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Our City: The Brutally Honest Confessions of a Major League Soccer Apologist

Taylor Twellman’s rant after the U.S. Men’s National Team crashed out of World Cup qualifying hit home with me, and now it is time to come clean.

Trinidad & Tobago v United States  - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images

It’s been a long week of introspection for American soccer fans. While blame has been tossed, rightfully, at the players, the coach, and the larger U.S. Soccer structure, I’d like to add a name to this list of blame. Mine. Let me explain.

As part of Generation X, I’m of the age group that is able to remember a time when the NASL fizzled and the United States wasn’t naturally expected to qualify for the World Cup. I applauded both the establishment of Major League Soccer and the eventual placement of a club in my hometown. The idiosyncrasies of MLS were the devil’s bargain we paid to have a stable soccer league in the United States. I became, for lack of a better description, an MLS apologist. And one that writes publicly about it each week in this space.

I fought back when you suggested changing anything, I barked at you for preferring European leagues to the domestic, I challenged you to believe that MLS was better than most of the top leagues in the world, save the big names in Germany, England, Spain, & Italy. When you suggested improvements, I found a dozen reasons why it wasn’t needed.

I drank the Major League Soccer Kool-Aid because a league that hadn’t yet folded was a successful league to me.

In my defense, this myopic view makes sense. The Orlando Lions I watched as a kid played at Evans High School, and the first World Cup I remember didn’t feature a team from the United States. I was a rabid soccer player who had no heroes or prospects to play beyond college, so I quit playing long before I went to college. The stabilizing force of Major League Soccer seemed like the right thing, and no matter my great awakening now, stability has to play a role moving forward.

Part of the mission of MLS, as I remember it after the 1994 World Cup in the United States, was to develop the game in America. That was the bill of goods American soccer fans were sold. Forget the fact that we have three teams in Canada, have become a retirement home for European stars, and the league only makes a profit off selling franchises, are we developing American players? If you answered yes, have I got a swampy soccer field in Trinidad to sell you!

Don Garber and company have been too busy doing victory laps in Orlando and Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. They’ve been too preoccupied with the interest of every non-NFL market across the country that want to flirt with them. They’ve been too busy building something with smoke and mirrors to realize they aren’t actually developing anything but a successful business model. Probably not a sustainable one.

You will undoubtedly continue to aim your social media accounts, blogs, podcasts, and pub conversations at every aspect of American soccer. I’ll suggest another target, me. Well not just me, but people like me. Soft Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who are happy with the status quo, unpaid soccer writers who paint everything with a fine rose-colored tint, false pundits who are more interested in being invited to the broadcast booth to feel important than they are to tell you the truth.

I should be clear I am only talking about myself. I can’t speak for every other writer for this blog, countless other blogs, other soccer writers, or other journalists. I’ll let them do their own soul-searching if they feel the need. I just needed to tell you, I’ve not been honest with myself and I haven’t been honest with you.

Why did I work so hard to convince my friends who watch West Ham United and Arsenal, Munich and Real Madrid to trade their jerseys in for an MLS club? Why should my friends stop watching top quality soccer to watch mediocre domestic soccer?

Why am I writing articles trying to convince Cyle Larin to stay in MLS and not play in the best leagues in the world? I’m literally asking another human being to not aim to be the best, something I’d never ask of myself.

Why am I writing columns working to promote Major League Soccer? To that Twitter commenter from three seasons ago that called me “an unpaid mouthpiece for the Orlando City management,” today I’ll admit you have been right.

I don’t mean to confound my importance, I know my place. I write a Sunday column for a team-specific blog. In Taylor Twellman’s now infamous post-Trinidad rant, he called out “everyone from U.S. Soccer, to Major League Soccer, from ‘pay-to-play,’ to broadcasters, to everything…” I know I’m just part of the “everything.” Still those words resonated, and I realize now my endorsement of the pedestrian status quo isn’t helping U.S. Soccer, Major League Soccer, or Orlando City.

With that said, moving forward, I can’t see myself openly trashing people, leagues, or systems. That just isn’t my style, but I will be more honest with you and myself. I still openly and passionately love Orlando City, and that won’t change. But maybe our relationship can be a little more honest now.

Signed, an MLS apologist no more.