Major League Soccer has a sort of strange reputation. On one hand, people often claim it’s “hard to watch” and “overly physical” due to lacking players with “technique” and “talent”. On the other hand, teams keep scoring 70 goals a year in the league. No, not every game is fun to watch. For every time Atlanta United scores four goals and Josef Martinez gets a hat trick or Zlatan hits a half field volley past the 8th best American goalkeeper, there’s probably two terrible 0-0 draws involving rotated players and worse refereeing. But it isn’t like the EPL is top to bottom stacked with 20 different versions of Manchester City and Liverpool, bad soccer is just sort of a feature of the sport and MLS is no different. But I’m here to tell you to watch the league in which, by at least one statistical measurement, Graham Zusi can be the best American player.
And no, MLS is not as good as the best first divisions in Europe or Latin America and would be hard pressed to be considered better than the top second divisions there as well, but it has something those places don’t: the sheer spectacle of the best worst soccer on the planet. Where else can you watch someone who makes $60,000 a year and probably drives a Daewoo Lanos to practice everyday have to try to guard Zlatan? Only MLS.
MLS is fun in a bad sort of anything can happen kind of way. The league is full of teams that let in late goals and now that Caleb Porter is managing again, it’s something we can only hope to see more of in 2019. The officiating is questionable and even infuriatingly bad to the point of ruining games. And the championship often features a team that finished somewhere between 5th and 12th in the table that made the final because of some fortuitous thing that they couldn’t possibly have planned for or replicate if they tried.
MLS answers the question: What if the Fast and the Furious franchise became a soccer league (except with much smaller viewership)? Not enticed yet? Consider that MLS is like the Bachelor in Paradise of soccer - you get some of your old favorites making their last grasp at fame and relevance, random people you never thought twice about if you even knew they existed in the first place, and complete strangers that you think you know deeply and intensely dislike for no logical or sensible reason; but you know what you’re getting is dumb fun even if it pretends to be something serious that isn’t rigged by the producers.
No, there is no promotion and relegation, and yes, in the grand scheme of things it’s a problem and the rules about player movement are well past needing to be changed, but do you really care? The relegation battle in the EPL will probably be decided by mid-April and all of the die-hard American Huddersfield fans will have probably accepted their fate. I say to you, take in an MLS game, enjoy the errant passing and read the four letter word that follows “daft” off of Wayne Rooney’s lips when he screams at Steve Birnbaum for not covering an anonymous American college graduate on a set piece for a late goal, marvel at the way David Bingham’s eyes get really big when he realizes that his entire defense is out of position and Diego Valeri is going to be free to run at him with the ball at his feet - again, and behold the absolute, unparalleled glory of Kendall Waston getting another completely unnecessary red card...
There’s really nothing like it anywhere else in the world of soccer outside of the World Cup. So, snobs, soccer elitists, soccer writers who mock the league in overwrought-seemingly unedited hot takes, people who call it football, join me in watching MLS. You don’t even have to tell everyone you’re doing it, you can be a lifelong Gooner since 2012, wake up at 4AM every weekend to be disappointed by Arsenal and watch Ignacio Piatti dribble past the entire Chicago Fire midfield. Plus, where else are you going to find out about the next 27 year-old defender to get his first call up to January camp for head-scratching reasons that call the manager of the USMNT’s judgement into question? And no, you won’t find any super clubs in MLS, but it’s boring to watch Bayern Munich win another Meisterschale anyway… watch MLS, it’s the thing that is so bad it’s actually good that you didn’t know you needed in your life.