As we count down the time until kickoff this evening, I find myself reflecting on how much has changed over the past 20 years. I have to say I never thought I would be so excited about the state of soccer in the United States in 2015 as I am right now.
I grew up as soccer was just beginning to take root in America, with television coverage becoming available for a few national team matches, but hardly ever any coverage or even mention of the best players in the world, whether they were playing in South America or Europe. Still, I fell in love with the game at an early age and was completely obsessed by the time the 1994 World Cup came around.
As a kid, I played on one of the top travel soccer teams in the state of Virginia, and we were very fortunate to have been invited to be the ball boys for DC United's first game in the inaugural Major League Soccer campaign in 1996. I got to stand mere feet away from idols like Eddie Pope, Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce and Jaime Moreno. It was a magical experience that I'll never forget.
Following the match, however, I found it nearly impossible to find coverage of the league games, and eventually lost interest in the latest news from the league as I explored more readily available sports leagues like the NFL and MLB.
I returned to soccer when Premier League and Champions League games started being televised on a more frequent basis and found my team in Liverpool in their incredible 2005 season. Watching the Reds in action was something special, and shed light on the gulf in quality between the EPL and MLS, as well as the difference between players like Steven Gerrard and Bobby Convey (no offense, Bobby).
Fast forward 10 years, and we'll have the chance to see Gerrard playing in Major League Soccer (sadly for me, about as far away from D.C. as possible). The arrival of Gerrard and other world-class stars like Frank Lampard, David Villa, Kaká, and Sebastian Giovinco is a signal of the rapid growth of soccer as a sport in America, and means we could eventually see Major League Soccer contend with the top European leagues within the next decade.
For those of us who have been playing the Fantasy Premier League game, we know the withdrawals we all go through over the summers, especially in non-tournament years like this one will be. The MLS game affords us the opportunity to feed our fantasy addictions and to see the emergence of a new contender for world-wide attention. Let's hope this season lives up to all the expectations. Here's the Week 1 Schedule:
Friday, March 6
Saturday, March 7
Sunday, March 8
Who do you think will win in Week 1? Who are you betting on in your Yahoo! MLS Fantasy squad? I've settled on the following lineup:
Todd Dunivant, Steven Vitoria, Bobby Boswell
Mauro Diaz, Chris Pontius, Kaká, Pedro Morales
Blas Perez, Gyasi Zardes, Octavio Rivero
Bench: Mix Diskerud, Ike Opara, Nick Besler, Rais M'Bolhi
Without watching the league recently, I'm hoping everyone will start and perform well. Good luck, everyone! Let's chat!