I’m not that big on New Year’s resolutions. Even when you make one (“I’ll cut out carbs!”), it’s typically gone within weeks as the calendar soldiers on.
But when it comes to soccer in this country, I feel like hopes and expectations have been built up so much over the past 12 months that’s it time to make a resolution right now:
All of us should resolve to demand greatness in 2014.
Sounds simple and almost silly, right? It’s not like we’ve trained ourselves to demand mediocrity. But soccer fans in the US are accustomed to patience and persistence; MLS fans in particular keep hearing the refrain of “slow, steady growth.”
That’s all gone out the window.
Jurgen Klinsmann has told us it’s time to think of soccer in the US as part of the elite of the world’s game – not that we’re there yet, but that the expectations need to rise.
The catchphrase out of Major League Soccer has gotten louder: that the league aims to be among the best in the world by 2020.
Meanwhile, the professional game here is growing so fast, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the demand. The NASL will grow by five teams within the next two years, USL PRO by four; it’s safe to assume that will accelerate. Officials from both leagues talk about the huge ceilings for their organizations how they’ll raise the bar across the US soccer pyramid – particularly USL PRO, whose relationship with MLS is only deepening.
OK, then. If the power brokers behind the game here are serious about size, scope and success in soccer, it’s time to hold them accountable and adjust our expectations accordingly.
This is the year where excellence begins.
So Klinsmann and the rest of the US national team say they have the quality to escape their most murderous-ever Group of Death at the World Cup? Great. Let’s use the leverage of recent historic victories over slain dragons and an unprecedented winning streak.
Let’s demand the Yanks show no fear of Ghana, Portugal or Germany and have the talent, belief and chemistry to get results against all of them. And once that’s done, let’s expect they’ll do the same against the rest of the heavyweights of the world.
MLS wants to be up there with the top flights of England, Spain, Germany and the like? Fantastic. Let’s hold the league’s feet to the fire as it keeps growing. Let’s ask for transparency on league-wide initiatives. Let’s speak up when we don’t agree with a decision and ask what the greater good is as far as reaching that goal.
Is the product on the field good enough? Is the soccer on its way to being among the best played in the world? Does the scope feel world-class, or does it at least seem like it’s trending in the right direction? It should, because that’s what we’ve been told to expect.
(That goes for my place of business, too. Did we at MLSsoccer.com miss a story? Did we whiff on a major scoop? Are we not hitting the mark? Tell us, and tell us to do better.)
At the club level, let’s speak out when our team makes a move we don’t agree with, too. As fans, it’s our job to make them hear us and tell them what we require of them. Let’s demand a commitment to competitiveness while not skimping on grassroots development of domestic talent.
And as fans, let’s hold ourselves accountable. Are we supporting our clubs the best way we can? Are we too demure at games? Are we showing up in appropriate numbers at all? Are we giving our teams the best home (and away) support we can to encourage our players?
It’s time, across the board, to expect the best. It’s time to treat the game we love like it’s an interminable part of the sporting landscape on these shores.
Because now, it’s no longer about dreaming big and hoping for “one day.” That day is coming – we’ve been presented with the goals of greatness, and we’ve been given a timeline to get there.
Now it’s time to act like we’ve earned it.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com