Wednesday, July 28, 2010

While Sharing The Field With Man United, MLS Should Be Keeping Notes

For so many different reasons, Americans just don’t like soccer. It’s thought to be too dainty, too low scoring, and the flopping sends people into fits. Regardless, it’s still viewed as the worlds’ game; for whatever reason, we Americans just haven’t figured that out yet.

It probably doesn’t help that our professional sports league, Major League Soccer, is the infant in the global game, and so, the quality of the stock is still developing. But with time, it will come.

Tonight, we get a glimpse of a professional sports franchise that has done things right. If there is one thing we as fans and supporters of the MLS should take from the match tonight over at Reliant Stadium, it is that Manchester United is the type of franchise Commissioner Don Garber and the heads of the respective MLS clubs should look to replicate.

True, Manchester United outdates every MLS club by nearly 120 years (dating back to when they were founded as the Newton Health LYR F.C. in 1978), so they’ve had the benefit of time. In just 14 years of existence (the league was founded in 1993, but didn’t play its first game until 1996), the league has expanded from 10 to 16 teams (with plans for further expansion), soccer-specific stadiums have popped up and the league has caught the attention of the top players, managers and scouts from other leagues around the world.

But there is a ways to go. Following are four reasons why Manchester United deserves respect, regardless of your thoughts on soccer or pre-existing team allegiances (this comes from a Liverpool fan):

1) Sir Alex Ferguson
He’s been at the helm of the club since 1986, an impressive feat in professional sports, where managers/head coaches are usually cycled through in two or three year spans. Also rare among pro sports, Sir Alex is actually liked by his players, and he has been known to pay special attention to young players learning to adjust to the bright lights of stardom. Plus, the guy is a flippin’ knight! Badass by any measure.

2) Old Trafford
If you look across the American sports landscape, fans love new shiny things, namely stadiums with waterfalls and fake pirate ships and pools and an over-over-priced restaurant. Old Trafford has none of those things; they are hallowed grounds. The closest thing we have stateside would be Fenway Park in Boston. But even the Red Sox ownership has done its part to bedazzle the place. Old Trafford is part of the clubs’ identity. It has undergone renovations over the years, adding seats and updating the aesthetics, but for the most part, the stadium is very much the fortress for supporters that it has been since 1910.

3) Finding and Sticking With Talent
Unlike Chelsea or Inter Milan or the Yankees, who are known to buy the brightest stars once they’ve matured elsewhere, Man U has a reputation for identifying and improving young, quality players. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville all came up within Man U’s academy. Both Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo (now with Real Madrid) were purchased at 18, years before they became the megastars they are now. Even George Best, one of the greatest to wear the kit of Man U, was discovered at 15. Javier “El Chicharito” Hernandez may be next.

4) The History
The 59 trophies, Sir Bobby Charlton (another badass knight!), The Treble in 1998-1999 (winning the EPL, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League), Old Trafford, Bryan Robson, Sir Alex Ferguson, the 1999 UEFA Champions League final injury time comeback against Bayern Munich, Eric Cantona, George Best, Denis Law and David Beckham. The list certainly goes on and on (just ask a true Manchester United fan).

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