That was an ordeal. My last 48 hours has been spent in front of my phone refreshing Twitter, awaiting news about the CBA and the inevitable strike. And now it's all over, and the strike we were all sure would happen...didn't. This makes me wonder, why did I waste all that time thinking, reading, complaining, and tweeting about something I can do nothing about? Because I love Major League Soccer. There I said it. It may not be one of the top 20 leagues in the world but I don't care. It's my league and I love it anyway, warts and all.
If you have read my articles, you may have noticed that I use the American vernacular when talking about soccer. Instead of using terms like pitch and match, I say field and game. I begrudge no man who uses the European terms, but these are the words that I use to bring the game home to me. MLS is home for me. I identify with it. I'm not the best at what I do, I struggle to make ends meet, and I am underpaid. The plight of MLS players and the narrative of MLS compared to other leagues resonates with me. And perhaps that's why I am so excited for this season to start when I have supposedly had a "better product" to watch for months now.
Sure, the European players are more talented, but does that make the European leagues a "better" product? That depends on what you're looking for. Better is a subjective term. Turn on a Barclays Premier League game and you will see players with perfectly salon styled hair falling to the ground, covering their faces over the smallest touches. Yes, they have more talent but the culture has become one of fashion and individualism. I say this, as a man who watches every Arsenal and Everton game from September to May. I enjoy soccer in all its forms, but MLS is different.
When I watch MLS games I get none of that. The culture of MLS is different. Players don't play in Major League Soccer to get rich. They play because they love the game. They play here because they enjoy the country and their cities, they play for their teammates, and they play for the fans. In a word, they grind. MLS is a physical league, players don't often take days off and on the field you can see them fighting for what they believe is their's. MLS players take losses personally and share the victories with the supporters. When Columbus Crew SC lost a home game to rival TorontoFC last year Ethan Finlay tweeted out an apology. That shows me soccer to this team isn't all about paychecks and benefits; it's about pride and winning.
To me, more talent doesn't mean better. To you, maybe it does. And good for you, I won't argue. But to me, better means watching the boys I see around town. Better means tailgating with people who have become my brothers and sisters. Better is cheering on the team that I helped build. Better is seeing Columbus in lights and over the hearts of the players I sing for. Better is winning when we're not supposed to. Columbus is a small market with a small budget and is largely ignored by top players and agents, yet we have a history of winning anyway. Finally, better means when we say "we" when talking about the Columbus Crew SC we can mean it. We live here, many of us grew up here, we are Columbus. No team or league can give me that.
I love Major League Soccer and Crew SC. Don Garber will tell you that MLS stands for Major League Soccer, but to me on March 8th it stands for My League Starts.