I don't read Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle often. I think of him as a kind of minor league Richard Justice. But I couldn't resist reading him the other day when he did one of my favorite things, piss off soccer fans. Last week, apparently, he made the mistake of stating the truth: the MLS, despite the use of the word "major," is a minor league.
It's wrong, apparently, to state the truth about the MLS. But though it might be the best league in the U.S. for the sport, when compared to the rest of the world, it's a minor league. This shouldn't be an indictment. They put out a good product, and the fans enjoy the action, but it's not comparable to the best product, and calling it a major league is an insult to major leagues.
I cover the Houston Aeros for the Press. The Aeros are a minor league hockey team. They're a fun team to watch. The games are full of action, hard-hitting, and a mix of incredible speed, grace, and brutality. The Aeros management puts on a good arena show with cheerleaders, loud music, sound effects, and just about everything you'll find in the NHL. However, there are two types of players in the AHL: those players trying to make the NHL, and those players trying to get back to the NHL.
The players, coaches, staffs, they care about what happens in the game. They want to win games, they want to make the playoffs, they want to win the championship. But more than anything, they all want a promotion to the NHL, the top league of hockey, the major league of hockey.
The guys in the MLS want to win games and titles. And they care about the game. But they're just like the guys who play in the AHL, or the guys who play baseball in Japan. They want to go to Europe and play on the best teams there. And when players from Europe come here to play in the States, it's generally because they're past their prime and can't cut it in big-time soccer. Just like those former MLB stars who end their careers in Japan.
Solomon used last week's MLS All-Star match-up against Manchester United to make the point of his column about the minor league status of MLS. It's a point he reiterated in his blog post this week. Several of the commenters responded with a point about the Manchester team losing to a MLS team prior to that.
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But there's nothing invalid about Solomon's point. The MLS All-Star squad lost to a Manchester team missing several of its big starters. It's kind of like the Yankees going on tour in Japan and playing without Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mariano Rivera. The team is still good enough to beat any team in Japan, but it's also going to lose from time to time. That doesn't mean, however, that the Japanese are on par with the Yankees - a good Japanese team, however, might be able win series after series against the Astros, however.
Houston soccer fans might not like what Solomon has to say. But that doesn't mean he's wrong. Reality is sometimes hard to accept. But the fact is that the MLS is a minor league. They're not the best players. They don't play the best soccer.
That shouldn't take away from your enjoyment of the game. Watching minor league hockey doesn't take away from the enjoyment that Houston Aeros fans take away from the games, and anybody who has traveled to Round Rock knows that, though the brand of baseball isn't at the level of baseball in the majors, it's an enjoyable experience that's often a blast to watch.
Maybe you didn't like Solomon's tone. But a minor league is a minor league, even if it adopts the moniker of major in its league name.