Trevor Freeman
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August 28 - Soccer Versus Baseball

Many have scoffed at the viability of Major League Soccer since its inception in 1994. There has
always been a dismissive “this won’t rate any higher on the sports spectrum than Arena Football”
tone towards it. Names like “Real” Salt Lake, “F.C.” Dallas and D.C. “United” were both comedic and
a little bit sad. However like George Foreman in his fight against Michael Moorer, this league just
stuck around. And then last night, it delivered its biggest punch as David Beckham grabbed the front
page in a way that had to be joyful for America’s soccer fans. The box score will say that he delivered
two assists in a loss to the New York-New Jersey Red Bulls and that will not reflect the performance
he had last night. David Beckham delivered with the bright lights on. And by doing so, he has given
this league a chance at being relevant.

The uphill battle that MLS has always had is a perception that it could not compete against football,
basketball and baseball. I scoff at this line of thought and I would offer they really are only competing
against one of those sports and it is the one that is dying right now in the eyes of the public. The MLS
season starts in April and ends in October. In other words they miss the bulk of the NFL season, the
Super Bowl, New Year’s Day Bowl games and March Madness. Their slate competes directly against
Major League Baseball.

Let’s think about that for a second. Raise your hands if you religiously follow baseball AFTER your
favorite team has been eliminated from the pennant race. I can honestly say that I have watched more
minutes of “House Hunters” on HGTV than I have minutes of Oakland A’s baseball after I realized that
Keith Richards has a better chance of getting an Oscar nomination for his turn in “Pirates of The
Caribbean” than the A’s do of making the playoffs. Of the three major American sports, baseball has
always been the toughest one to watch. That is something that will never change. When you look at
the stars, Major League Baseball is lacking in that department as well. Baseball’s two brightest lights
are Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. As we all know, Bonds is a self-absorbed cheater who
tarnished one of sports most cherished records and A-Rod is a self-absorbed prick who likes to
cheat on his wife with manly-looking strippers. On the flip side, David Beckham seems like a cordial
guy who genuinely cares about his sport. Beckham signs autographs, holds youth clinics in Harlem,
and fields every question a reporter asks. He also has been married to the same wife for the last ten
years and that wife only adds to his image. Victoria Beckham is hot in that “you can look but you can’t
touch” mold. Maybe “Becks” is in the Shaquille O’Neal/Miami Heat stage of his soccer career;
however what he has brought to America has been fun for the whole family.

The one advantage baseball has always had on every other American sport is its history. However
that history has been taking a beating that is reminiscent of the one Ivan Drago put on Apollo Creed in
Rocky IV. 61 is gone. Henry Aaron’s name has been erased from the record books. Watching a home
run was once something beautiful…….now it just reminds of the awkward place that an incompetent
commissioner let the game slide towards. To top it off, the old yards have left us and are being
replaced by these modern, cookie-cutter stadiums because that is the way Bud Selig wants it. I’m no
New York Yankee fan, but I find it disgusting that the Yankees will never play another game at Yankee
Stadium after next season. Yankee Stadium was a place that meant something. Baseball had this
history and its stewards have sat idly by and let it get flushed down the toilet. Its biggest event, the
World Series, airs at awkward times and hasn’t had a meaningful game played in it since Josh
Beckett tossed a five hitter in 2003. An event it still is, but it is not the same event that the Super Bowl
or NCAA Tournament are.

I’ll admit. I caught the soccer bug two years ago when my sister moved to London. I settled on the
Blackburn Rovers as my team and I have been off to the races ever since. Being a soccer fan has
been a fun time. Especially because of this bar named Nevada Smith’s in New York which actually is
open and serving beer before 10:00 on weekends. I would make the argument that the success of
the English Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A will help the growth of MLS. Guys like Brad Friedel,
Brian McBride and Tim Howard succeeding overseas lends credibility to the players over here. It
shows that guys like Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore could not only walk into Fratton or Ewood
Park and compete, but they could do so credibly.

What makes MLS more dangerous than ever before is that the league has built itself towards this
moment. They have judiciously expanded the number of teams in the league and have been building
soccer-only stadiums like the one David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy plays in. They have
instituted salary caps and have smartly focused on adding young talent to the league. The MLS hasn’t
bumrushed television with a reckless abandon. They have confined themselves to their cable spots
and have focused on just making the product better. Over its thirteen year lifespan it has slowly built
itself to the point that they could allow their teams to now go over the salary cap and sign players like
David Beckham, Colombian Juan Pablo Angel from Aston Villa or Mexican National Team star
Cuauhtémoc Blanco. To top it off, the powers that be knew that if the sport was to be truly viable in
America it had to choose its competition wisely. I’m sure they didn’t expect baseball to suffer the
steroid crisis it is now mired in, however there was a reason the powers that be in MLS set up their
season to run from April to October.

Maybe Americans will never fully appreciate the “beautiful game” however we are closer now than
ever before. Major League Soccer took a huge step last night when David Beckham’s right foot
delivered. Just know that this step has been years in the making and that this could be the start of a
true summertime competition.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at