Minnesota United made its Major League Soccer debut in Portland on Friday in a match that was reasonably predictable in result and entirely predictable in length.
Prognosticators seem to think United will be overmatched as an expansion side in MLS this season, and Friday’s result — a 5-1 loss, albeit with two of those Portland goals coming extremely late — does nothing to change that impression.
Perhaps more concerning is the idea that the Loons lack ambition, a notion put forward by SI.com’s Grant Wahl recently when he ranked Minnesota 21st of 22 MLS teams in terms of striving for greatness in 2017.
Indeed, it could be a long season — which wouldn’t be out of line for expansion teams in any sport. But one thing casual fans should come to appreciate about soccer: You will not be in for long games.
That might seem like a strange thing to flaunt. And indeed, it probably isn’t high on the list of positives for the roughly 11,000 season-ticket holders United has secured for its inaugural season or even the 30,000-plus fans expected for Sunday’s home debut against Atlanta at TCF Bank Stadium.
But sports — particular ones that maybe aren’t quite as familiar to the general public — also need casual fans to attend games in order to succeed. If the Loons can get several thousand folks out to every match who are there just as much for the experience as the action, they should feel good about that.
And a sneaky thing MLS games have going for them is they last almost exactly two hours, without fail, every single time.
At a time when MLB games are trying to shrink backward from three-hour-plus marathons, when NFL and college football games routinely take that long and can take much longer, when NHL and NBA games often approach 2 hours, 30 minutes but could go longer, there is something to be said for soccer’s time guarantee.
In a regular-season match, there will be two 45-minute halves, with a few minutes of stoppage time at the end of both halves, and a halftime. There is no overtime. There are no shootouts. The clock continues to run throughout the 90 minutes, so the length of game is not influenced by the number of fouls called. Instant replay isn’t a factor, either.
In modern society, when so many people seem strapped for time, knowing exactly what kind of time commitment you are making is huge. It’s arguably even bigger if you have a family with small kids (hand raised here) and every outing basically starts with a countdown.
Again, these aren’t things soccer teams would likely officially promote lest it come off as something like, “Hey, come watch our product. There’s less of it!” But in practical terms, soccer’s two-hour guarantee is a major selling point.
The Loons might be bad this season, but at least you can set your watch to their struggles.