Pffft, act like you’ve been there.
As Real Salt Lake edged out the LA Galaxy in the seventh frame of penalty kicks in last night’s MLS Cup final — a nerve-racking finish akin to the seventh game of the World Series lasting 15 innings — I wondered, “How in the hell am I going to make this interesting for With Leather’s audience?”
And the honest answer is that I probably can’t. If you don’t like soccer, you’re not going to magically give a crap about it just because America’s league played its championship in front of 46,000 fans at Qwest Field, and you’ll probably make dismissive wanking motions if I tell you it was a genuinely exciting game. But you should at least be aware that your grumbling about low scores isn’t going to be relevant as Americans’ passion for the sport grows — because what I saw in Seattle over the weekend shocked me.
After America’s repeated and well-documented failures at pro soccer, the MLS — which just finished its 14th season — is here to stay. And I’m not making that declaration after a careful study of MLS’s ledger, but after witnessing something I’d never seen before: genuine die-hard passion for teams with almost no history whatsoever. Real Salt Lake is only four years old, yet thousands of scarf-wearing, flag-waving fans — many of them non-Mormon, defying stereotype — came to Seattle in November to cheer for this jackass.
MLS fans have adopted many of the cheering habits of their European counterparts: the horns, the drums, the songs — seemingly everything but retribution murders for players who cost their team the game, which is good news for Landon Donovan, who air-mailed what could have been the game-winning penalty kick over the crossbar.
Frankly, I’m not sure how to process it all. As the procession of fans made its way to the stadium (Seattle fans do what’s called the March to the Match before the game), I couldn’t help but gawk at the crowd as if I were a 19th century farmer watching traffic on the Interstate. Horseless carriages! People with a vested interest in MLS!
This world’s a-changin’, people. If global warming and and giant earthquakes and diabetes don’t kill us all in some grand Roland Emmerich production over the next two decades, we might just live to see a day where MLS surpasses the NBA and NHL in fan support. And maybe even MLB after all the old people die.