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Jack Jewsbury: Sorry Hank, MLS Will Be a Major Player

Sunday, August 31, 2014

 

Jack Jewsbury, plays for the Portland Timbers

Hey Hank, I read your article this week about why soccer will never take off in the US. Were you around last summer? Did you see how Americans embraced the sport like never before? With over 24 million viewers watching the US - Portugal group game, it became the most watched soccer game ever in the United States.  A lot of experts are saying the time is now for MLS to be included in the conversation about the top sports leagues in our country like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.  

A few examples I witnessed this past month have me convinced that's true. 

I raced off the plane to the nearest airport TV during our layover in Minneapolis on the day of that US-Portugal game. When I found a bar with the match on, it was standing room only, with countless outside gazing through the open windows and the buzz of what one might imagine from the Super Bowl in the last few minutes. And as I walked away from what was a wild game and a result that felt like a loss to Americans everywhere, I couldn't help but have a smile on my face as a fan. 

Packed Portland bars

A fan that later stood in a packed Portland bar watching the round of 16 World Cup game between the US and Belgium. While watching, I overheard a table of 65+ year old couples discussing the ins and outs of a sport you could tell they knew very little about.  Some of the comments were comical – in particular when it came to the offside rule – but one thing was clear: people, regular people, are genuinely taking an interest in our sport for quite possibly the first time in their lives. 

Timbers Army, from their facebook page 

 It’s worth remembering, though, that soccer in the states hasn't been an overnight sensation, or something that came in with this World Cup. MLS started in 1996 and has gone through some tough periods where many asked if the league would last.  But with the building of soccer specific stadiums and increasing the fan experience amongst other things, MLS is now ripe to make the leap we've all been waiting for.

Though many people are still hesitant to give soccer any credit, there is plenty of proof that the popularity is on a steady rise. The average attendance for an MLS match is around 18,600, making it the third highest per-game attendance of any US league - ahead of both NBA and NHL.  The demographic attending games is also a good sign, with the Hispanic community and young people hit hard by soccer fever. So is it realistic to think soccer could surpass the popularity of NBA, MLB or NHL?  Will the momentum gained during the World Cup translate into even better MLS attendances? Better TV ratings? Continued exposure of the sport on ESPN and other major networks? 

Anything but over 

I think so and remember this - the World Cup tournament may be over, but American soccer is anything but. Sure, some complain that the standard of MLS is below that of other countries’ soccer leagues, but remember that this summer, it was represented by 22 players and ranked ninth in the world. Then there was the time our all-star team beat Bayern Munich right here in Portland. Let's face it, our league just keeps getting better and is attracting world class players. And as the increased support continues for MLS so does the exposure, the money attached to it, and therefore the quality of players clubs are able to bring in. 

So to those of you who became soccer fans this summer during the World Cup, don’t let the new habit die. Give the sport a real chance by attending an MLS game for a taste the type of unique stadium experience that differs from any other sport in this country. And to longstanding MLS supporters – thank you. Now grab your friend, neighbor or family member and bring them to the next match. We’ve put American soccer on the world map: Now let’s put it on the national map too. 

Jack Jewsbury plays for the Portland Timbers.

 

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