By Jeff Kassouf
So Barcelona is back in New York (sorry New Jersey, no credit for you) for another go at a friendly with the Red Bulls. As usual with anything associated with the Spanish soccer giants, the game promises to put many butts in the seats and bring out many star-gazing casual fans (or at least those that certainly do not turn up for Red Bull games). Well, whoop-di-do.
The entire notion of European teams playing meaningless summer friendlies with Major League Soccer teams is growing entirely too old. Barcelona will return to New York to show off their stars for about 45 minutes of play and make the people happy – show off meaning players like Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o will play at about fifty percent of their capability and still look good.
The novelty of many of these games is great the first time. People have the chance to see some of the world’s biggest clubs right in their home city; their own little opportunity to take in some world-class players. But really, the trend is getting a bit repetitive.
It is not to say that these games do not help Major League Soccer. Even if just for a night, they certainly provide a good deal of revenue on increased attendance and concessions. In turn, they expose more people to the game and to their home team in an attempt to turn them into fans.
However, it is the insignificant nature of these games that gets irritating to devoted fans. Competitions such as the Superliga are precisely what MLS needs: meaningful competition with quality international teams. If these European clubs are all going to continue to come across the pond for their preseason, why not set up some type of miniature tournament to play for something?
The Champions World Series idea from years ago was a great idea, but was more of just a tour around the United States for Manchester United’s and AC Milan’s reserve teams at times. Instead, a competition should be created that pits MLS sides against these European (and other international) teams with something to play for. This will only help the international sides who will take their preseason more seriously, and can only help MLS teams improve as well.
So, FC Barcelona is back in New York for a meaningless game, and surely there are other soccer fans like this very journalist within driving distance of Giants’ Stadium who do not find the novelty to be worth another expensive ticket. Major League Soccer and its teams need to prioritize and realize that international competition is great, but it should have some meaning on the field as well as off. Otherwise, the fad will soon wear off.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org