MLS and Pro/Rel: The Great Debate on Twitter


When it comes to professional sports in America, the four major leagues have a rich history and enthusiastic support.  Yet as more Americans start to embrace soccer, the Twitter soccer fan base is broken into more pieces than Humpty  Dumpty after the great fall. With so many soccer option to pick from, opinions of MLS can cause a great range of emotions with fans of soccer on Twitter. Even as MLS set record attendance this year for the league’s 19th season, by averaging over 19,000 fans per game and seeing over six million pass through the turnstiles, you would think what could be wrong? But all it takes to see that this is far from peaches and cream is to spend a few hours on Twitter.

If you asked someone to rate the league from 1 to 10, I think the answer might be your scale is to small. The problem is that soccer in this country has many fan bases with a range of opinions for what they like or dislike about MLS. Some will never give the league a chance because it doesn’t have promotion and relegation. Others believe the product is far to inferior compared to the league’s of Mexico, Europe and South America. Then you have fans that support teams in foreign league’s and MLS.

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While another group are happy just to be able to go see a live game and only casually follow the league. Others might be new fans of soccer after watching this past summer’s World Cup and are now following their local team. And of course lets not forget the “supporters” who sing and chant to create atmosphere in the stadium. You can pick a group from above and you might find even more subcategories for each.

When it comes to picking a group from above, I find myself in the last one, as I joined the Sons of Ben in the beginning of 2009 as they attempted to lure an expansion team to Philadelphia. I must say it was an interesting experience as got I involved by hearing what they were attempting to do on the internet. As a kid growing up in Philadelphia I started playing soccer at a young age; but in the time before cable TV it was hard to watch the sport.

I attended some Philadelphia Atoms and Fury game’s, but the teams came and went quickly. When MLS launched I was sad to see that Philadelphia wouldn’t have a team to start the 1996 inaugural season. Of course back then everybody wondered how long this league would last? Even today  in the back of my mind I can hear that little voice of doubt whispering it won’t last as MLS enters 2015 and its 20th season.

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Looking back to the day when the Union were announced, I was like a kid on Christmas. I remember Governor Ed Randell addressing those who had gathered in Chester and like a good politician  that play’s to the crowd, he pointed in our direction and gave us credit for bringing the team to Philadelphia. I thought it was good day for soccer in this country, even as many of my own friends who were lovers of the four major sports teams in Philadelphia told me the team wouldn’t last five years. I’m happy to say they are going into their sixth season this year and I could run around and collect on a lot of bets but that’s another story.

Since that day the story of being a fan of soccer in the United States has taken a turn that I never saw coming. I never would have thought that the people who didn’t like the game would become more excepting of the sport and those who did, would become so divided. Right or wrong, I believe in MLS and I think it has helped grow the sport in this country. On Twitter if you take that stand, you’re labeled a “Bot” but I take that label with pride. I understand the league is far from a finished product but the growth has been impressive.

I’ll admit MLS got a little lucky by coinciding with the internet becoming more mainstream. MLS I believe took a giant leap forward in this country where past leagues failed  when fans of the league started finding each other and content on the internet. I saw it mentioned somewhere that baseball was helped along by radio and newspapers to become the national pastime.

Football gained momentum in this country with television becoming popular. And finally  hockey and basketball saw great gains with the cable television explosion of the 80’s and 90’s. As soccer still couldn’t get much attention in any of those medias, the internet started providing the content soccer fans and I craved. I believed that MLS was starting to see the same enthusiastic support that the other four major sports leagues in America were enjoying, until I found Twitter and soon discovered not everybody is happy in Mudville.

My day usually starts with a trip to the local gas station to get coffee and back to the house to jump on the internet and look for news about soccer. After that it’s onto Twitter and talking to the many people who are fans of the sport. At first I started to follow those in the media that reported about MLS as I’m not much of a fan of any other league. In the beginning this was great because I started hearing information about the league as soon as it was happening. But then it happened, one day I found myself sucked into the banter of what MLS and D1 soccer should be in this country.  If you want to know how I truly feel, you can click the follow button above. When I’m on Twitter, it seems to make up for all those years that I wanted to talk soccer but had few places I could go to do that.

I must say I’ve learned quite a bit about soccer in America since I’ve found content on the internet. This is something that fans of other American sports leagues take for granted, as there is an over abundance of content for them to enjoy in many medias. I find Twitter entertaining for the banter that goes on as it’s the same you might hear in your local soccer pub after the patrons have had a few.

I think back twenty years ago and remember how this was something that you could never easily partake in here in the United States. Twitter in a way has become the a virtual pub of American soccer fan’s.The opinions of soccer fans who don’t like MLS now seem to copycat what I heard from people who hated the sport. Predictions vary and I must say some are just so over the top. It makes me wonder if some fans realize that for all that soccer has accomplished in the last decade, that it’s still far behind the other major American sports league’s and college sport’s in this country.

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As MLS enters its 20th season, I still hear soccer fans on Twitter tell me that the league will never make it without promotion relegation and it makes me chuckle to myself. I realize that America is a unique market as the sport is on the lower rungs of the totem pole. Something it doesn’t have to deal with in almost every other country in the world.  But the last decade has seen the sport and the league start to rise on that totem pole. In the past five years it’s easy to see that MLS has made it in the point of it’s here to stay. How big it grows is open to debate and I believe pro/rel is still a foreign concept to most American fans.

Promotion/relegation was a solution to a problem in England for the abundance of good soccer teams and solved the credibility issues of the top league in English football at the time. To think that we have that problem at this time in America is quite naive. NASL is in the middle of their own expansion as well, so we aren’t at the point yet of an over abundance of good teams here yet. Although I would never want Pro/Rel, I do understand soccer fans who do. Many believe it’s the reason we can’t compete with other foreign leagues; I just think it has more to do with player wages myself. Right now I just think it would create more problems here than it would help at this time.

I guess as MLS becomes more successful it’s only natural that it will start to face more scrutiny. I just hope that the league can get to the point of pleasing most of the fans of soccer in the United States as in my minds eye it far from a finished product. Of course you can never please everybody but with the new revenue streams MLS has found, I think the next step is a large investment in the quality of play on the field.

Many people who have an opinion on the league are carefully watching the up coming CBA negotiations. The growth of player’s wages for the sport is one of the things fans use to judge the distinction between minor and major league in the country. The last decade has brought much growth for the sport in this country and the scrutiny has grown even greater as the debate on Twitter shows. If you are on Twitter, I’m sure this will be the next debated issue. But like a bartender at closing time, the one thing I realize about Twitter is that for everything discussed tonight, it will only pickup again tomorrow.