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MLS: EPL Worthy Watching

I have to take it back, at least a little bit of what I said a while back. I said you can’t watch the EPL and then the MLS right afterwards. If you did, it was like all of a sudden the water in the shower tuned cold, you had to turn the channel. It was too much of a stark contrast, of good play to poor play. Which is still true to an extent, today, but just not so much. It looks like the MLS could be turning a corner and in a recession no less.

I was just watching the Sounders take on Houston in the first game of the playoffs and it was clear the MLS has grown up. And the game was on ESPN in HD and done with some professionalism.

The crowd was on their feet the whole game. The fans cheered as the ball rolled out for a corner in the dying minutes rather than a throw in. Freddie Ljungberg diced down the line and nearly cut the ball back for a goal. Stuart Holden clipped in a cross and Davis tried to cut it near post instead of just sending it back to where it came from and into the far corner. Ricardo Clark bloodied Nate Jaqua head. Brian Ching should have gotten a yellow or maybe even a red after an ugly slide tackle. It was a lively match.

In other words, it was a game worth watching. Sure, both teams gave the ball away too much, but that’s what happens sometimes in a high intensity match with very little free space, even in the English Premier League. I’m looking forward to the Chivas versus the Galaxy, Landon and Beckham. I’m looking forward to the MLS Cup final.

The players don’t just clear the ball anymore, rather they try to keep possession and build more out of the back. Players in the middle of the park can turn and hold the ball. As a former coach of mine used to say: play with confidence on the ball. Which means, they are willing to hold the ball in tough, risky situations and turn it into a positive. Spin out of pressure. Stuart Holden did this on a few occasions.

Further proof was looking at the teams Houston and Seattle put on the field. Both teams had a few players who were injured or coming off of an injury. So these players didn’t play, but both teams were able to plug in younger players, a few who even played reserve team ball in prior years, without much difference.

The game has some spark and fight: good crosses and keepers making big saves and even some controversy. Houston keeper Pat Onstad, a veteran, and one who knows better than to lose his cool, pushed Freddie Montero after he thought the player was trying to unjustly draw a penalty after a corner kick. The crowd booed Onstad whenever he touched the ball the rest of the game.

Amongst the crowd of 35,807 there was even some orange, with a security guard in yellow standing by this pumpkin patch of orange amongst the green. I think that’s all the proof you need that the league is well on its way, away fans with security around them.

For a period of time it looked like the MLS would be just another soccer league that never took off. A league that paid a bunch of former stars in Europe too much money and ended up burning out the whole league.

The MLS has been around now how many years? Something like thirteen? New stadiums on the way. Future rivalries booked – Seattle versus Portland for one. The future is shiny.

However, how is the MLS going to keep their stars? Landon may go. Stuart Holden may go. Blanco is gone. It looks like the MLS is strong enough to deal with those losses and fill them in with new players but they must keep signing good players not less.

Sure, there’s been talk about Henry coming over. It may happen in a few years but it’s more a good sign in and of itself; a sign that players are interested in coming over and playing in the league. The EPL is still the top, but the MLS is no slouch.

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