When I was growing up in the late 1960s, playing kick drums, kickball and kick the can, I had a dream that one day there would be dozens and dozens of professional soccer teams in America.
Actually, it might have been a nightmare.
Either way, it has come true!
I mean, I opened my bedroom window the other morning and saw a Major League Soccer franchise moving in across the street.
Now, I realize I missed something out there before the last presidential election, but what did I miss in the heartland that has fueled this ongoing soccer explosion?
Whoa, slow down, Don Garber — we might run out of soccer balls before Pakistan can make enough of them to ship to us.
True fake-news story: I was recently bemoaning the loss of Chivas USA while buying organic quinoa at my local market and was embarrassed to find out that we in Los Angeles already had been graced with another MLS team and a new soccer-specific stadium!
(In L.A., we have two of everything: two NFL teams, two NBA teams, two MLB teams, two NHL teams, two MLS teams, plus, of course, the Olsen twins.)
As recently as 2004, there were only 10 MLS franchises. At the moment, there are 23, with plans for 26 by 2020 or so and 28 soon thereafter.
Like Starbucks, there soon will be an MLS franchise on every city corner.
The expansion has come fast, furious and curious. In 2015, teams were added in New York and Orlando; in 2017, in Atlanta and Minnesota; and in 2018, in Los Angeles. Nashville and Miami are the next expansion sites, with Cincinnati, Detroit and Sacramento competing to become MLS’s 26th franchise.
I knew MLS was expanding too quickly when I saw it was putting a franchise in Area 51.
(Column intermission: POTUS has a somewhat quirky, somewhat enigmatic diplomatic style. One moment he is calling African nations “s---hole countries,” the next moment he is asking those “s---hole countries” to vote for the U.S.-led 2026 World Cup bid over that of fellow African nation Morocco.)
Is the demand really there to justify this increased soccer supply? The good news is that, in 2017, MLS attendance averaged a record 22,112 fans per game; in 2018, the early average remains a respectable 20,965.
Impressively, every Los Angeles Football Club home game is expected to be sold out in its inaugural season. Then again, two-thirds of the stadium is filled by members of the ownership group and their families. Among LAFC’s 30 owners: Peter Guber, Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm Garciaparra, Nomar Garciaparra, Tony Robbins, Will Ferrell and, I believe, the Olsen twins.
The bad news is that TV viewership is, well . . . how can I put this gently? Remember those old Emergency Broadcast System tests that ran on our pre-cable, 19-inch TV screens? They would attract more viewers today than your typical MLS game.
In fact, taped poker — taped poker ! — often outdraws live soccer. In particular, I am speaking of the World Series of Poker and MLS.
(In the MLS’s defense, its level of play does not equal, say, the English Premier League’s. Meanwhile, the World Series of Poker is that sport’s premier event, with premier announcers such as Lon McEachern and Kara Scott. And if I happen to be laid up with a broken leg, I generally prefer watching poker flops to soccer flops.)
You want to make soccer really popular in the United States? Teach Gyasi Zardes the Euro step.
So how do you prop up TV ratings? Uh, I hate to sound like a 20th-century Neanderthal, but when it comes to the NHL or Major League Baseball or, yes, MLS, U.S. sports fans still prefer 5-4 games to 1-0 games.
Couch Slouch has lived here a long time and said it many times before: We are an action nation.
Heck, if you could find a way to ensure more scoring and every single player on the pitch were packing heat, you would have a runaway success on your hands. There would be 23 MLS franchises in Texas alone.
Q. The New York Mets are still sending a $1.19 million paycheck to Bobby Bonilla every year even though he hasn’t played for them since 1999. Do any of your former employers still send you something every year? (David Erikson; Eighty Four, Pa.)
A. Sports Illustrated sends me a court order restraining me from coming within 500 feet of its swimsuit issue.
Q. You recently complained about the length of our favorite sports seasons. What is your response to readers who complain that your columns are too long? (Val Kehl; Manassas, Va.)
A. My columns are too long? I write most of them on a cocktail napkin.
Q. Would you rather punch Charles Barkley or Draymond Green in the face? (Stanley Moss; Charlotte)
A. I believe in the words of the ancient philosopher Philo: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Q. How do I convince my friends that my decade of sparse dating action was the romantic version of Trust the Process? (Mark Kulzer; Wynantskill, N.Y.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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