Friday, October 30, 2009
This doesn’t close the door to a ballpark being put out there, nor does it mean the park couldn’t end up out there. It just means that the Beavers can’t rely on the timeframe of Beaverton to get the particulars in motion to meet the construction schedule, so they need to open up the situation to other groups in the hopes to get things figured out by the start of next year. Opponents of the idea will sit back and rejoice this situation, saying that we’ve won this war on the “boondoggle” of the ball park and it’s a matter of time before Paulson has left the city with his teams in tow.
So then I ask these people, then what happens? You have a park that still has money owed upon it, and suddenly you have no tenants to help you pay off the debt, so who pays? We all do. Think that other potential owners will look at Portland and see this as a place where they could build a winning, financially successful franchise? Hardly, as potential businesspersons have to look at this situation and what happened with the Lumberjax, and see what this city really is at its core. We love our NBA team, and everything else can just fall by the wayside.
Seriously, how is this city supporting two full time sports radio stations yet we only have one true major sport within our area? It’s because we love our Trail Blazers no matter what, and if you just mention something about them, there will be those that will talk anytime, anywhere at great length no matter what else is going on. We all love to dream about what might be with the team, potential players and trades, the future of the NBA, and we’ll drop everything to talk with others that share our affliction. It’s ratings gold, but at the same point, if you like other sports within the city, you’re second class.
There’s enough traction to get attention with the MLB and NFL teams up north, and during football time, the Ducks and Beavers can wrestle some time away, but for the most part, we are Trail Blazers through and through, and that helps prove we are a solid, committed market. But it also labels us as completely small minded because we can’t see past what we can to see the potential of what might be with something else. God forbid the Trail Blazers ever went through financial trauma, and see what the market would do. Wait, we did, and nothing dramatically changed. The television coverage here is some of the worst in terms of seeing games unless you have Comcast, yet we put up with it and fill the stadium each night because we love our team.
And it’s that love that makes it hard for us to look at anything else and give it any sort of attention. Soccer may be a wonderful thing in town, but if it’s such a good idea, why doesn’t the team pay for it like Paul Allen? Well, Paul Allen paid for most of the arena, but had some help from the city to make it happen, and they are also in control of any development in that area, even if the city owns the Memorial Coliseum. We got lucky that our basketball guy is one of the richest men in the world, and he’s figured out that we love our team enough that we’ll do just about anything and put up with just about any antics and still keep coming back.
The naysayers don’t want their tax money going towards a stadium, yet don’t see a problem with monies going towards other businesses that may or may not bring jobs to the area. I get that stadiums aren’t an exact science in economic development, but some of them work very well in jumpstarting areas, and no economic study done about stadiums has completely captured the full impact of what a new stadium brings. It’s hard to pinpoint every stream of income that a team generates and understand the impact and put it in a study, but hey, they try really hard. The truth is that stadiums may not completely revitalize an area, but as a component, it can help within an overall plan. And, apparently, the bars and restaurants outside stadiums that are full of people don’t generate any economic impact.
It’s redistribution of income, so it doesn’t really matter. And I suppose those people have never really cared enough about anything to give up their vacation time, spend thousands of dollars and travel and other supplies just to follow a team and show their passion for something. It’s easier to just keep things as they are, because we live in tough times and the economics of the world mean we have to be conservative. If we make a decision about this, what happens if it’s wrong? There's been other cities that have had problems with ball parks, so we have to be careful we don't fall into the same trap, despite the fact that the deals proposed for baseball put the majority of the risk on Paulson and left the city's revenue streams in tact.
We elect our officials to make tough decisions and run the city, yet there are those fringe elements that spend their time distrusting everything about the process, while a huge majority is too busy living paycheck to paycheck to even care about anything more than the bottom line. And if I’m a fringe element, I can make up pithy things to scare this mass group into some activity, even if it’s inactivity or wanting to force a vote. It's important to micro manage these groups, because apparently the people need to be trusted more, yet we're the ones that elected these people to represent us in the first place. I can imagine this is why we don’t have people beating down the doors to run for public office.
We’d rather talk and talk and talk, and hope that something happens instead of taking a chance and making something occur. Even when you have a solid idea with good financial return expected, giving a city an asset that could be around for years, it’s easier to play the “what if” game and give our love to a team that cares about as much for us as they care about their bottom line. We don’t want to make a decision, let the process happen where it may, and things will be just fine as long as the Blazers are here.
Never mind that during this process, we’ve given ourselves an image that will be hard to shake. We’re not the city that works, we’re the city that would rather talk about things, and only work if it makes sense and everyone is in agreement. The only problem with this kind of leadership is that it does nothing more that ensure the status quo of keeping things as they are. There’s nothing visionary, nothing earth shattering, nothing game breaking, it’s more just care taking. Maybe that’s something you all can get behind, but I can’t. I’m tired of this process and tired of this area getting in its own way despite the best intentions. I don’t want to envision a PGE Park sitting empty in 2011 with no teams, but today, that reality became much more likely that anyone wants to admit.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
It wasn’t that long ago that I was living by myself in Northwest Portland, happy with my job and friends and dealing with the realities that came my way. Granted, I probably wasn’t exercising as much as I could have been, I’d accumulated a pretty solid amount of debt for one person, and I lived in a smallish studio apartment, but I felt happy about my place in life. Then I get a phone call that changes everything, and I end up a week later saying goodbye to my mother due to cancer, which shook my foundation in ways I couldn’t even begin to fathom. It’s now a bit over 4 years since then, and I’ve changed almost everything about myself. I got married, I shaved my hair down, I moved out to East County, I gained a pack of cats, and I even changed my last name, but perhaps the biggest change was in my faith.
Up until my mother’s death, I practiced Catholicism. I didn’t attend mass as regularly as I should, but there was a simplicity and comfort in being part of that fabric that held to my foundation. I could time the ceremony in 45 minutes, knowing where the prayers hit in mass, the responses and when to say them, the songs that came up, it was a huge comfort. Or it could be considered a huge crutch, depending on how you looked at it, but what it did allow me to do was keep some connection with my family and the supreme being I’d grown up with. My beliefs hadn’t been questioned, and I’d even allowed my faith to influence my decisions relating to dating.
And my mother was the bedrock that influenced a lot of things I’d done up to that point, and so losing her was a huge upheaval in everything. I tried to follow the advice of some who said leaning on my faith would help me understand what happened, and where my place was after everything was done. And so I prayed, and went to mass, and prayed some more, and the more I did this, the more questions that came and never seemed to have an answer. It was at this point I’d met girl, who wasn’t like anyone I’d met before, and she had something that I’d never encountered before. She had a strong sense of self, and stayed true to her beliefs, and while she could relate to other ways of being, she remained true to what she knew. Amongst many things, this was one of the traits that I found appealing to me, and I still find that tenacity adorable. The fact that she’d been able to do this and not have faith in a god of any kind went against everything I’d known or dealt with, and because of my own crisis of trying to figure out where I fit in the world, I walked away from the faith that I’d known.
I’ve had to deal with this decision only a handful of times, such as when I visited my grandmother back in 2006 and brought girl to meet her. She recently passed away, but my grandmother never missed a mass in her 99 years of life because her faith was her stability, her beacon, her way. When grandma had asked me about whether we attended church and whether girl would convert, I said yes. Granted, we’d never talked about it up until then and I knew that there was no way girl would ever embrace church, but at the same time, I felt that glossing it over was the right choice. Now, I think I would have enjoyed the conversation that girl would have had with my grandmother, because it would have been one for the ages. I’m not sure who would have won, but I know that they would have left that discussion with mutual respect or crazed yelling. I just know that at that point, I wasn’t ready to walk away from my faith completely. But after months and months, the decision made more sense and I’ve never looked back until this past weekend.
A very dear friend of mine was getting married to her beau, and it was the first time I was attending a full Catholic service without fully being able to participate as a practicing Catholic. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel about this, because I couldn’t even equate the feelings I was processing. I knew exactly what would happen, what songs would be sung, the readings that would be shared, the sermon the priest would provide, but yet I wasn’t part of that world anymore. It was like knowing the secret codes and messages to know what was going on, but not feeling comfortable about having that information. Even now, the whole concept was extremely foreign because the prayers and words didn’t carry nearly the same meaning as they once did.
Granted, I find that believing in something is important, and I can respect anyone’s set of beliefs no matter what they are. To me, it’s important to believe in something, even if it’s something or nothing, even if it’s a supreme being or an unknown power, and even if it’s simply in yourself. And I know that many find comfort in having belief in something as part of a community because there is comfort in a collective experience. But I’d rather people have faith that is personal to them and means something to them rather than just go through the motions because it’s comfortable. I’d spent my adult life doing that, and when the time came for me to find my faith, I found that what I had wasn’t right for me and it was time to find faith in myself. I still believe in a supreme being, but the relationship is much more transparent and accessible without formality.
And what is perhaps funny about it was that it’s not that far from something I’d found back in high school. Sunday mornings for me used to be about church, but I was the only churchgoer. And with having a limited amount of time to do things and me being a distance runner in high school, I started to complete my long distance runs Sunday morning when things were quiet and I could fit it in my schedule. While I was getting exercise and feeling better about myself, I didn’t realize that the runs soon became conversations with the being about things going on during my run. It was my time with it, and I began to treasure this simple custom that gave me great comfort. This wasn’t a talk in church or me talking to someone to talk to him for me, it was me talking to them unfiltered.
After I went to college and my Sunday mornings became more about sleeping in, I lost this tradition, and never regained it. I’d never realized that in trying to find faith, I’d had it right in my hands way back when, and to get it back, I’d just have to remember the simple lessons of believing in something. I can thank a lot of people, especially girl, for helping me find this, and I’ve never been happier. And while I’ve honestly looked back and thought about what might have been, I’m confident that my choice of path is where I need to be. And when it comes down to it, that’s all anyone can ask of themselves.
Granted, I can make this sound really simple, but this hasn’t been nearly as cohesive as I’ve made it out here. It’s tough to go against things that you’ve known and felt for years, and realize that where you were then isn’t where you are now. But I had to figure it out by pulling it apart, making it relatable, and respecting the path and the method to get here. And remembering that faith, just like many things, is entirely a personal experience, and something that we all need to figure out where it fits in our lives in whatever form.
What helps is having a world that respects faith in its various forms, and realizing the simplicity of embracing a belief in whatever form it takes. That’s the major rub, because while there are those that respect differences, others feel that their beliefs and thoughts are more important for whatever reason. And they use the cloud of faith and belief to preach those and push their agenda wherever, whenever. For some, it’s more important that people believe exactly what others believe because it’s the right way.
To me, I put faith in an analogy of putting 10 people in a room with a table, vase and flower, and then asking those people to describe what they saw. You might get some common themes, but there’s no way that all 10 descriptions will exactly match each other, and that’s why faith is important, but must be a completely personal experience. There might be benefits in being part of a group, you might need prayer, songs, meditation, or it could be chanting, but the paramount building block is that your faith is all about what works for you. And others should respect that because it’s part of who you are as a human being, regardless of what those beliefs are.
I know these words might not resonate with everyone, and that's Ok with me, I felt I needed to say this for my own benefit, mostly because I felt better expressing my thoughts about my faith, and what happened. Perhaps you'll find some insight into what I went through, or relate to what I experienced, or it may cause you more resolve in whatever you believe in. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed the tale, and can respect it for what it is - one person's grappling with what it is and where his place is within this wonderfully complex universe.
Monday, October 26, 2009
That is one of the many aspects to the beauty of this game, you are never completely sure what you might see in a 90 plus minute timeframe. For those of us that have caught the fever, it’s a really easy thing to sell, which is why many of us spend our early morning hours watching games from across the world to see what incredible things might happen. It doesn’t take much to sell us on the prospect of the future for Portland and MLS, we can say we’ve seen it and are already preparing for whatever may happen. Many of my fellow Timbers Army members have already secured our tickets for the 2010 season and beyond, based simply on the optimism of the future and what MLS will bring to the city. We don’t know what players will be here, the coaches, the team color and crest, and what PGE Park will look like for the upcoming 2011 opening for MLS, but we have faith and hope. Those are two very powerful emotions to have at our disposal, and so we wait expectantly for 2011 to arrive.
The road there is paved with good intentions and a lot of crazy obstacles capable for distraction. The USL First Division’s future is cloudy at best, as a schism has developed between select clubs and the USL management, who some insiders consider “draconian” in their control over member franchises. It wasn’t that long ago that the USL was being looked at as the soccer league most likely to survive competition with MLS. Here in 2009, the combined efforts of MLS conservatively monitoring and controlling the financial future of their league while providing potential jobs for all races and genders interested is providing a stable foundation for the future. As we’ve talked about here before, the USL is having all sorts of issues trying to figure out what their future holds, and the first shots have already been fired in this mess.
If this was the only issue going on, I could see finding a strategy and just try to mitigate the mess until 2011 comes along. However, the baseball issue in Beaverton still is looming about, and the future of baseball still has some impact on what soccer does, because until their future is determined, the construction schedule and go-forward plans for soccer are tentative at best. The city and Beaverton mayor Denny Doyle is excited about the prospect of baseball coming to the Westside, and are prepared to move forward with their plans even with no determined site. Opponents, meanwhile, have started mounting their campaign to put the whole idea up to a vote, concerned about the long-term debt this project would bring to the area. The longer this issue goes on, the more uncertainty there is surrounding MLS and Portland. While the deals for soccer and baseball are being considered separately, there are still a lot of co-dependencies that must be solved before the future brightens up.
This hasn’t stopped the Timbers from moving forward with their efforts to rebrand the team as MLS, and reach out to fans to promote the new team. The Timbers have hired Nemo Designs to create a marketing campaign designed to get the word out about MLS to those fans who may not know anything about soccer, the Timbers, MLS, or what is happening in 2011. They are embracing some rather interesting marketing ideas, based on the buzz created from the Internet and other social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. While Nemo understands the Timbers Army and what they bring to the table, they are looking to seize the non-soccer fans or general sports fan to help fill the stadium.
I get the fact that the Timbers need more than just the hardcore fans in order to sell this idea long term, and the fan experience needs to be inclusive for everybody. The Timbers realize people like me are going to show up week in and out without much prompting because we are already hooked on the product, and so they don’t need to do much to keep me interested. Creating a buzz requires a concentrated, coordinated branding where you see the logo in various spots, building to a big campaign as the season approaches, and the targets are usually in non-traditional places. In the article, the marketing ideas vary from foosball tables to roving advertisements on MAX to the possibility of a reality show centered on the team.
For traditional fans like myself, I shudder to think about some of these ideas because it seems to go against things that I’ve witnessed up until now. The Timbers brand has been built up to now on various word of mouth campaigns, some limited advertisement, and the work of the Timbers Army to draw folks to various matches. The results are evident, as the Timbers’ average attendance increased by 13 percent in 2009. People are showing up to watch this team, because they are talented, the games are entertaining, and the Timbers had a good winning season.
There are other reasons for the spike as well, as people come to PGE Park for the atmosphere, the cheap beer, and the scene to be seen right now. With increased media attention, there have been folks that have latched onto the Timbers momentum, and have been showing up in droves. These newer fans may not understand the traditions, the songs, the atmosphere, but they want to be part of what’s going on. This reality has caused some tension between the groups of fans, which I will label the veterans and the tourists.
Veterans have been here from the very beginnings, when the seats were plentiful and the tradition was just being built. They encouraged friends, co-workers, and strangers to come watch soccer in Portland, and worked tirelessly to get the word out about this team. Many of these people have spent countless hours and dollars in supporting the team, from traveling all over for road games, creating banners, signs and chant sheets, and completing various community projects with the intent to get the word out about the team. These people care about the history and tradition of their team, and really get frustrated with those that don’t understand what it took to get here or simply don’t care to get it.
Tourists simply want to show up to have a good time, and have heard through the grapevine that the Timbers are the place to be for various reasons. Whether it’s for the cheap beer, crazy antics, or cute members of the crowd, they show up in droves. They may not understand the chants, what to do with the cutup papers, or what the songs are all about; they want to come and have fun. I don’t know their reasoning here, but it could be everything from wanting to be part of the bandwagon, to wanting to belong to the community but not sure how, to just simply wanting to be there to be seen. There might be some of these people who want to get it more, but they might be scared off by the veterans, who get frustrated or impatient with those that don’t follow the team in the same way they do.
It’s a constant struggle, and things aren’t going to change anytime soon. I’d love to have some of the newer fans want to know more about the traditions of the TA, but I can’t force them to honor it despite my efforts. The Timbers Army has set itself up as a “leaderless collection” of fans, but after being here for years, I know the key members of this team because you learn quickly who the movers and shakers are within this group. Some people don’t mind doing the heavy lifting, and many ideas have died a quick death because they weren’t embraced by this core of folks. I didn’t learn this overnight, it was important to me to learn about what was going on within this group because I wanted to. So I asked around, and the rest is history.
It’s perhaps this struggle that epitomizes what the TA is going through right now, and something that I wrestle with internally. I resent people riding on the coattails of the success of the TA, becoming a bandwagon fan when it’s cool to join up. They may or may not care about history or tradition, they want to hang out and yell with everything else. I guess I can understand that to an extent, but at the same point, I learned more about the culture and attitude of this wonderfully dysfunctional group, and felt like I’ve gained so much more by simply caring about the team, the crest, the history. I became a true fan, and less of a customer just looking for the hip thing to drop some disposable income.
There will be a lot of discussion about this whole dynamic, and I’m not sure there is an easy way to solve this. I know the current Timbers organization really wants to build their brand for the future, which may mean some traditions has to go away or be altered, and that thought has begun to apply to some attitudes about the future. I want this idea to succeed in a grand level and have others see what Portland and the Timbers are all about, but I’m also very concerned about making sure the tradition and history remain as much as possible.
In talking about this issue, I wish I could come up with a way to solve all sides of this concern, but for now, I think there’s a few things that can be done to resolve the tensions. Veterans need to understand that things in the future might not be the exact way they are now, but change sometimes is a good thing. However, it’s important to share your thoughts about things so that certain traditions can be honored if possible. Unlike our rivals to the north, we don’t want to just wipe the slate clean and consider the 2011 Timbers as a brand new team without an identity. Tourists need to realize that there are people that really care about the team and how things are done, and if you want to know more, you are encouraged to ask. If you want to be part of this, expect that some people are going to ask you to contribute in some way, and that shouldn’t be a problem if you want to stand in the fan group. Moreover, to everyone, support the club and the efforts as best as you can. You might not agree with every idea that comes down the line, but if you care about your club, you support them no matter what, and you can take a sense of pride in what they do, win or lose.
POST SCRIPT (October 26, 2009)
I’ve read the words written above and sat on posting them for almost a week, and I still believe in the concept of them, even if it’s not exactly how others feel. I think most of the issues happening now could be solved with communication and understanding, but then again, the gift of civilized discourse is a lost art in our current world. It’s no longer important to be right as much as it’s important to be remembered with a pithy catch phrase or worshiped within a group of similar minded followers. We live in an incredibly smart, but fragmented world in terms of beliefs, and people don’t seem to respect differences as much as they have previously.
There’s no better evidence of the fragments surrounding Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Timbers and Beavers, who is trying to solve bigger problems than those being dealt with in our fan group. Columnists have been trying to figure out why there is so much hate for Paulson, and in Sunday’s Oregonian, the question is asked again because the writer openly says that Paulson and Portland should be a good fit. I couldn’t agree more that Paulson is an asset to this town, despite all of the things being said about him.
I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like for someone in the public eye to be as vilified as Paulson is anytime his name appears in print, as he tries to move forward the plans for both the Timbers and Beavers. Comments range from soccer being completely gay to Paulson having a silver spoon to genuine frustration about Paulson’s father, who may or may not be involved with the economic crisis that actually is impacting the plans for soccer and baseball here. It’s true that Paulson’s dad is a part owner of the team, and it’s true that Merritt has had some missteps in the press. However, the anti-tax, anti-sport, anti-Paulson crowd would make you think that Merritt is pure evil incarnate.
It’s no secret that I’m an advocate of this plan, as I’m with any stadium plan that helps cities and teams. Cities get a chance to revitalize areas within their area, keep the teams from nomadically moving about, and they form a partnership with the team towards the future. Teams, meanwhile, get the benefit of having someone own their facility, while contribute to the long term benefits within the stadium area. While there are some opponents that claim that stadiums aren’t good economic engines, even the most intelligent economists can agree that there are streams that teams generate that don’t get directly counted in economic impact studies. They tend to focus on direct revenue streams that the team directly benefits from, but doesn’t look at other factors, like people going to restaurants or pubs to watch games, team merchandise purchased from another vendor, and things like that.
But admittedly, like my discussion about tourists, I’m tired of hearing the opposing voices, simply because a majority of them can’t be reached no matter what. There will be some opposing Paulson simply out of a selfish desire to keep Portland the way it is, instead of thinking progressively. And for such a progressive city, we think entirely too small-townish in our desire to keep things “weird”. We love our farmer’s markets, we have zombie pub crawls and a Lovecraft film fest, and animals here get taken care of better than some people, but mess with our process and things come crashing to a halt. There is such a desire to keep things quirky and different that even the most obvious changes to help have to be pulled apart and scrutinized to the minutest of details. And many ideas, even those with obvious merit, can’t survive such an intense process. I’m never going to advocate removal of the constituent’s voice in making decisions, but when your electorate can’t even agree on the most simple things, does it really make sense to slow down things to make sure the voices all get heard?
The people in the know can't wait for us to arrive, it's about time to put up or shut up, Portland.
We can prove the naysayers wrong, and just hope that something else falls into our lap, or step up and keep quality sports entertainment in town for a reasonable cost for everyone. It's your call.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
So this year, the league instituted a two leg playoff, where each team that qualifies for the championship gets to host a match in their home stadium. It seemed like a fair way to ensure that each fanbase gets to celebrate their team’s accomplishments, and each team gets to enjoy the home pitch environment for at least one match. Because of the playoff structure, the matchups are determined quite late in the process, as in the 2009 season, Vancouver and Montreal only clinched their championship berths on October 4th, so it leaves a limited amount of time for fans to figure out travel schedules, much less address television and radio needs.
For this championship, Fox Soccer Channel is broadcasting both legs, which means that the game dates and times needed a bit of flexibility. Unlike PGE Park where the Timbers share the park with Portland State football, Swangard and Saputo Stadiums are single purpose, so you don’t have competition for dates with other sports playing there. It would be agreed that Vancouver would host the first leg the weekend of October 9th -11th, while Montreal would host the second leg the weekend of October 16th – 18th. However, Montreal and Vancouver both have rabid hockey and CFL football fans, and the weekend of Montreal’s match also have a Canadiens match and Alouettes football, so the Impact were trying to find a time that worked. So far, they’ve indicated a Sunday match, then Saturday early afternoon, and Saturday night, and now apparently Saturday afternoon.
What this process does is ensure that television and other sports fans in the Montreal area are taken care of, but it totally hoses traveling fans. Vancouver fans are justifiably frustrated in trying to figure out travel plans to get to the game on time, juggling work and life commitments with the desire to see their team play. Granted, I have it rather easy, as my wife is as rabid of a Timbers fan as I am, so for us, it’s a matter of figuring out travel date logistics than whether we can actually go or not. I feel for these fans, who want nothing more to travel and see their squad in action, but up until late, you don’t know what date or time the match will occur. Apparently, the match is now on Saturday, October 17th at 2:30 PM local time, but apparently FSC had been advertising a different time up until most recently.
The USL was built from the remnants of the old A-League First Division, combined with other lower division teams, youth squads and women’s teams. Over the years, we’ve seen franchise movement, bankrupt franchises just before the season, questionable officiating, and most recently, an acquisition by another group. Currently, the offseason for the USL First Division is going to be interesting, as it’s rumored that some current USL-1 teams are thinking about forming their own league for the 2010 season. The USL has also been dealing with MLS taking some of the strongest USL markets, as Seattle left the USL in 2009, while Vancouver and Portland join MLS in 2011.
The USL has taken some rather interesting steps against certain franchises that are rumored to be considering the new affiliation, including removing them from their website, sending letters about player rights and their contract status, and had talks to stabilize the situation between some teams. Some squads are upset with the current USL and the USL, which is trying to find its place in the soccer market place in terms of marketing, franchise makeup, and stability. The USL seemed to be on the right track just a few years ago, finding markets that were able to support soccer, while providing a quality product from higher to lower levels. MLS was also beginning to struggle mightily in the mid 2000’s, as the league struggled to find an identity, corporate support, and legitimacy amongst the top flight soccer leagues.
And now here we are in 2009, and MLS has really strengthened itself after contracting teams early in the 2000’s, struggling to find markets and owners, finding a niche in a fragmented television market, and drawing players from around the world to play MLS. MLS is extremely stable, as they’ve moved past the days where a couple of rich people owned most of the teams and subsidized the league to having their games on television each week, getting quality crowd sizes, and now expanding into new markets. The USL, on the other hand, has watched teams fold in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, while one First Division team moves to MLS in 2009, and two more leave in 2011. The USL First Division will not have a team farther west than Minneapolis or Austin, Texas in their current configuration if nothing else changes, while their USL-2 division is only located in the eastern part of the United States.
Having two leagues try to find a place in the soccer market place has been interesting to watch, because while both leagues are trying to reach the same fans, they are doing it in very different ways. The USL has focused on a more grass roots movement, keeping to their strengths of having a strong developmental and women’s league, while MLS has gone after casual fans by focusing on television and corporate support. While both leagues have a good working relationship in terms of player contracts as many players move between the league teams, the league management teams have been adversarial towards each other.
The thing is that both leagues have strengths that actually could benefit each other if they combined their efforts. MLS has worked very well to get corporate support, soccer only stadiums for their teams, but also legitimize their teams by getting top international players to play in the MLS. It also helps that the US Men’s National Team has had recent success using players almost exclusively from MLS, thus giving the league more credibility amongst soccer fans. MLS isn’t on par with the top levels of soccer worldwide, but it’s getting close.
What the USL does very well is provide development opportunities for younger players by having a strong youth structure, and a well-devised developmental league. The USL PDL has 68 teams all over the United States and Canada in a well thought out geographic set up, and as such, young players can train and learn in a competitive environment. Teams like Vancouver have seen their success directly attributed to the success of their developmental teams, and MLS made the curious decision a few years ago to completely eliminate their reserve division, which really served as a developmental squad for younger players.
If you took the best of the MLS and USL in a combined effort, you could have a truly strong soccer environment, with the talented players having ample opportunities to progress to the highest levels of US Soccer without leaving the country. But as with situations like this, the USL and MLS prefer to remain independent, as MLS talks about creating a second division of their own, while the USL is working to try and strengthen its foothold in the West and Midwest of the United States. I can appreciate the efforts from both sides, but at this point, I’m wondering what each group is really trying to accomplish here.
If you really wanted to strengthen each league, it would behoove both sides to seek a partnership of some type, so that the ultimate goal of making the United States competitive in soccer on a world class level is achievable. The whole schism of the USL is partly being caused by the search for more money and control for the franchises, which is something that MLS seems to have figured out. There’s huge benefit to be seen here, but because this is such a good idea, it won’t happen anytime soon. What you are seeing now is exactly what happens when sports people with the best intentions listen to their pocketbooks and ego more than their soccer intuition.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
- Washingtonians will drive in any lane they want, as slow as they want. This even means driving in the far left lane usually reserved for faster traffic. It never ceased to amaze me how many times someone was driving 72 in the fast lane with the speed limit at 70.
- Washingtonians will pass in any lane, including the far right. We got passed a lot to the right, as apparently it was OK to do 90 in the far right lane. I'd love to see the driver's manual in Washington to see what the rules say.
- There's a specific ethnic group that is labeled as being terrible drivers, and when we got caught behind slow drivers or erratic drivers, they represented this group every time. Their food is pretty good if it's free of MSG, but they can't drive worth anything. We had no less than 4 different incidents with drivers of this group, and each one got more and more crazy the further north we got.
Thankfully, the rule of the express lanes in Shittle being in the wrong direction didn't apply going north, as we flew through there rather easily. As a matter of fact, we arrived in Bellingham just after 2 PM, even with a couple of stops for food and loo use, and for me to take over driving. We always have to stop at Scatter Creek, as it's a TA rule to stop there, and just around 3 PM, we hit the US - Canada border.
We actually talked with US officials just before the border crossing, who checked our passports and asked us a few questions about our trip north. They even knew about girl's high school mascot, and asked about the Oregon Native sticker on our car, so they were paying attention. As we were waived forward, we moved to Canada customs, and they asked us why we were going up there. Upon mentioning the soccer game, the official asked us if we were rooting for the Craps, and when we said no, he said you can't come into the country. Girl then said she loved the Craps, and I said the fans were good guys. Plus, as girl put it, you aren't Shittle, which the official then said "We can agree upon that. Have a good time", and we were off. I love border stops in 10 minutes or less.
We entered Burnaby at 4 PM after a short stint on Highway 1, and checked into our hotel. The same clerk that has been there for years was there, and actually remembered me from previous visits, so the check in was really easy. We got settled in our room in the west wing, and the weather was a bit chilly but still pleasant for a fall day. We'd heard it was a 95 percent chance that it would rain tonight, and so we'd prepared by bringing rain gear and sweatshirts to keep warm. Girl had also brought a bottle of wine, which we consumed in our room in a matter of moments. We soon headed to the Jaguar Pub for some pre-game drinks and food.
Because we've determined that girl is gluten intolerant, we spend a lot of time checking menus to make sure she doesn't end up with food that is going to make her sick. We chose a Caesar salad and potato skins, taking out the croutons, while I got a large burger to fill my stomach. While the drinks were strong, the waitress forgot one of girl's drinks and then noticed that the croutons were left on the salad while girl was picking them off, yet she never offered to take the salad back or discount us for the mistake. I soon realized that her tip was dwindling, because that's the kind of mistakes that could cause long term issues. Once the drink was