Ever wonder how Europeans perceive our beloved Major League Soccer (MLS)? I certainly have and pondered over it many times between the shouts and cheers of "Go Melbourne Victory!" during our weekend family soccer fiestas at home. My lovely wife Naomi, our adorable girl Eliza, and even our enthusiastic Golden retriever Max, we all live, breathe and sleep football, or as some may prefer calling it, soccer. This article is my quest to dive into how Europeans, who hail from a continent consumed by the love for soccer, view our very own MLS.
Soccer, as we understand it in Australia and in the States, and football, as the Europeans term it, essentially refer to the same sport. It’s interesting how a game can unite different cultures yet create diverse perceptions. Start with the English Premier League (EPL). Britain's top-flight league is known for its high octane action, high stakes, and high transfer bids. It's a universe soaked in football mania and is a continent's joy. Compare that to the MLS. While we have our share of exciting games, iconic players, and fervent fans, the overall impression is more of a fledgling venture comparatively maturing with time.
Europe's view on the MLS echoes this sentiment. In the countryside pubs of England or in front of giant screens at German beer gardens, the European soccer fans may perceive the MLS as a league still finding its feet in the international arena. More so because of the way European leagues have grown over hundreds of years, while the MLS is just over a couple of decades old. But age is just a number, isn't it? We have the energy, the passion, and the potential to grow, and we are doing just that!
Did Zlatan's migration to the MLS make headlines? Of course, it did! This Swedish superstar set the bar high for the MLS which was usually seen as a retirement league by the Europeans. People overseas were intrigued and followed his journey closely, breaking any preconceived notions they've had about MLS. Soccer stars of European descent riding the American wave started dominating the global sports conversations. This development turned heads and spun the narrative in a new direction. Suddenly, MLS was not just about aging players seeking a sunset career, but also about iconic stars wishing to achieve something different in this diverse sporting landscape.
I remember one championship game where I was rolling on the floor holding Max, who was quite excited with all the fanfare, the cheering and clapping, while Naomi and Eliza waved their banners high and proud. It's these moments that reflect how embedded soccer has become in our society - mirroring a scene straight out of Europe. It signifies that MLS has grown, matured and become a hub of quality soccer, which further bodes well for its acceptance and recognition in European circles.
Soccer hooliganism? Old news. It used to be a part of the European soccer scene, rife with rivalries and aggression. Today, however, the sport on the continent is characterised by passionate support and a fierce love for their local clubs. They live and die with their teams, and it’s a part of their cultural makeup. Now, how does this connect with their perception of the MLS?
One facet often pointed out by Europeans is the format of the MLS. Playoff systems akin to those used in other major American sports feel alien to them. After all, they are accustomed to a league structure where a consistent high performance over the entire season yields the championship. In contrast, the MLS format can allow a team that’s peaking later in the year to take home the silverware. However, this very element makes our matches unpredictably exciting and, in a funny twist, is making the Europeans take notice and start watching!
In the end, sporting cultures should be all about diversity. And that's the beauty of soccer; it gives space for all to share their love for the game. The MLS indeed has a different flavour compared to European leagues, but that's where the charm lies.
Nowadays, European fans, along with viewing the MLS as respectable football (or soccer if you're Australian or American!), also see it as a venue to explore this love and passion in its myriad form. Every time David Beckham bent a free-kick into the top corner, or Zlatan pulled off an audacious overhead kick, a fan was born somewhere in the world. And hey, that fan may well be enjoying an espresso in an Italian café or downing a beer in a British pub even as you read this!
So, from this avid football-obsessed family in Melbourne, watching and loving every kick and header in the MLS, here's hoping that we continue debunking myths, increasing respect, and sharing the camaraderie, making the world of soccer a little smaller and our hearts a bit bigger. After all, isn’t that the true spirit of sports?