'Palpable silence' puts spotlight on growing concern for MLS

MLS attendance has risen over 60 percent since its low of 13,758 fans a game in 2000, the year before it folded its two Florida teams, leaving the young league with 10 teams.

MLS broke the league attendance record for the fourth year in a row in 2017 when it averaged 22,113 fans a game. It's not likely to match that in 2018 even though Atlanta United should become the first team to average more than 50,000 fans a game. Through Sunday's games, MLS is averaging 21,408, still good enough to rank among the top 10 leagues in the world in average attendance.

The problem is, a number of legacy teams -- those founded in the 1990s -- are struggling at the gate. Sunday's Chicago-Orlando City -- a national television broadcast involving last-place teams -- shined a spotlight on the Fire's situation.

Largest MLS attendance drops:
PCT. TEAM (2018 YTD vs. 2017 FINAL)
-24.9% Columbus (11,597 vs. 15,439)
-18.0% Chicago (14,253 vs. 17,383)
-14.5% NY Red Bulls (18,100 vs. 21,175)
-11.9% New England (17,064 vs. 19,367)
-9.6% Montreal (18,298 vs. 20,046)

The Fire came into the game without a win in its last nine games and one victory in its previous 13 games. The Lions have been even more pathetic, winning just one of their previous 18 games entering Sunday afternoon's game on FS1.

Chicago won the game, 4-0, and moved out of a tie with Orlando City on points for last place in the Eastern Conference.

In a rare discussion by broadcasters of the noise in the stands -- or lack thereof -- FS1 announcers John Strong and Stuart Holden addressed some of the issues facing the Fire -- including an on-going dispute between the team's front office and its supporters groups.

(Sector Latino Chicago had its supporter privileges permanently revoked due to repeated violations of the Fan Code of Conduct and later Section 8 Chicago -- which represents affiliated supporters groups and independent fans -- had its privileges suspended for the Aug. 11 match in the aftermath of a protest about the Sector Latino Chicago situation.)

On the atmosphere at Sunday's game, Strong noted, "This amount of palpable silence, in a league in which atmospheres are one of the calling cards for MLS, is ... tough."

Added Holden, "Being brutally honest, it sounds like a reserve game, games I was a part of early on in my MLS career, when you go out on a Sunday morning and you're not in front of the big stage, the lights and loud atmosphere that really gets you going. It really plays a big part."

The scary part is that Sunday's announced attendance of 16,297 was the third largest of the season at Toyota Park for a Fire game and larger than three of the other 10 MLS games over the weekend.

What makes the situation in Chicago startling is that the Fire was coming off its best season ever at the gate at Toyota Park and second best season in its 21-history, topped only by its first season in 1998 when it played at Soldier Field.

The Fire opened the 2018 season with 4-3 and 2-1 losses and has never gotten close to .500 since June 30 when it was 6-7-5 after a 3-2 win over NYCFC. Its subsequent collapse -- eight straight defeats before a 1-1 tie with Columbus -- isn't isolated, though.

Houston came into the weekend with a 10-game winless streak before its 4-1 win over Portland, and three teams below red line in their conference races -- Orlando City, the LA Galaxy and Minnesota United -- have active winless streaks of seven or more games. Colorado's winless streak is only at five games, but the Rapids have lost their last four games by a margin of 13-0.

Throw in San Jose -- with just four wins in 28 games -- into the mix, and the lack of parity -- another MLS calling card -- should be just as concerning as some of the problems at the gate.

13 comments about "'Palpable silence' puts spotlight on growing concern for MLS".
  1. Wallace Wade, September 17, 2018 at 7:27 a.m.

    The front office in Chicago should be shown the door. You get what you deserve. 

  2. Wooden Ships, September 17, 2018 at 7:46 a.m.


  3. beautiful game, September 17, 2018 at 12:11 p.m.

    Obviously, MLS commish isn't addressing this Fire et al crowd issue with the owners...they are the ones that need to understand the team support group(s) and the importance of a buzz in the stands. When the "passion" factor hits bottom, it's a matter of time before insurmountable issues set in.

  4. Ben Myers, September 17, 2018 at 12:35 p.m.

    Well, I live outside Boston and I have not been to a NE Revs game in a couple of years.  Why?  The playing style of the Revs and of their opponents is very hard to watch, very chaotic and inconsistent.  The turnover of players on the Revs has been constant.  The anchors seem to be players who are from Massachusetts, Fagundez, Tierney and Caldwell.  Tierney is about to age out at 32.  The Krafts have been very cheap with player acqusitions, and there is no attractive marquee player.  Jermaine Jones was the last almost marquee player and he was here for a couple of years.  What's the attraction here, driving over an hour to see what?  Mediocre soccer.  Better to watch decent soccer on TV, whether the EPL, Bundeslige or Champions League.  Even the bottom swelling EPL teams play far better soccer than any MLS team.

  5. frank schoon replied, September 23, 2018 at 11:41 a.m.

    Ben, Also ,I don't put much faith in coaches who have goalkeeping backround as coach...Period...

  6. Ted Stephanides, September 17, 2018 at 5:08 p.m.

    I can't comment on other teams but in the San Francisco/San Jose area where I live a major reason for a decrease in attendance, besides the Earthquakes' poor play, is the the total lack of coverage from the mainstream media. I read the San Francisco Chronicle, largest newspaper in northern California, and their MLS coverage is simply pathetic. They do not even send a reporter to cover the home games of the Earthquakes (they used to when MLS got started) and there has not been a single story all season about the team or any stories of any of the players. While they dedicate entire sections previewing the other leagues (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) at the beginning of the season, they do not have one line for MLS. I know several people who like soccer, including my two adult daughters, but they complain that they never see anything or know anything about the local team or MLS in general.
    I feel that both the fans and the team's management should write/call and urge more respect for MLS and more coverage. I have emailed several times and at times got I got non-satisfactory responses, but they need to hear from more people.

  7. schultz rockne, September 17, 2018 at 6:19 p.m.

    Bridgeview Fire. They have not been in Chicago since 2005.

  8. R2 Dad, September 17, 2018 at 9:14 p.m.

    I watched part of that Sunday game, and it was pretty painful. Chicago did a lot of ball-watching and returned it back to Schweini whenever possible, expecting him to make something out of nothing--and they won 4-0! Poor attacking intent, poor running off the ball. It does not make for compelling TV watching. Atlanta is eye candy in comparison, with their exciting attacking play. Combine this with the fact that we don't have a history of singing in the stands and the stadium atmosphere can be tomb-like.

    I spent my Saturday refereeing kids running up and down fields, playing with their friends--much better entertainment value.

  9. Wallace Wade, September 18, 2018 at 12:36 p.m.

    Ted, total lack of media coverage is part and parcel to the extremely poor TV deal MLS have in place. You have a better chance of catching a Little League baseball game on the tv than you do tuning in a MLS match. Why is this? Would like to know where the buck stops on this question 

  10. Darin Greenwood, September 18, 2018 at 4:09 p.m.

    Low quality of play, lack of great US players and poor refereeing are problems MLS has to address. 
    The people who judge the talent pool in US soccer consist of ego maniacs and Euro Xpats who because of their accents have convinced people to think they know something about Soccer (They call it Football- very impressive).
    They are usually guys who either: drink too much or have taken too many head shots.  These guys have been running the pay to play system and care nothing about developing players, but they do collect cheques.  The College system is simply geared to listening to the recomendations of the club guys.  Hence no improvement.  Even with the academy system in place the talent we have dissipates in the ether.
    You have to consider the expats could not make soccer their careers in their home countries so they come here and bring their mediocrity with them.

  11. Fire Paul Gardner Now, September 18, 2018 at 6:05 p.m.

    Attendance is still strong overall.  We are talking about an end of season game between two of the worst teams in the league at a stadium in the middle of nowhere.  

  12. humble 1, September 19, 2018 at 10:06 a.m.

    For MLS to become world class league - they need to get to the vanguard in real live turf also.  Some of the aesthetics of turf are awful.  Atlanta, New England, Portland, Seattle, these are major teams.  The turf just looks awfully b-grade in person and on TV.  Especially New England, where Patriots lines are burned in.  Compare this to Liverpool, Man City, even newly re-minted Cardiff, the fields are beautiful - a pleasure to see.  Then you look at MLS and also Tijuana of the Liga MX - a team that has a style that is easy on the eyes and not boring - but painful to watch due to their turf.  MLS is far far behind in real grass technology - way far behind.  The only team here I'm aware that is close to world class is Real Salt Lake, where they have lights and heaters to keep their grass growing year round.  Their stadium is a pleasure to visit - pretty sure they did not make the mistake to share their stadium with a college football team.  There are many grass fields in MLS that are very poor by international standards - because US football teams tear of up the turf part of the season.  Houston, Toronto are two that come to mind for this.  The plastic turf and the torn-up real turf makes MLS viewing in person a notch below world class.  They need to treat their grass like the world class golf courses all accross the USA.    

  13. frank schoon replied, September 23, 2018 at 11:43 a.m.

    Turf should be outlawed for pro soccer.

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