Small-Market Clubs In MLS Cup Final Seen As "Badge Of Honor" For League
It seems "rather appropriate" that Saturday’s Real Salt Lake-Sporting KC MLS Cup championship is being played between two of the league’s small-market franchises "who continue to provide the league with a major-league feel," according to Kurtis Larson of the TORONTO SUN. SKC G Jimmy Nielsen said, "There’s so much attention to the MLS Cup and a lot of media. It’s just a signal to how much soccer is growing in America." Saturday's game will not be "the first cold-weather MLS Cup, but it’s set to be one of the most frigid matches in MLS history." Still, it is "the hottest ticket in town" and also is one of the "top-sellers in recent memory." Forbes noted that with average ticket prices "swelling above $300 on the second-hand market," the title game is the "second-most expensive game Kansas City has hosted over the last five years." However, the league "still has challenges." MLS "barely rates in places like New England and Chicago, important markets it will continue to court" (TORONTO SUN, 12/6). MLSSOCCER.com's Simon Borg wrote Saturday will be "the first time that two teams outside the Top 10 media markets in the country will be contesting the league's championship match." While fans of other sports "sometimes roll their eyes with indifference at small-market showdowns, for MLS supporters -- even for those from the other 17 teams -- this 'small market' final is a badge of honor." It stands for "what the American top-flight soccer league is all about." Meanwhile, the introduction of MLS' salary system was about "more than just avoiding a premature financial implosion," as what it actually "introduced was parity." In this regard, Europe is "slowly catching on to what's happening in MLS." Parity is "one of the pillars on which MLS's identity is built." It is one of the "points of difference that allows the US league to stand out in the crowded world soccer marketplace" (MLSSOCCER.com, 11/27).
BRIGHT FUTURE: In S.F., Alan Black writes for MLS going forward, "expansion is the message." There are several "positives" for the league as the season comes to an end: "Attendance continues to rise. The fan culture grows and is louder than ever. Spectacular describes the scenes in Portland and Seattle." The main "downside" is that TV viewership "remains low." Way more fans "watch the star-studded foreign leagues." Black: "Steering the soccer ship through expansion and deeper money waters will be dangerous. It has to be said that the league has done a good job in managing the direction" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/6).
FREEZE WARNING: USA TODAY's Steve Brisendine notes when MLS "looks at adopting the FIFA schedule of August through May, one constant sticking point is the prospect of playing winter matches in cold-weather cities." But in previous high-profile matches held in chilly conditions this year, "both at the club and international level, the low mercury readings haven't translated into low attendance." But SKC F CJ Sapong said, "There are certain cities in this league that no matter what the weather is, you're not going to get people to sell out the crowd." RSL manager Jason Kreis said that while the league might be inching closer to realigning its season, ... "it's not there yet." He said, "There are some things the teams here could do. All the fields [in Europe] have underground heating. ...There are measures you can take to bring the fans out, and I think we're getting very close." RSL MF Kyle Beckerman said, "We're getting to that point where we're packing out all our stadiums no matter what. But personally, I think the quality goes down a little bit when the field's rock-hard or the snow starts piling up" (USA TODAY, 12/6).
THE MAN IN CHARGE: MLS Commissioner Don Garber sat down with SI.com for an interview. He said of Saturday's cold-weather forecast, "This is what we intended to do, which was to reward the home fans and the home club with the benefit, the dream, of hosting the final, because they earned it. Yeah, the weather is going to be cold. But the stadium will be packed." Asked about whether cities should put public money toward MLS facilities, Garber said, "It is, without doubt, a good investment ... When you have the right facility, it enables the team to be successful so it can compete ... To say that those buildings don’t make economic sense after they’ve been around four or five years, after a funding program that has a 25 or 30 term to it, isn’t good news, but I don’t think it’s the whole story." Garber said of a small-market MLS Cup title game, "For us to think for one minute that that is not good for Major League Soccer would be violating one of the core equities that it was founded on...If the larger markets don’t like it, they’ve got to find a way to beat them." He said of K.C. as a soccer market, "It’s become a real beacon of hope for what soccer can be in America." Finally, Garber said of NYC FC not yet developing its brand, "I don’t know if it’s resonance or traction that’s the issue. They’re not out in front of it quite as much as an existing (USL Pro) team like Orlando City. (NYC FC) have a good plan. They’re very capable. They do have a brand...(Manchester City CEO) Ferran Soriano is one of the best sports executives in any sport in any country" (SI.com, 12/6).
GOING CLUBBING: Garber said of Chivas USA, "There is no chance that club is going to be contracted, and no chance that club is being moved" (TWITTER.com, 12/5). He added, "We'll figure out a way to fix it. I'm not going to talk today about what that plan is, but we have a plan" (TWITTER.com, 12/5). In Austin, Kevin Lyttle notes MLS' expansion plans "include possibly considering Austin for a franchise by the end of the decade." MLS "would be quite a leap from the Austin Aztex, who play in the USL Premier Development League, the fourth tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid." The obstacles to Austin expansion "would be significant ones, especially finding a suitable venue." Voters have "shown little interest in funding professional sports projects" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 12/6).