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Brooks not Beckham could be the key to ignite the MLS

Wednesday 18th June 2014
FIFA's desire to impose the beautiful game upon our cousins across the pond has been high on their agenda for some considerable time now. From Pele playing in New York to adapting rules to suite an American audience (no games finishing as a draw and penalties that were taken by dribbling the ball from around 20 yards before shooting, ice hockey style, changes both thankfully now abandoned) efforts have been made to gain 'soccer' a place at the top table of the American sporting consciousness, to little success. The latest significant attempt was the introduction of David Beckham to the MLS which, whilst achieving some initial success did not provide the explosion of sustained interest in the game as hoped by FIFA and the MLS . Now retired Beckham has taken the option to purchase an MLS franchise and has chosen Miami in which to base his team. Miami, a city having previously already had a MLS franchise named Miami Fusion, which only lasted four seasons between 1998 and 2001. The Miami Fusion franchise suffered from financial problems and from poor attendances, leading it to be eventually cut from the league. Problems with sporting attendance in Miami is not unique to football, even Miami's basketball team the Miami Heat suffer from poor attendances and interest when they don't find themselves competing in the later stages of the NBA Play Off's. Success for Beckham's franchise is certainly not going to be easy.

Writing this the day after the US's dramatic victory over Ghana in the opening contest of Group G at the World Cup in Brazil left me wondering just how the attempts of popularisation of the sport in the US have failed. The American domestic game has historically featured some of the most recognisable names in the history of the sport. Pele, Best, Beckenbauer and Cruyff have all, at one time graced football pitches in the US. However, perhaps the increase in popularity for the game in the States will not come from superstar names, but will rather come from high profile drama created on the international stage, by the countries own crop of players. The entertaining USA and Ghana encounter consisted of a significant and vocal travelling US contingent of support. On the pitch the game produced an intense start which resulted in a Clint Dempsey goal within the first 30 seconds, followed by a nervy second half which featured a potentially, US party spoiling, Ghanaian equaliser from Andre Ayew. The Americans fought back and, against the run of play, Joel Brooks rose highest and headed home a US corner four minutes from time. With the backs against the wall second half and the dramatic late US winner, you could almost be forgiven for thinking this was a script concocted by a group of Hollywood executives

The support and coverage for the USA national team is significant during the World Cup finals and has been seen to increase from tournament to tournament. The TV viewing numbers registered last night show the significant interest the game generated in homes across the United States. The USA vs Ghana game registered an 7.0 on ESPN, even more impressive considering the NBA's Final's game 5 only received a 6.8 in comparison (mlssoccer.com). The millions of Americans who tuned into to watch their national side play Ghana would have experienced the roller coaster of emotions, that only a closely contested game at a world cup finals can produce, regardless if they were a committed football fan or a casual viewer. All of which we can assume were delighted with the score line and Brooks's emotional goal celebration was a great World Cup moment.

The key to the success of developing interest in the game in the States lie in dramatic moments such as Joel Brooks's winner against Ghana, or the spectacle of Jurgen Klinsmann leading the US team against the country of his birth, Germany. Should the US produce a result against a Portuguese side, consisting of the media machine that is Cristiano Ronaldo, that looked so disillusioned in their opener against Germany, combined with a spirited performance against Germany and qualify for the knockout stages once again, this will ensure the national team remain relevant within mainstream media in the US during the tournament in Brazil.

Of course the idea of the game growing further in stature in the US can not solely be based on the interest garnered during a World Cup which takes place every four years, other methods need to be implemented. It is perhaps rather unfortunate that the US falls under the governance of CONCACAF, which deprives the US public seeing their national team playing in a higher standard of regional tournament than the Gold Cup. But as things stand, the endeavours of the USA national team should not just be seen as attempting to gain victories on the pitch, but also in the hearts and minds of the American public. The more emphasis placed on moments such as Joel Brooks's headed late winner against Ghana by the powers that be in the US the better. Promoting the great drama of football, especially when it is created by their own national team, will have a far greater filtering down effect of interest in the domestic game in the states, than European player seeing out the twilight of his career in the MLS ever could.
Ian Reynolds
29 year old Tranmere Rovers fan, Serie A connoisseur and all round football nerd. Any feed back regarding any piece submitted by myself, positive or negative, is greatly appreciated. I talk about football on Twitter, a lot. Follow me @Ian_Reynolds87

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