When Graham Zusi's struck a beautiful left footed blast against the Earthquakes last Saturday, there are some people that couldn’t see anything but poor defending. Couldn't see anything but a weakness in the defense. Couldn’t accept the fact that one of the top defenders in the league could strike a ball with such strength and precision. I am not one of them (although sure, the defense could've been better. I can say that about many goals conceded). I thought Zusi's goal was a stunner, a beautifully executed play and shot by an international level player, reminding the world that while he may not be as young as he once was, he's still pretty darn good. Plenty of people have taken similar reactions to the scoring outburst that has marked the first few weeks of MLS league play, and I don't really know why.
People have often asked me why I think the NFL and the NBA have captured the public's imagination. Some will tell you violence, gambling, athleticism, culture, or any number of reasons why. I think those are valid guesses, but ultimately miss the mark. I think the number one reason is this: rate of success. There are five major sports in North America: Baseball, Soccer, Basketball, Football, and Hockey. Baseball, Hockey, and Soccer are all games of failure. In baseball, if you have a 70% failure rate at the plate, you're probably an all-star. In hockey, a goalie will stop 42 shots to the 2 that slip in. In soccer, one team might succeed (score) once in a game and walk away with a win.
In football, the best quarterbacks are completing greater 65% of their passes. With each micro success (positive yardage), the teams are working towards A, a touchdown, and B, displaying athleticism that wows the audience along the way. In basketball, teams succeed often enough to put up in excess of 100 points consistently. When people watch, they are seeing the best in the world succeed. You can tell me that defense wins championships, and I won't disagree, but offense, or success, wins viewership and makes fans.
This should be easy to grasp, shouldn't it? If Major League Soccer and their fans want to see the league continue to grow, they should embrace the offensive onslaught. The NBA and their passive defense across league has never been more fun. The 80’s were a time when the NBA was reborn, and we cite the Lakers and Celtics and leading that rejuvenation. Yes, Michael Jordan was great in the 90’s, but those Bulls teams were not great to watch. They were ugly, as was much of the NBA in the 90’s. The Showtime Lakers were a show, literally, as were the Celtics. The Warriors today, are a show.
The Kurt Warner era Rams were called the greatest show on turf for a reason. This doesn't happen by accident. Baseball sold its soul and looked the other way when performance enhancing drugs were behind a surge in home runs and offense in the 90s because fans (money) were flocking to the game in droves. I might love Jonathan Quick, but the average fan loves Wayne Gretzky. Fans want offense. Fans want to be entertained.
Major League Soccer is as entertaining as it has ever been right at this very moment, there are more people watching than ever, engaging on social media, or digesting the league in some fashion, and it's no surprise that the league is focused on DP/TAM signings that are far more often than not, centered on the attack.
Sporting Kansas City beat Chicago 4-3 in week two and it was a stellar match. Scoring from start to finish, a comeback, a blown lead, another comeback, and a rate of a goal almost every 13 minutes. I don't know how to reason with someone that thinks a 4-3 game is a problem. I have called scoreless draws, they aren't nearly as fun. 1-0 games are fine (if SJ wins). 2-1, now we're getting somewhere. 3-2, yeah, 5 goals, soccer that opened up more often than not? Sweet! And yet there are detractors.
I get it, MLS is not as good across the board as some leagues in the world, and soccer is more about tension and release than it is a scoring sport, but the people that make these arguments, people like you and I that eat, breath, and sleep soccer, we're already all in. We've spent money on MLS gear, tickets, etc... The person that isn't a fan yet? They won't (usually) be won over by a 0-0 match. They're going to be taken by a thriller, like the 3-2 match vs Minnesota that sent the Quakes to the playoffs last year. They're going to be swayed by a goal that made their head spin, the cross that sets up the goal, or the flying header in the face of chaos. If you want MLS to continue its ascent towards one of the top league's the world, it's going to happen because the stars (the scorers) want to come play here, which is predicated, largely, on how much money the teams and the league overall have to spend. That's not going to happen with great defensive displays, or low scoring affairs.
-Ted Ramey is the Radio Voice of the San Jose Earthquakes, a fan of soccer, CrossFit and strong offenses.