Root, Root Root for the Home Team

Posted by Kirsten

In baseball, it's one, two, three strikes and you're out. For Major League Soccer, it is likely that it's one strike and they're out. The MLS is about to start its 15th season and it is inconceivable that it will survive a work stoppage. Major League Baseball had existed for over 100 years when strike of 1994 forced an abrupt end to the season and denied fans a postseason. America's pastime has yet to overcome the impact of 1994, with some fans still refusing to return to the park 16 years later. If a sport with this much history and significance in the United States is unable to recover from a strike, MLS will disintegrate. This strike absolutely cannot come to pass.

Dramatic? Perhaps, but I am a bit worked up after reading reports that the players union and the owners have come no closer to a reworked CBA, despite the use of a federal moderator. Sounders FC kicks off versus the newer kid on the block, Philadelphia Union, on March 25th--two weeks from today. That's not much time to work out a way to stop the strike. Just a few days ago, I was confident that a strike wouldn't happen. After all, these players want to be paid to play football, and it's not as though many of them can easily play in foreign leagues. That's not to say they should be treated like crap, without guaranteed contracts or the freedom to move within the league, but they have to realize that they're not speaking from a position of power. Let's face it--nearly every MLS owner has other investments. While they'll lose money if the league folds, they're not going to be on the streets or reduced to flipping burgers.

Is there a way to come to an agreement when one side holds so much more power than the other? If the owners are all legitimate soccer lovers as opposed to investors, there might be hope. I wish I had a magical answer for how to stop the strike, because right now I'm terrified it's going to happen. And I just can't fathom returning from England and not having the MLS season to bolster my spirits.

Oddly enough, being in the UK has helped my appreciation for American soccer. Perhaps it's just that I've had more time each day to read football news, and have finally found a few authors doing a decent job of reporting on MLS. But I think it's that I've come to the realization that if I really want to have the opportunity to learn about, debate, and follow football, then it's time to stop viewing MLS as just an inadequate league, and instead do everything to promote it to a place where it can eventually be a genuine competitor.

Yesterday I spent time having a pint in the pub attached to Villa Park (don't worry--more on that later!) and while I waited to regain feeling in the tips of my ears and nose, I watched silent highlights of football around the world and listened to old men shoot the shit about the sport. While doing this, I understood that the reason that I didn't want to leave is because I'd be headed home to a world in which basketball will be playing on every television in every bar until June, and old men don't really go to bars. If I ever hope to cultivate a culture in America in which I can debate soccer, and not just deal with asinine United fans, MLS must hang on. It must continue to add clubs, it must grow a youth development program, and it must expand into other markets.

And none of this can happen if there's a strike. All I can do now is cross my fingers, wish on stars and pray fervent prayers that both the owners and the players realize that they're going to basically kill off American soccer if they don't start the season on time. Please, for my sanity, let's meet in the middle somewhere. Otherwise I'm going to be forced to find a job and a visa.

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