Why I’m happy soccer is a niche sport in the US

Two soccer players

That might seem counter intuitive. (I’m a soccer fan, you see. Why wouldn’t I want the sport to be as big as it possibly could be in this country?)

Lots of reasons. I enjoy being able to buy MLS Cup tickets for $25 apiece. As long as it’s a niche sport, guys like me (who aren’t big names) will be able to get jobs broadcasting the sport. It’ll only cost thousands to go to the World Cup (as I did last summer) instead of tens of thousands.

But mostly, I am happy soccer is a niche sport in this country because as it grows in stature, it gets covered more closely by the mainstream media.

And, boys and girls, the mainstream media is comprised largely of morons.

Each day, Major League Soccer sends out an email to media types with a roundup of all the stories about the league and its teams that are written in newspapers around the country. I’d like to share some of the brilliance from the keyboards of these media types to show you why I often wish they’d just ignore us.

First up, John P. Lopez of the Houston Chronicle, who wrote last week that the “Dynamo’s success (is) good for league.” Some quotes:

“Major League Soccer’s designated player rule, which allows franchises to sign one player outside a team’s $300,000 salary cap, has been a public-relations godsend to the league.”

No, John. The team’s salary cap is $2.2 million. The max salary for a single player is (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) $300,000. A Designated Player’s salary isn’t outside the salary cap – in fact, $400,000 of it is on the salary cap. The rest, above and beyond $400,000, isn’t and is paid by the team instead of the league.

“On the national front, never has MLS been so close to so-called mainstream media, earning an eight-year contract with ABC/ESPN that in the league’s 11th season will allow MLS to broadcast every game for the first time.”

2007 is the league’s 12th season. I know 2007-1996 is 11 years, but count the seasons, please.

Lopez goes on to talk about this summer’s SuperLiga tournament:

“SuperLiga, which is modeled after Europe’s Champions League, will pit the top four finishers in MLS against the best four from Mexico’s First Division”

No, again. Next year (and, presumably, in the years to come), the top four finishers from this season will compete in SuperLiga. This year they jerry-rigged it so they could get LA and Houston in because of the demographics of their markets (because Chicago and New England finished with more points than LA and Houston last year). SuperLiga pits four hand-picked teams from MLS against four from Mexico.

We get more of the same from Clemente Lisi of Scripps Howard News Service, who last week wrote:

“The introduction of the Designated Player Rule, which allows teams to acquire a player outside a team’s $300,000 salary cap…”

Maybe that’s where Lopez got it, seeing as how Lisi’s story appeared five days prior. Lisi can’t count, either:

“MLS also has other things to brag about going into its 11th season, which kicks off on Saturday on ABC when D.C. United visit the Colorado Rapids at the new Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver.”

What is it with you people? Seriously?

The math challenges continue for Jane Havsy of the (Parsippany, N.J.) Daily Record, who showed why she covers high school sports:

“No matter that the Galaxy failed to qualify for the postseason last year, one of just two teams to be left out.”

Let’s see….twelve teams in the league, eight teams in the playoffs….yeah, that leaves two.

Not only can she not read the standings, Jane can’t read a schedule, either:

“Once he’s safely in the fold, the Galaxy will become a traveling circus, playing 11 of its final 18 matches away from the Home Depot Center. The team will hit all but Chicago on its long, strange trip that stretches through August, September and into mid-October.”

The Galaxy finish their season on October 21 in…wait for it….Chicago.

More Designated Player misunderstanding, this time from Luis Bueno of the (Riverside, CA) Press-Enterprise:

“Clubs were given the option to bring in one player who will not count against the salary cap…”

Dear God, just shoot me. And this guy covers the league quite a bit.

Here in the Chicago area, we always say you haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed reading Kent McDill of the (Arlington Heights, IL) Daily Herald. Whether it’s conceiving of and then actually writing a piece three years ago that said international journalists who came to Chicago to cover the ChampionsWorld Series match between Manchester United and Bayern Munich would laugh at us because of the cramped pressbox in the new Soldier Field, or just basically acting clueless, he’s always a source of comedy.

Like in this nugget from his MLS season preview on April 6:

“English soccer icon David Beckham, Mexican firebrand (Cuahtemoc) Blanco and former U.S. national team captain Claudio Reyna are going to play in MLS this season thanks to the league’s new Designated Player Rule (DPR), which allows teams to go over the salary limit to sign a star player who wouldn’t otherwise come.

It is significant to note that neither Beckham nor Blanco will be playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy or Chicago Fire, respectively, until July. It is also significant to note the three teams to use the DPR are all owned by AEG, the powerful company that has propped up MLS all these years.”

Well, it would be significant. If it were true. But it’s not. Because the New York Red Bulls (nee MetroStars) were sold by AEG in a much-ballyhooed $50 million deal more than a year ago, Kent. It was in all the papers. Including yours, because you wrote about it.

Obviously, cluelessness isn’t reserved for the media that doesn’t cover soccer much. Even Grahame L. Jones, who’s been covering soccer, mostly for the Los Angeles Times, since the ball had laces and the shirts were made of wool. Yet his story on the Galaxy’s season opener had this nugget:

“Add in a flawless performance by left back Ante Jazic, with the Canadian international almost completely stifling Dynamo winger Brian Mullen, and it amounted to a solid start for the Galaxy.

“To keep someone like Brian Mullen that quiet for 90 minutes was really good,” Yallop said of Jazic.

I guess that would be Brian Mullan, who…oddly enough…used to play for the freaking Galaxy, Grahame. I’m going to guess Yallop said it correctly, you just quoted him wrong. When you talked to him. After the game. On the telephone. Because the LA Times can’t be buggered to send a reporter on the road with the team that signed David Beckham for future delivery.

Finally, we go north of the border, where the Toronto Star’s Cathal Kelly wonders whether Torontonians will use “TFC” as shorthand for their new MLS side or just “FC.”

Never mind that the club asks that the media refers to Toronto FC as “Toronto FC” or “TFC” rather than “The FC” or “The Toronto FC” (just as DC United has had to explain to everybody for 12 years now that it’s not the DC United). The fact that Kelly wasted space and kilobytes on this dreck means either that he’s an idiot or he was stuck needing to write something and had 15 minutes to do it. (A Toronto FC blog makes me think it’s the former).

Or maybe he tried to reach TFC media relations person (and former Fox Soccer Channel anchor) Michelle Lissel and she wouldn’t return his emails.

Wouldn’t surprise me. She won’t return mine.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch