Over ninety-thousand spectators gathered in the Rose Bowl to watch a US sporting event.
Nine. Zero. Zero. Zero. Zero.
That is a lot of people to attend anything. Especially anything not named the Super Bowl. When many hear that the throngs showed up for soccer, for the Gold Cup final, they will be very surprised indeed. They would not be so shocked, however, had they been paying attention recently.
Soccer is legitimate in America. Forget legitimate, actually. It is BOOMING.
Attendance is up yet again and MLS is playing at levels previously unseen on this continent. The quality of the product, on and off the field, is at an all-time high, the league is growing in every direction, and, unlike the NFL and NBA, the sport lacks all of the drama of lockouts and handbags between millionaires.
Soccer is on in America. And it is time to join the party.
America actually has a ton of soccer fans. Unfortunately, too many of these folks fit the label of "Eurosnob". You know this guy. Maybe you are this guy. This is the guy who drones on and on about how if MLS had any decent players or anywhere near the quality of the Premiership or La Liga, well then maybe he would watch. This guy talks about "Total Football" and UEFA and steers every American soccer conversation to Alexi Lalas to avoid revealing that he hasn't paid much attention domestically since, oh, 1996.
I actually don't argue with this soccer fan. He is knowledgeable and passionate and loves a good product. He appreciates the European atmosphere and the skill of the players who ply their trade overseas. Good for him.
Our friend the Eurosnob probably loves American soccer, if only in the form of the US Men's National Team. He sports a Landon Donovan jersey during the World Cup and waxes eloquently about craft beers and Lionel Messi. Really...good for him.
I sat my Eurosnob friend down recently. It had to stop. More than anything, my friend was missing out on the birth of something amazing.
I nicely explained that he needed to check out MLS one more time. He chuckled. I explained how 2011 is not 2005 and that if he would be so patient as to wake up to the new reality, he might just enjoy the ride.
Let me introduce you, I said, to Eric Hassli. He's a French dude. He plays for Vancouver. He scores unbelievable goals in front of 36,000 screaming fans.
Um, ya. My friend sat with his jaw on the floor. Ok, well...
"But what about the atmosphere," Eurosnob wondered? Is that just Seattle?
It's a good question, really. Half of the fun of any live sporting event is the atmosphere. Many still remember when every MLS match was seemingly played in a 60s era football stadium with 9,000 people in the stands. Oh, how times have changed.
New soccer-specific stadiums filled with incredible supporters' groups all over the country have made the beautiful game really beautiful in America. Fans pack stadiums in Toronto and Philadelphia, in New York and Los Angeles, in Kansas City and Salt Lake. And Portland. How to explain what is happening in Portland...
That should do.
Well, unless the argument is that there isn't some brilliant play happening in America. The entire league has risen in stature, but one player in particular has upped the class of MLS entirely. Thierry Henry is still very much a force. And Thierry Henry is worth watching all by himself.
Soccer in America is quickly catching up to the elite leagues of the world. Cities around the country are being lit on fire by the excitement that comes with a real club to support and a real stadium to capture the atmosphere. Incredible talents are finding their way to American clubs more and more. Incredible buildings are showcasing captivating skill. Incredible storylines are being written every week.
It is simply a matter of exposure. My Eurosnob friend downloaded the MLS iPhone app right there and then and has been catching up on 2011 highlights since. My neophyte friends are beginning to see that the beautiful game possesses an allure not found in other sports. My fellow Americans are waking up to a new reality.
Soccer is legitimate...and it is legitimately crushing the American sports scene.