Almost one year ago today, I wrote an article while I was abroad, gallivanting across the globe, an international man of mystery, solving the world’s problems from the shadows with no expectation of thanks or recognition. OK, well, maybe I was just on a business trip to Scotland to handle the typical quarterly business that is required for my current position’s responsibilities.
The trips themselves were fairly similar from most points of view — wake up, head to the office, work, lunch, work, head out for a few pints and some fish n chips or haggis with neeps and tatties, and head back to hotel to prepare to do it all over again the next day. Sure, there were a few excursions for some football — not nearly as many as I would like — and I have made some amazing friends along the way. Being an Orlando City fan, and wearing some merch while travelling, has opened the door to those new friendships, although this most recent trip was completely different in that regard.
Work was too encompassing this trip, and the fixture schedule was a bit difficult as well, and getting to a match in person just was not in cards; however, heading to the pubs around town certainly was, and I was able to catch a few matches on TV, both midweek and over the weekend. In a town that is extremely polarized when it comes to football, walking around in an Orlando City kit, or wearing one of my many scarves, typically started a conversation that began with “Orlando City? Who the they?”
The conversation would quickly turn to soccer other than MLS simply because the people I met did not really know about or follow football in America. In fact, most seemed to know more about the NFL than MLS, but not this trip. Most of the fine people I talked to surprised me with just how much they knew about MLS, and some even about Orlando City.
One group of gentlemen I sat and talked with had heard something about “that soccer, as you call it, team at Disney that just got a good coach out of Mexico.” I offered to buy them all pints if they promised to never call the team from Disney ever again, explained a bit of the geography of Central Florida to them, and then talked to them some more.
A few others at the bar heard us talking about football in America, and came over to join us and take part in the conversation. “Nani plays in Orlando, right?” one gentleman asked me. “Does he play better for you than when he was a s@$&* player for United?” At first, I really didn’t know how to respond, but eventually we discussed his play, and team dynamics, and struggles this season, and seasons past. I have to say, after it was all said and done, and I was walking back to my hotel room for the night, it was a bit surreal. Although they may not have known specific stats, the full roster, or anyone’s record for the season, they had a pretty good grasp of MLS, and we had some great debates about the positive, and negative, differences between MLS and both Scottish and English Premier League.
Another conversation, in a completely different pub, focused on the reach that MLS (through the help of a number of young Americans playing internationally) was having. People wanted to see MLS matches, not because they could watch their retiring heroes get those last minutes on the pitch, but because America is where wunderkinds like Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic are from, and naturally they wonder if the American top league is ready to compete with the rest of the world. This is where the conversations get much more difficult to understand as I am the last person who should be trying to explain the MLS contract and salary rules to anyone, let alone in a pub at 8 p.m., but I tried, typically ending my explanation with something of a joke about no one really understanding it.
It was something that I certainly did not expect. I know that most people who are fans of football in the world know that the U.S. has a professional league, but may not be able to name a single player who plays in it, outside of maybe some of the big international names that have come to the states. I certainly did not expect to meet so many people who actually had some knowledge of the league, and were starting to watch matches as they could, or at least are paying attention. It certainly brought a smile to my face.
It will be interesting to discuss rosters moves with them over the next few months and see what, if any, homework they have done. It makes me think that, overall, MLS is going in the right direction.