As I look back on the last two weeks leading up to MLS First Kick, I'm left with one word repeating in my mind: overwhelming.
I was tasked with documenting the travels of Brian Dunseth and Drea Avent as they toured the West Coast, starting in Tucson, Ariz., and moving up and down I-5 from Los Angeles to Seattle and back again. The mileage was overwhelming -- more driving in two weeks' time than I'd done in the last several years combined (over 3500 miles).
With camera in hand, we set off in brand new VW's and I filmed as much as I could. The amount of footage I ended up with was a bit overwhelming. Sunrises and sunsets. Hard tackles and spectacular goals all flooding in through my lens. I did my best to cut together our memories and put them on the site so that other fans could see the sights and get excited along with us.
I got to meet many great and interesting people. Players, coaches, analysts, fans, restauranteurs, security guards and so on. Everybody was welcoming as we travelled through their territory. Everybody wanted to let us into their experience and share their passion for the game. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of each person we spent time with.
As I sit here, decompressing from our journey, I have time to reflect on some of the many memories: watching team USA beat Italy in a pub in San Jose, almost getting stuck in the snow of Southern Oregon, jumping and singing with the Timbers Army, following AIK out of the tunnel and onto Jeld-Wen Field, getting goosebumps as the fans at CenturyLink field yelled, "Seattle!! ... Sounders!!", breakfast burritos at Hermosa beach with new friends that will last my whole life and cheering as the whistle finally blew to begin the first week of games this MLS season. I am overwhelmed by these experiences and will remember them forever.
Finally, I am overwhelmed by how far this great game has come in the US. Remember when beating Italy would have made you pass out with joy? Now, we just say, "Cool. Good game by the boys." Remember when we were so excited just to have a soccer game on TV? Now we need multiple screens all Saturday long. Now we complain when Seattle "only" has 23,433 fans show up mid-week for a non-league game, because we are spoiled by their regular league attendance. Now we complain about teams selling out their tickets too fast. Fans are beginning to hold coaches and players accountable. Team jerseys aren't just worn by players on gameday, but by fans on every day of the week. Remember when you had to convince your buddies to go to a game with you? Nobody needs to be convinced anymore.
Friendships and memories, games and goals. Now, as I put the camera away and look through my own eyes, it's overwhelming to see how much the game has changed me.
If you were one of the 47,568 fans at the Rogers Centre for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal between LA Galaxy and Toronto FC, you better hope you weren't picking your nose or making an awkward face at the wrong moment. If you were one of those unlucky few, don't be surprised if your technologically savvy friends give you some grief in the next few days.
That's because there was literally nowhere for fans to hide last Wednesday as their side jumped out to an quick 2-0 lead against LA before coming back down to earth and settling for a 2-2 draw. You can thank Toronto FC for that. The club set up a camera that captured a high-resolution, 360-degree photo of the scene inside the Rogers Centre.
Not only can you zoom in on just about any section of the stadium, making out faces and everything else as clear as day, but fans can also tag themselves, commerating what was a historic night for the club and its supporters. Needless to say, this is pretty awesome technology, and it really gives you an idea of what the stadium looked like on gameday.
Spend five minutes playing with it, and I guarentee you won't be disappointed. You may want to be on your best behavior at matches from now on, however. You never know who's watching.
Photo Courtesy of ussoccerstore.com
I decided to look at the US Soccer online store today, and it had nothing to do with the e-mail blast they sent out telling me about their Spring collection. Cross my heart and hope to die.
And though it may not be particularly Spring-y, I found a hoodie that was well worth the price of admission.
The words on the back say, and I quote, "Haters Welcome."
I'm not really sure what that means. Is it a defiance thing a la "Don't Tread On Me?" Kind of a "hate us because we win?"
Is it an invitation to soccer "haters" to start watching? God knows I have enough friends who are haters, but I'm not sure that wearing this sweatshirt would convince them to start watching games with me.
Look, I'm all for helping the uninitiated get into soccer. Convincing – and I mean really convincing – someone to follow the beautiful game is unbelievably rewarding. Haters? Not sure if it's worth the fight. After all...
Thoughts, everyone? Smart? Silly? Would you wear it? Hit up that comment section and let us know.
Palabras no pueden describir lo que se vivió en el JELD-WEN Field de Portland en su noche de debut en la temporada regular de la MLS. Como las palabras no lo pueden hacer, voy a permitir que este mini-video lo haga.
¡Así es como se vive el fútbol de la MLS!
There were some rumblings on Twitter during NBC Sports Network's first MLS broadcast on Sunday and Keel Cam Part 5 confirmed it: Ryan Meara is essentially Larry Bird in a goalkeeper's kit and gloves.
Don't believe me? Check out the side-by-side photo below of Larry Legend at Indiana State and Meara following his side's 2-1 defeat to FC Dallas.
The best part about it? He joins Mehdi Ballouchy as New York Red Bulls with celebrity doppelgangers. As the Shawn "MLS Insider" Francis pointed out to me a few months ago, Ballouchy bears a striking resemblance to John Oates of Hall & Oates fame.
My love for all things Keel Cam is well documented. New York's mop-topped defender is simply magnificent at providing behind-the-scene moments with his own brand of humor and some spot-on one-liners mixed in for good measure.
He's done it again with "Keel Cam Part 5," an examination of what tagging along for team bonding at the golf course with the Red Bulls might be like.
My favorite lines:
"That has house written all over it."
"Dax, grab your balls."
"Maybe stand up on your toes, just to get the full flex."
"Does Bruno Mars have any golf game? The club looks as big as he does."
"Can I introduce my caddy, Mehdi Ballouchy?"
As Ryan Meara says, anything for Keel Cam. Let the ridiculousness begin...
I give MLS fans credit for not living under rocks, so I won't tell them that the Portland Timbers play their home opener on Monday night against the Philadelphia Union at 9:30 pm ET on ESPN2/Deportes. Oh, wait...
Nevermind that! This is an exciting day. It's the season's first ESPN broadcast and, more importantly, our first chance to see JELD-WEN Field on TV. I like seeing JELD-WEN on TV.
And, with due apologies to the more hardcore non-Portland Cascadia fans, I maintain that the Timbers Army is a big reason why. No disrespect to any other supporters group, but the TA bring their A-game.
Like, remember when they sang the Star-Spangled Banner on national TV? Turns out that we're all going to get a refresher course tonight, because the fans are doing it again this season.
Get pumped, sports fans. Swallow your pride, Seattle fans. Union fans, brace yourself. This might get awesome.
Sporting KC fans have made Livestrong Sporting Park a fortress since the club's gorgeous facility opened last June. And although they didn't get to enjoy their team's last-second victory Saturday night in person, a large contingent gathered at the stadium's Member's Club to watch a 1-0 victory against D.C. United capped off by a C.J. Sapong winner in stoppage time.
Someone had the bright idea to set up a camera on those in attendance, which of course caught their reaction to Sapong's timely goal. Needless to say, it's a pretty awesome display. I can only imagine what the Cauldron has in store once Sporting KC comes home. Based on this video, there is plenty is in the works.
Are you a fan of Major League Soccer? Do you have two X chromosomes? If you answered yes to both of those questions -- or you're just curious -- head over to the new Women United Football Club website, which has been getting some buzz on Twitter today after launching and appears to be a legitimately awesome gathering place for MLS fans of the fairer sex.
I would attempt to put the concept into words but surely the site's founders can do a better job, so I'll leave that to them:
"In America and abroad, MLS has scores of female soccer fans, but there is little in the way of communities or reporting to serve them. We're changing that in 2012. This is a place where women of all ages who are MLS fans can meet, mingle and blog about their thoughts. Join us as we get to experience the thrills and spills of pro soccer in a whole new way!"
Love the concept. Love the design of the website. Love that some of the founders hail from Kansas City (Midwest represent!).
And even though myself and all the rest of the XY chromosomers out there aren't the target audience, I'm glad female MLS fans have a sweet place to come together online. It's the least they deserve.
Site is up and emails out! Register, join your favorite team's group, pick an avatar, and join in the...
— Women United FC (@wunitedfc) March 9, 2012
A confession: I'm not a fantasy freak.
I don't spend days analyzing the various formations and figuring out the optimum financially efficient roster. I don't partake in a great deal of trash talk with the other people in my league.
About the only thing I obsess about is which music idol I should name my club after.
But despite all of that, I play. I play against my colleagues and friends. I tend to lose, but I appreciate the competition and the comradery.
This year's new salary-cap game, MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager, is not easy. But it is a very good approximation of what it's like to be a real MLS manager.
The salary cap ($100 million) is tight, and building a well-balanced squad, with a mix of high-scoring stars and cost-efficient role players, can be a struggle. At times, I cursed the person who set the prices.
The upshot is that as I set my roster, I started making some intriguing decisions on where I was willing to sacrifice quality for quantity. If I went for a cheap 4th defender so I could add a more expensive striker, what happens if there's an injury on the backline? If I ditched the big-money third striker, does that let me have a better attacking midfielder?
Ultimately, you've got to decide. Just like a real MLS manager does. And then you play.
So without further ado, here's the roster of my beloved Otis Redding United. I promise you, we will not try any tenderness in the 2nd Annual ExtraTime Radio Experts League.