HOUSTON – “Surprised.”
That’s the word Valencia interim manager Juan Carlos Carcedo used to summarize his impressions of Major League Soccer during the club’s North American tour.
The word, simple as it may be, provides a look at where the perception of MLS abroad was and where it actually stands today. And as Carcedo prepares his club to end its trip against the Houston Dynamo in the BBVA Compass Dynamo Charities Cup on Thursday evening, the city of Houston and the Dynamo have one last chance to drive home a changing view of MLS and American soccer.
“Very surprised to see how people are more and more capable to understand and know the game at the level in which they do,” the Valencia assistant told MLSsoccer.com through a translator. “Surprised how, overall, warm the people are and how many follow the game and are passionate.”
Carcedo – the first assistant coach who is currently managing the team during its transition from Unai Emery to incoming head man Mauricio Pellegrino – seemed genuinely impressed with the atmosphere when the club played the Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field and when they took in a Vancouver Whitecaps match before heading to face Houston in the brand-new BBVA Compass Stadium.
While his impressions are positive, an interesting aspect of Carcedo’s comments were his expectations of the American soccer culture before embarking on the trip. The Valencia coach was prepared to meet a “rigid” reaction towards soccer.
That’s a line of thinking that, upon further review, is outdated with the current climate in MLS.
“We’re surprised to see how many people actually got to the stadium,” Carcedo said during a press conference for Thursday’s match. “We know that a lot of teams here have gotten better. So the level of play is growing. We thought people would be a little colder towards [the game], not accept it. It was a very nice surprise the sport of soccer has grown a lot more than we thought it was.”
That growth can be seen in the stands, in the new stadiums popping up and with the improved product on the field that, together, is creating a quality soccer environment that has some around the world taking notice.
“I think the more these teams come and play us the more it helps out the American player,” Brian Ching said when asked about Carcedo’s comments. “For great coaches like Juan to say that is uplifting, and you know the league and American soccer’s headed in the right direction.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.