Growing Pains: Tim Hall’s View From 101

Tim Hall’s View From 101

We all have them. We all have those days where the thought consumes us, either as we lay our heads down to sleep at night or as we make our daily negotiations with the alarm clock in the morning, we’ve all had those days where we know work is going to be horrible, worse than usual. Yet we must put our heads down and put our pants on and drag ourselves in.

So after two weeks of the Major League Soccer season, so spare a thought for the wage slaves. Not the suits, not the higher-ups, but the 9-to-5ers who have had to face wave after wave of sewage running downhill at them so far this year. At least they still have that unlimited supply of Sierra Mist.

Let’s start with the expansion Atlanta United, who hosted the first game in their team’s history on national television. It was a big crowd and a big event, and so it was hoped this would be a marquee matchup from which the league could get going from the right foot. That didn’t happen. Instead, on the first time of asking, the fans engaged in a homophobic chant familiar to goal kicks during Mexican national team and Liga MX games.

While there’s never any real justification for bigotry, at least on this one we can maybe give the Atlanta fans the benefit of the doubt. It was their first game, they don’t know any better, et cetera. To their credit, the Atlanta front office tried their best to get out in front of it and condemned the behavior and promised to kick out any offending parties. That’s all very well and good, but you can just imagine the poor PR person sitting at their desk typing that drivel thinking “This is not what I wanted to walk in to on Monday morning.”

If anything, that flack should have been counting their lucky stars, since Atlanta’s place in the news cycle never really got its legs underneath it. While people were watching Atlanta take on the New York Red Bulls that Sunday night, reports were trickling in from 440 miles away in Orlando, where there was another sellout in a brand new stadium and another chance for a showcase game two hours earlier as Orlando City took on New York City FC. The game went off without a hitch (minus OCFC’s star player Kaka going off early with a hamstring injury that will sideline him six weeks, more bad news) but the post-match festivities were the real talk of the league.

It all started with a picture, one so perfect you couldn’t have posed it better. A man, in a light blue NYCFC top (crest visible, naturally) and NYCFC scarf tucked into the waistband of his jeans. He appears to be outside a stadium, and at his feet is a purple stadium seat. Between the thief and his would-be prize stand four members of Orlando’s law enforcement community, who have detained the gentleman in light blue.

A moment for an aside: if you want to break a chair in a visiting stadium as a “yeah, that’ll teach em” thing? OK, it makes a bit of sense. But to then take it with you? Why? What are you going to do with it? Or have you not thought that through? Are you the dog that finally caught the car and now has no earthly idea what to do with it? But I digress.

But the bigger doings down in Orlando concerned three NYCFC fans (promise we’re not singling you out, City, but sometimes everything you do gets blamed right on you) arrested and facing an assortment of charges for being in a scuffle with an Orlando police officer. There was some choking, there were some handcuffs, but it wasn’t near as exciting as your brother’s bachelor party. In the end, one of the parties faces 30 years in jail because the police hate you doing anything to them that they normally do to you.

The Third Rail, much like the PR person in Atlanta, realized that they needed to get out in front of this story, and promptly took the blame for these instances… and placed that blame right back on Orlando’s security. They followed up this bizarre claim by threatening to not travel to any more away matches, which had to make the operations people at every other club in the league sit up and be thankful that there might be some good news after all.

But, hey, week one jitters, it happens to the very best of them. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Get ‘em next time.

Well, next time was week two, and week two saw at least one more NYCFC fan get arrested, this time at home by the NYPD, so that’s a bit more convenient at least.

Meanwhile on the other coast, LA Galaxy captain Jelle Van Damme was sent off in the first half for his second yellow of the match. Later replays showed that both cards were the result of dives by Portland’s Diego Chara and David Guzman (although the first card went down as being for dissent over even being called for a foul in the first place.) Galaxy decided to have some fun with the whole thing and set both dives to music and edited them into some familiar movie scenes. Hey, it shows a little creativity.

Well, we can’t have that. It came out on Tuesday, during Fox’s UEFA Champions League coverage no less, that LA Galaxy would get a stern talking to from league headquarters for their outburst of personality. “The league office is going to address it.” That sound you hear is the air being let out of all the rooms.

Look, for a league that can use as much good publicity as possible, there was zero shame in letting LA Galaxy’s social media department pull off a viral video for a laugh. Yes, it did make the referee look bad, but you know what? Maybe the ref needs to do a better job there and not get suckered in to calling dives as fouls. Sometimes a little criticism is warranted.

There’s a lot to like about our pokey little soccer league here in the States. The soccer specific stadiums are becoming more numerous and wonderful. Attendance continues to climb. The quality of play keeps improving with better players wanting to come to the US. But there continue to be just ridiculous off the field, often self-inflicted wounds that harm the reputation of the league and make it look like a stiff monolithic conglomerate at one moment and a bunch of hooligan cosplayers in the next. And without a doubt that has improved over the last 20-plus years as the league has grown into its own and figured itself out. But there is perhaps no league in the world more apt to trip over its own shoelaces on a weekly basis than Major League Soccer.


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david@firsttouchonline.com