Cheers, Mate! Fancy Some Soccer? Here’s A Primer On This Weekend’s Major League Soccer Cup

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Article provided by our good friends over at Soccer Source.

Other than David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy, UK football fans probably don’t know much about Major League Soccer, the 12-team U.S. professional league. Perhaps rightfully so; I’ll be the first to admit the caliber of play in MLS is not exactly on par with the Premiership or with other top European leagues. If I were living in the UK or Europe I probably wouldn’t care much about MLS either, nor would I give two hoots that the league is holding its showcase “MLS Cup” title game this weekend (Sunday, 5pm GMT to be precise). In fact, I’d probably be saying something like this: “crikey, ‘MLS Cup’? Are these bloody septic tanks serious with this stuff? What a bunch of tossers!” Which is probably exactly what you’re thinking right about now, right? So why should you care?

Several reasons:

1. The level of play has improved greatly over the league’s 12 year history. It’s difficult to gauge exactly how much, but I think some MLS clubs, such as the two that will play Sunday, could give some Premiership teams a run for their money (admittedly not Man United and Arsenal, but not just Derby County, either).

2. There will be several players on the field Sunday whom you are likely to see in the Premiership soon. New England defender Michael Parkhurst, the newly-crowned MLS Defender of the Year, is probably the most likely candidate right now. Houston midfielder Stuart Holden is a Scottish native (born in Aberdeen, emigrated to Texas when he was 11) who signed with Sunderland in 2005 but has now reemerged as one of the hottest MLS prospects. New England’s Taylor Twellman has received looks from European clubs before and even had a brief stint in the Bundesliga (it might have been the 2nd Bundesliga). They aren’t the first, either. MLS players have gone on to successful careers in the Premiership and elsewhere, as Fulham fans are well aware.

3. Former British players (or their kin) you have definitely heard of. The New England Revolution is managed by Steve Nicol, a player whom Liverpool fans of a certain age will probably be familiar with. One of Nicol’s teammates at club and country, Kenny Dalglish, is not involved with this game—but his son is. Paul Dalglish only played in five Dynamo games this year (I told you the play had improved) but may see action Sunday due to one of the team’s starting midfielders, Ricardo Clark, being suspended. What is it with all these Scots, you ask? (Dominic Kinnear, Houston’s coach is also Scottish-born, as is his assistant, John Spencer, another player you’ve probably heard of—he played at Chelsea in the early 90s and was on the 1996 Scottish national team at the European championships). I don’t know the answer to that question, but New England also has an Englishman as its top assistant coach: Paul Mariner, a name that fans of a certain age will also be familiar with.

Speaking of Nicol, he won the MLS Coach of the Year award back in 2002 and has taken his team to three straight MLS Cups and four of the last six. He’s still seeking that elusive first trophy, though. While it is (I think) unprecedented for somebody to start their managerial career in MLS and then take it to the Premiership or elsewhere in Europe, MLS teams have had several famous managers who were later very successful on the international level, Carlos Parreira being probably the most famous example. Carlos Queiroz, Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant, is also a one-time MLS coach.

4. It is your duty to care. Yes, I am playing this “as a supporter of the game, it is your responsibility to care” card. But it’s true: as a supporter of the game you should have a vested interest in its continued success and expansion, even to a land as barbaric as America. That reminds me:

5. The MLS style is very physical, perhaps as a result of sports like (American) football. Besides appealing to Premiership fans, whose game is also quite physical (though admittedly also higher-skilled) MLS games have the added allure of the possibility of fisticuffs on the field. And who doesn’t love a good fight?

6. Most important of all, you may want (need?) to focus your attention elsewhere if England are eliminated from Euro qualifying. Along with bringing happy reminders of better days in English and Scottish football (see item #3), the MLS Cup will have the added benefit of not involving any current national team players (unlike the Premiership, which resumes soon enough). The less you see of Paul Robinson, the less likely you are to follow through with your violent fantasies involving him.