It’s tempting, but wrong, to look at the TV ratings for soccer in the United States and conclude that America’s interests lie solely south of the border and overseas. Take a list of the top-rated games for Sept. 3-22, compiled by the website World Soccer Talk. If you scroll down the list to find the top MLS game, you’ll pass nine Premier League games, six Liga MX matches and four Champions League tilts before you hit MLS.
While there’s no disputing that Mexico and Europe are enormously popular among stateside soccer fans, it’s a mistake to see numbers like this and conclude that MLS is struggling. For one, while national broadcasts may not draw huge numbers for MLS, many soccer fans will be focused on their local teams. A league like the NHL doesn’t do well on national TV, either, but many local markets see big ratings.
Those ratings also miss a huge, and key, part of fandom: showing up in person. MLS has sold more than 8 million tickets this year, and league expansion has blanketed the country’s soccer fans. Add local TV and match attendance to the national TV numbers and the idea that MLS is third place — or worse — in its own country doesn’t stand up.
• The key surprise in the U.S. men’s national team roster for this week’s Nations League games against Canada and Cuba: no Sergino Dest. The teenage left back, who’s playing with Ajax, could still switch at any time to play for his native Netherlands instead of the U.S. Dest says he needs “more time to decide.” Let’s hope that he sticks with the U.S., but given that he was born and grew up in the Netherlands, and has played his club soccer there, could you really blame him if he decided to switch?
• With a week to go in the NWSL season, the playoffs are set and look awfully familiar, with the same four teams as last year: North Carolina, Chicago, Portland and Seattle. North Carolina and Chicago will host the semifinals. North Carolina, the defending champ and the NWSL Shield winner as regular-season champion, is the big favorite.
MLS: San Jose at Portland, 3 p.m. Sunday, ESPN. The Western Conference playoff race is ending with about 200 meters of stumbling. Portland hasn’t won in five matches. San Jose has lost five in a row. The Timbers need just a draw to hold their playoff spot. The Earthquakes could clinch their own spot outright with a victory. If it’s a draw, they’ll need a lot of help. It’s effectively a wild-card play-in game for the last spot in the playoffs.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org