It's difficult to argue that Major League Soccer doesn't play favorites when taking a quick look at the national television schedule. Scroll through your cable guide on Friday nights or Sunday afternoons and evenings and you will see MLS games, but you'll see a redundancy of specific teams.
Of course the major markets are going to get more airtime, but it's not even close. The league's two expansion sides, Orlando City SC and New York City FC lead the way with national television broadcasts so far this year. The New York Red Bulls and the Chicago Fire are not far behind.
"You'd like to believe that it had something to do with the quality of soccer you play," Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said about the nationally televised games. "But I'm not sure it necessarily does."
Berhalter's team makes its first appearance on national television this weekend, if you can even call it national TV. Crew SC take on the Fire Friday night on Univision Deportes. If you have to check your listings for that channel, don't be alarmed. Most fans won't know where it is, if they have it on their cable subscription at all.
It's no secret in sports that more exposure is good for a franchise, so when MLS scheduled Orlando (15 nationally televised games), the LA Galaxy (14), and the Red Bulls (14) for the most nationally televised games this year, those in charge knew what they were doing. This is where stars typically go, but do they go because that is all they see?
The league wants the nation to see their new diamond clad in purple, specifically OCSC's Brazilian World Cup winner Kaka. They want young kids to replace their Landon Donovan jerseys with the Galaxy's Robbie Keane or Omar Gonzalez or embrace last year's top scorer, New York's Bradley Wright-Phillips.
It's unfortunate that fans of the league are missing out on seeing the Black and Gold in action, as many experts believe Columbus plays the most attractive soccer in the league and is a pick for MLS Cup. Instead, those who tune in to Sunday's ESPN or Fox Sports games have watched Kaka play unmotivated soccer (last weekend being the exception) or a team still trying to find it's identity in the Fire multiple times.
Those in Columbus aren't complaining though. Despite struggling on the road this season, Crew SC are off to a better start than a year ago where they finished as one of the hottest teams in the league and made the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The foundation was laid and now the team is building on it.
"We want people to see what we're all about and to recognize it, but we don't do it for that," club captain Michael Parkhurst said. "We think that we're building something good here and if people take notice, great, but if they don't then they don't."
It's hard for fans around the league, who likely don't have time to watch every game on MLS Live, to take notice when Columbus gets a league-low three nationally televised games. But there's nothing to be done at this point expect go out and perform.
"I think it's exciting," Berhalter said of Friday night's opportunity. "We don't have many this year so it's nice to play in [front of] a national audience. We're looking forward to it.
"I think it's a good chance to showcase our team on a broader platform and show the U.S. what [Crew SC] is all about."
Crew SC is about attacking soccer, a possession game, and players that are fun to watch. Kei Kamara, Justin Meram, and Ethan Finlay aren't household names, but they are talented players that have a special connection. Even Federico Higuain, one of the league's top players, isn't seen enough to be recognized as such.
After Friday's Univision Deportes game, Columbus isn't on national television until July 19 on ESPN2, once again against Chicago. On September 6, the Black and Gold host FC Dallas in a match that will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1. If you want to see Crew SC other than that, you better hope you have TWC Sports Channel or can attend the home matches at MAPFRE Stadium.
American National TV Schedule By Team
|Team||ESPN||ESPN2||Fox||Fox Sports 1||Fox Sports 2||UniMas||Univision Deportes||Total|
|Orlando City SC||5||5||5||15|
|New York Red Bulls||4||5||4||1||14|
|San Jose Earthquakes||3||4||5||2||14|
|New York City FC||5||4||1||2||12|
|Sporting Kansas City||3||4||3||10|
|Real Salt Lake||1||1||4||1||1||8|
|New England Revolution||5||2||1||8|
|Columbus Crew SC||1||1||1||3|