by Robert Jonas - Center Line Soccer

It being the Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, one of the traditions at my family’s dinner is to go around the table and describe an event, person, or experience that you were thankful for in the last year. I was quick to describe the day earlier this fall when I dropped my daughter off at her dorm to start her freshman year of college. All of the effort on her part coupled with the sacrifices I’ve made as a parent to help her survive along the path to that point was punctuated by my internal shouts of joy at seeing her ready and prepared to embark on the next stage of her life. I was not alone in seeing her to this point, and so gave thanks to all those that helped me along the way.

Now, with the big family dinner complete, and most of my clan lounging around the house in various states of food induced coma, my thoughts turn to what I am most thankful for in the world of soccer this year. Locally, I watched both Bay Area professional soccer teams reach new heights of success. The San Jose Earthquakes followed up to miserable last place finishing seasons with a playoff run year that saw them just miss out on the MLS Cup final. Over in the East Bay, FC Gold Pride assembled the greatest women’s club soccer team in history and waltzed away with the WPS Championship behind the sublime play of superstar Marta. During the early summer, I joined hundreds of local fans in watching many World Cup matches at local viewing parties — and felt the most pulsating rush of my fandom life as Landon Donovan secured victory for the U.S. against Algeria seconds before the final whistle to advance to the second round. Foremost, I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to be intimately involved in the local soccer scene and to subsequently share my reporting and commentary of the beautiful game in all the forums — including here at Match Fit USA — that have welcomed me.

Let’s be honest: soccer has been a tough sell in the general media in the U.S. for as long as I have followed the sport. Major League Soccer and the Men’s National Team have practically begged for attention from as many outlets as possible in order to see their brand reach beyond the hard core soccer market. In my local market, possibly due to the difficulties of having the original Earthquakes franchise relocated to Houston in 2005, the new San Jose team has had a long road to travel to build trust among the local media. From their reincarnation in the summer of 2007, the new Earthquakes have not turned their backs on any local media willing to provide quality coverage of the team. I was one of those that welcomed their return to MLS and relished the opportunity to share in their new beginnings.

Full disclaimer: I do not make a complete living writing and talking about soccer. Very few in this country have that privilege, but I hope to be included in that group one day. Along that path, I learn from those that have been at this business their entire lives as will as from those just starting out. Each voice to soccer in this country brings their unique viewpoints and experiences that influence how they go about their craft. As such, I give and take within this community as best I can, and I hope that all of us will elevate our product for the benefit of all who care to follow along.

I was fortunate to spend the last weekend in Toronto as part of the media covering the MLS Cup Final. The five day visit to Canada was not just about covering the two participating teams leading up to the match and then reporting on the championship itself. Rather, the days and nights were filled with opportunities to network and socialize with other members of the soccer media. Knowing most writers and podcasters by reputation at best, getting a chance to shake their hands and share with them their experiences was a valuable boost to my energy level and elevated my excitement for the work we are all endeavoring to do.

A favorite for most of us in the soccer community is Bruce McGuire, creator and mastermind behind the Du Nord website. The bigger than life blogger does not disappoint in person, as his infectious enthusiasm for the game permeates your mind and body from the very first handshake. Rapid fire quips and stories from the Minnesotan quickly restore your faith that the sport of soccer will continue to take its rightful place among the country’s major professional sports in rapid time. Bruce doesn’t ply notepad and pen at these events — he duly follows the game as a fan and gives it all the appreciation he is capable of. In fact, whether you were a media guy from the Bay Area, a runner-up to the 2010 MLS MVP award from Los Angeles, a five-time MLS champion and former team GM from the greater New York metropolitan area, or a red-and-white hoops jersey clad FC Dallas supporter from Texas, Bruce affords you the same level of attention and respect in your conversation. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that he could be one of the best ambassadors for the sport we have in the U.S.

Two other statesmen among the media that I had the pleasure of spending time with over the weekend were Beau Dure formerly of USA Today and Sean Wheelock of the BBC. Oddly enough, I spent more time in conversation with these two men talking about MMA fighting and the upcoming UFC title fights that weekend than about the sport at hand. However, I profoundly respect the work they have done for soccer in the U.S. for a length of time much longer than I have been involved. Beau’s excellent book on the history of MLS is a must read for current followers of the league that want to understand some of the issues the league faced in those early seasons that mark how it functions today. Sean is familiar to many of us as the voice of American soccer on the BBC weekend shows we primarily follow via podcast, and as the lead commentator for the Kansas City Wizards television broadcasts (can I wait to call them Sporting for a bit? — that is still taking time to sink in.) Both of them contribute greatly to the growing landscape of the U.S. soccer media, and while I don’t always share their opinions, I respect their work immensely and learned a great deal from our time spent together.

A conversation over the weekend I didn’t expect to have, but feel better for having it, was with’s Leander Schaerlaeckens regarding the state of soccer blogging in the U.S. market. Knowing how many throughout the blogosphere resisted his introduction to the soccer writing community, and to most new writers on the domestic game as a whole, I wanted to ask him how he felt about the negativity that was flung his way. He shared that he was surprised at the amount of discouragement that emanated from those that felt they had a more genuine and longstanding claim to U.S. soccer. I told him how much that disappointed me when I heard those cases of domestic snobbery toward fans that were new to our sport. I firmly believe that as a long time supporter of the U.S. Men’s National Team and MLS, I should do all I can to encourage and elevate domestic soccer newbies so that they appreciate the beautiful game, not make them feel inferior as Johnnies-come-lately. Leander suggested that the growth of soccer in this country will require more of that supportive introduction to the game if it is ever to catch up to the national levels of passion seen in other soccer-loving countries. I pledged to continue my personally motivated choice to fairly and accurately portray MLS to all that care to listen and hoped he would do the same. Turned out I was preaching to the choir with that request as Leander shared he was already traveling that journey.

I crossed paths with countless other media members and MLS supporters over the remainder of the weekend, and continually was amazed at their dedication to the sport that they love. Not knowing whether the work you do is read by one person, a thousand people, or maybe a million — and then wondering if they enjoy reading it at all can make this endeavor very difficult. I appreciate hearing back from those within Major League Soccer — the players, the coaches, the front offices — and from those in the stands and watching at home on television, as to how I am doing and for ways I can improve moving forward. We are all a part of a vibrant and intelligent community, where both peaceful discourse and disagreements are handled with respect for one another. With hope that that can continue even as our niche sport reaches the big time here in the U.S. is my greatest wish for the future. And to be a part of that with Bruce, Beau, Sean, Leander, and all the rest along the way, I give my thanks.

Robert Jonas is a writer and podcaster at Center Line Soccer and a frequent contributor to CSRN’s Around The League MLS show. He can always be reached on his twitter @robertjonas.
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