Couch Slouch: Kicking around Major League Soccer


FC Dallas and the New England Revolution engage in a recent match at a barren Gillette Stadium. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
April 14, 2013

Note to readers: Every few years, Couch Slouch has fun at Major League Soccer’s expense. So if you are a MLS devotee, we invite you — in fact, we implore you — to leave the room now. I poke at MLS because, well, I can, and because it’s really, really relaxing.

Major League Soccer is in the midst of its regular season — actually, MLS is always in the midst of its regular season; it’s the longest season in U.S. professional sports — and as the soccer wonks celebrate their unnatural blight on the American sporting landscape, let me point out three small details:

1.) MLS is coming off record attendance, but this is sort of deceiving.

2.) Nobody’s watching this stuff on TV. Nobody.

3.) Uh, how come a lot of the best players are missing?

But first let’s talk about MLS’s unspeakable, interminable abuse of the calendar. This year, opening day was March 2 and MLS Cup will be Dec. 7 or 8. That’s nine-plus months, or longer than your typical Taylor Swift relationship.

(The state of Mississippi now recognizes January and February as “MLS-Free Months.”)

So here’s the good news for MLS: In 2011, the league averaged record attendance (17,872 per game), and then in 2012, the league broke the mark again (18,807). Still, it took MLS 15 years to exceed the 17,406 per-game average it posted in its inaugural 1996 season.

Eight MLS teams, in fact, have franchise highs for season attendance in their first year.

Expansion franchises and new stadiums inflate the crowds. But what happens is this: People come to sample the new product or the new building, then they say, “Oh, they’re playing soccer” and don’t come back.

The exception is Seattle, where the Sounders averaged 31,203 in their first season in 2009 and climbed to a remarkable 43,144 in 2012.

(I don’t know what they’re putting in the coffee up there, but in Seattle if they’re not going to Starbucks, they’re going to Sounders games.)

As it is, if you take away Sounders games, MLS average attendance drops below that of your typical Sonic Burger.

I live in Los Angeles, which gives me the luxury of two MLS teams I can ignore.

Heck, in retirement, even David Beckham goes to more Lakers games than Galaxy games.

(Fun L.A. fact: The Home Depot nearby usually draws a bigger Saturday crowd than Chivas USA does at the Home Depot Center. Then again, parking at the Home Depot is free.)

Meanwhile, even if they’re showing up at games, nobody’s showing up at home to watch MLS on TV.

Last season’s five conference playoff games on ESPN or ESPN2 drew ratings of 0.3, 0.3, 0.3, 0.2 and 0.1. Seven of the eight playoff games on NBC Sports Network drew a 0.1 rating; the other recorded a 0.0 rating — 59,000 viewers nationwide.

(By comparison, “Duck Dynasty” gets a 3.7 rating weekly on A&E. Then again, there’s more scoring on “Duck Dynasty.”)

This year, MLS has an additional problem — some of its best players are missing games so they can play in World Cup qualifiers. FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake each was without its starting goalkeeper and a top scorer when the teams met last month.

Imagine going to see the New York Philharmonic, and the principal cellist and second violinist are absent because they’re playing a bar mitzvah reception in Queens.

Imagine if John Kruk had missed Phillies games midseason to allow him to participate in the beer pong world championship.

Imagine attending Easter Mass at the Vatican, and instead of the pope, you get Father Guido Sarducci.

(Here’s where the NFL is leagues ahead of its competition. If Ray Lewis were facing obstruction-of-justice charges in regard to a double homicide that required him to make a court appearance in-season during the height of his career, I guarantee you the NFL would schedule the Ravens for a bye week.)

If I were MLS, I’d copy the NHL — rather than let players miss an occasional match, lock them all out and maybe skip an entire season; some of us never know what we’re missing until it’s gone.

Ask The Slouch

Q. I’ve always loved the sound of the fake bird chirping at Augusta National. What’s your favorite part of the Masters? (Daniel Payne; Columbia)

A. Going over to Gary McCord’s house on Sunday and listening to his commentary.

Q. Is it my imagination, or do you mention the Kardashians just about every other week? (Steve Ludwig; Pittsburgh)

A. You’re not helping, pal.

Q. After watching March Madness, I think I understand most of the new terminology: “bigs,” “up and under,” “step-back jumper,” etc. But I have trouble with the “dribble-drive” instead of just a drive to the basket. I thought you had to dribble if you made a drive to the basket — unless, of course, you were Michael Jordan? (Don Dellinger; Nokesville)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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