? Well that's certainly news to me. Obviously your mileage will vary by location, but in Portland and, indeed, anywhere on the west coast it's not entirely uncommon to speak, hear or see something about MLS. Is it as prominent as the big 4 leagues yet? No, but I think you'd have to go pretty far away from an MLS city to find somebody who at least hasn't heard of it by now.

Blatter continues:

"It is a question of time, I thought -- we had the World Cup in 1994. But it is now 18 years in so it should have been done now. But they are still struggling."

Struggling? Had this been 7 years ago I would grant him that statement and, indeed, MLS is not nearly at the level it needs to be. But to say the league is struggling is completely disingenuous and ignores the exponential growth MLS has seen since 2007.

I wonder if the man even done any research whatsoever. A casual glance would show him that the number of teams has grown since 2004 from 10 clubs to 19 just seven years later. Additionally, average attendance has increase from 15,108 in 2005 to 18,807 this season which firmly places MLS in the top ten for leagues around the world.

The Portland Timbers alone should serve as a marker for the success of the league and the ability for MLS to capture local success even if national success is slow-going. And that's to say nothing for our other "friends":

  • Sporting Kansas City, who has had a truly remarkable turn-around.
  • The Philadelphia Union, whose fans were instrumental in bringing a club to the city.
  • The Houston Dynamo, who opened up a brand new, gorgeous stadium in downtown Houston.
  • All three Canadian sides (Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact) which have some of the best and most consistent attendance in all of MLS.
  • The Seattle Sounders, who, as much as I hate them, draw crowds that are getting very close to being on par with their NFL cousins the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Are there problem teams? Yes. FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls, and the Columbus Crew consistently bring down the average. The Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA struggle with any sort of identity. And San Jose (though not for too much longer), DC United and the New England Revolution are stuck in stadium that simply do not work for MLS. But these are all problems that MLS has slowly been tackling and working on. They're not permanent problems.

    "They have to play and adapt themselves to the international calendar. If they do that, they can have success. I spoke several times and I spoke on this 10 years ago when I was still secretary general and nothing has changed in the USA."

    I've spoken on this as well in recent days, but for entirely different reasons than this clown. In some respects this calendar shift would make sense. Primarily, getting the MLS play-offs out from under college and NFL football would seem like a worthy experiment. However, Blatter seems to think that that schedule is a major parlay for players who want to transfer here. As if playing from March-October would somehow be detrimental to their career. In fact, I would say its been a boon for players like Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan and David Beckham who have been able to ply their trade in MLS and then go on short loan stints during the off season.

    And to add insult to injury, Blatter leaves us with this:

    "In China definitely, we have no problems for the future of football. It’s only a question of organization."

    You know other than being wracked by corruption scandals and world renowned players not getting their due pay.

    Clearly Blatter would prefer a league in America in which he could be commissioner to which I say: go for it! Waste your money and try to break into the American sports landscape. At the very least I hope that it would teach him a lesson in just how much of an uphill battle it has been. For MLS, however, it's through slow and steady progress that we see success.

    Is it perfect? No.

    Is it globally relevant? No.

    Is it serving us consistent soccer with meaningful matches that we all love? Absolutely.

    [via ESPN Soccernet and Soccer by Ives]

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