- Robert Jonas | Center Line Soccer

The weeks of steady build-up to the new MLS season finally came to an end when the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC faced off in the 2011 MLS First Kick match last Tuesday. But that 1-0 win by the defending Supporters Shield winners was just an appetizer for what’s on tap this weekend. All 18 of the league’s teams are in action — with LA and Seattle each getting game #2 on their schedule — in a blockbuster opening for the sixteenth season of Major League Soccer.

The anticipation for the games to count is palpable in every MLS city across the country (and in Canada too). Having endured nearly three months of preseason training, players around the league know this weekend marks the beginning of what will be the longest season MLS has scheduled in some time, but one that holds the promise of also being one of the most competitive. Expansion teams in Vancouver and Portland mark the first time since 2005 that MLS has brought in two new teams in the same season, but few are predicting an unfavorable dilution of talent league-wide. Instead, the rosters throughout MLS — despite being increased in size to a maximum of 30 players — look as stacked as ever in 2011.

The explosion of media coverage on the internet and in local markets heralds a high-water mark for the domestic game and the ever growing influence soccer has in the American sporting consciousness. Expansion to 18 teams all but assures that MLS will smash records for overall attendance in 2011.  More importantly it will likely set new marks in average attendance as well. National television broadcast ratings may or may not increase — they are still much too low for a professional sports league with the growth ambitions of MLS — but the increase in the quantity and quality of local TV coverage in MLS cities is very encouraging. More eyes on the product in the stadiums, more eyes watching on TV; the pace of growth continues to march forward.

However, all the passions of the supporters, all the efforts of the players, and all the investments from the owners narrowly escaped being discarded when the black cloud of labor issues settled over MLS just one year ago. Sunday marks the first anniversary of the adoption of a new, five year collective bargaining agreement between MLS and the player’s union, signed just five days before the 2010 season was scheduled to begin. A fan base that should have been counting the days till they could watch their teams play was instead clenching their fists in dread and anger that a player strike and/or owner-imposed lockout was imminent. While not on the same scale as the current NFL labor issues, Major League Soccer faced a critical moment in its young history that if not settled in a timely manner could have sent the league spiraling toward sporting insignificance.

Cooler heads prevailed on March 20th, 2010, and a boardroom full of suited players and owners signed the documents ensuring another five years of labor peace for the most successful professional soccer league of the modern era. League Commissioner Don Garber smiled broadly for the cameras — no doubt thinking of the big raise her earned for shepherding the new labor deal through the player’s union — standing along side Landon Donovan, Pat Onstad, Joe Cannon, and others. MLS supporters across the country sighed with relief at the news, and quickly tried to return to the task of preparing for the new season. There was little time for the typical build up of excitement, but fans rallied to attend games in the respectable numbers.

Flash forward to 2011, and the energy and excitement surrounding the new MLS season is quantum leaps larger. Highly effective marketing campaigns in Dallas and Washington D.C. have restored (some) faith to languid fan-bases. Brilliant efforts to gain recognition in their local communities highlight the campaigns deployed in the expansion cities of Vancouver and Portland. In San Jose, the team is calling on the tradition of its recent past and its NASL legacy to bring fans of all ages into the fold. Meanwhile, over a half-dozen cities across the United States hold rallies petitioning the league to award them a future franchise in MLS. Many more people across the country still prefer to watch view soccer from around the globe on their TVs and through the internet, but slowly some of those same fans are “discovering” they have a domestic alternative. 2011 marks a great time to encourage them to attend an MLS game — most will be back for more; nothing on television can substitute for watching the sport live.

But above all, as you celebrate the start of another season of MLS soccer this weekend, take a minute to reflect on how close we were to witnessing the damage a labor stoppage could have inflicted on domestic soccer. Get to a match this weekend and show your support for the league and the players through your passion and enthusiasm. Seek out and offer a handshake to the players as they leave the field, whether in victory or in defeat, and thank them for their effort. Best of all, let yourself dream of where MLS will be in 5, 10, 25 years from now. Year sixteen of Major League Soccer is upon us, and the future has never looked so promising.

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.

blog comments powered by Disqus
    KKTC Bahis Siteleri, Online Bahis



    Privacy Policy