This weekend saw Major League Soccer's new season kick-off in earnest.
The MLS is widely considered to be the fifth sport in the United States, but after an impressive opening weekend, it should be regarded as the most improved sport in the country, slowly creeping up the ladder in terms of importance.
I say this with the exception of Chivas, who should just be ignored because of their abysmal attendance record. That is for another time, of course.
The MLS Game of the Week was the New York Red Bulls facing the Portland Timbers, and what an atmosphere before the game. It was a sold out match, something that should not be overlooked, and would not have happened five or six years ago unless an English Premier League team was facing the MLS All Stars. Forget the sloppiness of the game between the Red Bulls and the Timbers. Tradition and the fans is what will make or break the MLS in popularity at this stage. The players and technical skills will come, but gaining fan loyalty is crucial if other pieces of the puzzle are going to come together.
One thing Portland does before every game during the national anthem is to have the fans sing it. That is something new and unique, which makes the supporters feel like they are involved. The MLS is going in the right direction, and little initiatives like this can potentially make a big difference. As interest grows, so does the quality on the pitch.
I was truly impressed with what I saw. Fans were singing and chanting throughout. It had the atmosphere of a Premier League game. I cannot speak for every games attendance and the argument is that because this was opening day, the stadiums were packed. But, this really is an improvement and something the MLS should be proud of. If the people in charge can build on an initial success, the 2013 season could be very special for a number of reasons.
And, for the record, if the games finish 3-3 like this one did, then people will keep on coming back.
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