A couple weeks back I got into a brief online spat with my good friend Matt Doyle, the former writer of this very column who has gone on to do great things working for Major League Soccer’s official website.
The issue was that someone at MLS headquarters sent out a tweet calling New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles “David Robles”. You might think of that as a typo. I would say that calling him “Lois Robles” is a typo and that “David Robles” is pure ignorance, but that’s not really important.
The argument between Matt and I, such as it was, stemmed from me flipping out and calling the person responsible for the slipup every name under the sun. I did this because I find wild overreactions to minor grievances funny, and because this sort of gaffe is exactly the sort of thing that makes MLS look bush league. Matt took to the defense of his coworker and pointed out that it was probably the mistake of an overworked intern.
So, who was right? Well, we both were. You see, both Matt and I care passionately about the well-being of Major League Soccer and have devoted large portions of our lives, in different ways, to ensure the league’s viability and growth. We can argue both of our sides, yell and kick as much as we want, because we both know that our hearts are in the right place, and I know that when Matt comes back to the area later this month I’m going to give him a big hug and tell him I love him. I mean, I’m going to hug his better half Rebecca first, because she’s a very nice person and not a filthy mick who abandoned First Touch to go carry water for the league, but, you know, he’ll get a hug too. (Hi guys!)
Kidding aside, honorable men may differ, loudly, without demonizing either side of an issue. It’s a good lesson to keep in mind given the political climate in this nation.
Which leads us to the commissioner of Major League Soccer, Don Garber. It’s standard operating procedure to hate the commissioner of your favorite sports league for slights both real and imagined. It’s like how everyone hates their boss to some degree, only in this instance the boss can’t fire you. Garber is an easy target, with his junior executive suit and his middle management haircut and his general “You’ve got good taste. I just had a guy looking at this 15 minutes ago” used car salesman demeanor. Booing the commissioner is de rigueur, the default emotion. When all else fails and you’re not quite sure what to emote, take a shot at the guy in charge for whom no one will feel any sympathy.
But when we step back we realize that’s a bit unfair. Don Garber has a family and is not a soulless robot, regardless of what you may read on the Internet. Major League Soccer is a very stable entity. No one is making money hand over fist, but no one is leaking money like a sieve. Attendance is up to the point of competing with or outpacing North America’s professional basketball or hockey leagues. MLS has made intelligent choices in their expansion into the Pacific Northwest and Canada relying on awaiting fanbases to hit the ground running with new franchises. Soon, the league will return to Florida with the wisdom that can only come from being once bitten and twice shy. And, while we can argue all day long about the ownership or what have you, the existence of a team within the five boroughs of New York City was an inevitability. We can sit and argue about the benefits of the current television deals, but the simple fact that games are televised at all is still remarkable. It is not so long ago that certain games weren’t available to anyone without the proper fillings in their teeth.
All of these successes, and others, are directly attributable to Don Garber and company. Let it never be said I don’t have some sympathy for the devil. I do, honestly, believe that Mr. Garber has the best interests of the league at heart. We can argue all day about the methods, but the intent is true.
But then the commissioner had to go and have a State of the League address.
To be clear, only one person should have a “State of the Anything” address, and that’s the President of the United States, and then only because it’s laid out in the Constitution. Anyone else is just a blowhard that likes to hear themselves speak and feel important. But, again, Don Garber has done many good works so perhaps we can forgive him one ego-feeding indulgence. The problem is that all those good works go flying out the window when Mr. Garber proceeds to open mouth and insert foot.
I don’t even want to pillory the commissioner for his suggestion that New York fans charter a bus to Portland, Oregon for a game on the off chance that Garber was making a subtle call for a comprehensive nationwide high-speed rail program. Instead, the comment I took umbrage was this:
“This is a relatively new dynamic, this concept of a growing, fan support culture. Frankly, it’s relatively new in Major League Soccer – it probably is about five years old.”
No, sir. This is not new, and it is definitely not five years old. To claim that is a slap in the face to me, and moreover a slap in the face to everyone who came before me in vocally and visibly supporting this New York franchise as well as the others around the league. You may at present be enamored with the Seattles and Portlands of the league who are selling out American football stadia with boisterous fans, but you need to recognize that those are the Johnny-Come-Lately’s to the party, standing on our shoulders and thinking themselves giants. The only reason you get to pat yourself on the back for their success is because MLS still exists, and the only reason MLS still exists is because of the hard work and dedication of those that turned up before the bright lights, before the attention, before being a ‘supporter’ was ‘cool’. And before you, Don. That’s right. The supporters predate you by a mile, and will be here long after you’re gone, too.
You don’t get to take credit for us, no matter what memory hole you’d like to send people down with your ‘five years’ comment. We have not always been at war with Eastasia, and supporters are not a “relatively new” phenomenon, and you had best get down on your knees at night and thank any or all gods that we – not you – we built this league with our blood, sweat and tears. You may be a fine steward for this league, but only because we allow you to be, and you should be very grateful for the privilege. I promise you, a continual ignorance, willful or otherwise, to that fact will be your downfall. And we may not even need five years to accomplish it.