I don't wish ill on anyone in MLS, though I may disagree with the tactics of a coach, the attitude of a player, or the sanity of a marketing campaign. If that means I'm someone who sees the glass more than half-full, well so be it.
Its importance to the game in this country and its slow but steady improvement, as well its limitations and flaws, might seem obvious, and much easier covering MLS would be if the former routinely trumped the latter, but such is not the case. Yet stridently bashing MLS for every inconsistency or that glitch impairs one's ability to evaluate the big picture, and the big picture is this: in what is about to be Year 14, MLS is still around. What a competitor!
Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of life is showing up" - you'll see other percentages referred to but he's quoted to that effect --- and a corollary can be added that nearly, if not all, of the remaining 20 percent is sticking around, through good and bad, ups and downs. Baseball may lack the crash and bash of football, or the slams and jams of basketball, or the grit and spit of hockey, but it's been there forever. In most countries, soccer sustains the populace as baseball does here, and it does so by survival as much as spectacle.
Plummeting downward right now are many aspects of life and if MLS can weather this greed-driven storm of gloom and doom, perhaps nothing can kill it off except that same greed applied to reckless overspending on players and other rampant madness, a la NASL.
Rather than trumpet the ticket frenzy in Seattle (again), though, I prefer at this juncture to point out a few of dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller tales to watch and savor as they unfold in this year of MLS, game by game, week by week.
During the preseason, Clint Mathis accomplished something he couldn't do in 11 league games last season: score a goal, and he did so with a bending free kick steeped in memories. Mathis is just one of many intriguing subplots of the RSL saga: the continued redemptions of Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, Marcia Williams' battle against leukemia, and an acid test for Jason Kreis the Coach, to name a few, but despite going goalless and pointless on paper, Mathis worked and sweated and contributed, and the likable Georgian can be a subtle yet vital cog at the foot of the Wasatch mountains.
Speaking of an acid test, Toronto FC is in the beaker and bubbling on the burner right now. Rugged Danny Dichio, flamboyant Dwayne De Rosario, dependable Carl Robinson, colorful Mo Johnston, et al, will feel stilted and jilted if wins aren't forthcoming. They need to pass a few rivals in a tough Eastern Conference to truly chase a playoff spot; no longer will promise and promises fill the vacuum.
Team Dysfunction is based at Home Depot Center, of course, yet the Galaxy does have two titles to its credit, more than any team except D.C. United and San Jose/Houston (four each). A continent away, New York reached its first MLS Cup despite finishing below .500 and with a new stadium about a year away from opening, eyes will be on both coasts to see how the teams of big markets and big egos fares, and on Bruce Arena, he of the big job and big salary.
This will surely be the most trying year in the career of Landon Donovan. No other American player can trigger fiercer jeers and rapturous applause from the same fans, depending on whether he's playing against them with the Galaxy or for team USA. In the wake of his return from Bayern Munich, the barbs and smears may get ugly at times, but it's his job to persevere and come to play, every day. And win.
Like the Woodman sayeth, a lot of life is showing up. In Year 14, those who show will direct the destiny of MLS.