Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
On Sunday, I was in Kansas City, to watch Sporting KC play Houston in an afternoon matinee. Friend of the blog Michael Rand wrote about the experience for Page 2, but a short summary: the atmosphere was electric, and so many people showed up that it was a good thing the game started late or, thanks to traffic, we would have missed the opening 15 minutes.
Michael attempted to capture the experience, to quantify it as part of a discussion about whether Major League Soccer is a "major" sport. By television dollars, it's on the fence; by average salary, it's near the line; attendance is high, but you can find areas to quibble there. Ulitmately, I'd agree that MLS is not yet on the level of the four "major" professional leagues in North America, in that the league isn't yet awash in the sea of money that follows the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB around.
That atmosphere, though. If you had been there on Sunday, you wouldn't question whether MLS is a "major" league, because to me and to the other 20,875 people in Sporting Park, it felt like nothing but. I've been to Seattle and Kansas City this year, two of the best atmospheres in MLS, and there's no doubt left in my mind that it's a major league. And it kills me that some soccer fans seem to see the MLS, or following a European club team, as their only chance to be part of that.
The announcement of the design for the new Vikings stadium brought a fresh round of speculation about the possibility of MLS coming to Minnesota. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see a major-league team here someday - but having an MLS team is not a precondition of having an atmosphere like the one that I experienced in Seattle, or in Kansas City. Minnesota already has a team - one that regular blog readers will be familiar with - and there's no reason that going to a United game couldn't have that same atmosphere.
Yes, United's league - the second-divison North American Soccer League - is not on the level of MLS. But the skill level has nothing to do with the fan experience; there were no fans in Kansas City on Sunday that enjoyed the game less because the play was not quite on the level of the Premier League or La Liga.
What I'm trying to say is this: if you're a soccer fan, you would have enjoyed the game on Sunday. You would have enjoyed the chanting, jumping, screaming die-hards in the Members Stand, whether you were one of them or just another fan in the stands. Major league or not, Sunday's game is the kind of thing you want to be a part of.
There's no reason that same atmosphere can't come to Minnesota, with or without an MLS team. But you, the soccer fan - you have to show up. It's not going to happen if you stay home and wait.