With just days to go until we see our Whitecaps take the field in the second leg of the Canadian Championship, soccer fans were treated to a football delight in the final of the UEFA Champion's League when Bayern Munchen met Borrussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium this afternoon.
It was a thrilling and entertaining match which highlighted skill, creativity , imagination, determination and courage and showcased some of the finest footballers in the world representing one of the very top football league's in the world, The hosts of the Canadian television broadcast hailed the German Bundesliga as emerging as the premiere league in world football at the moment. Quite an accolade in a sport which includes the British Premiership, Italy's Seria A, and Spain's La Liga. We should not overlook the domestic leagues in other parts of the world either but, in terms of FIFA members, Europe still leads the way in football excellence.
Apart from providing a wonderful afternoon of football viewing for this Whitecaps fan it gave rise to a question in my mind. When, if ever, will the MLS achieve the standard set by European football clubs and will the Canadian and MLS cup competitions ever have the emotion and cachet attached to the major domestic competitions in other leagues around the world?
The answer, of course, is that North American football is a long, long way from being considered on a par with the class of football we watched today. A very long way.
Does this mean that it will never happen?
Not at all. I think that it may not be as far off as we might think.
I am aware, of course, that I am oversimplifying but I believe that what north American soccer needs to compete is a) money b) numbers and c) time.
When looking at the two sides on the pitch at Wembley today, it was pointed out that in the two squads twenty-six players were products of the domestic development system and the remainder were international stars, top end talent imported at great expense from all over the globe for huge transfer fees. MLS sides all have academy systems and are all committed to the development of young players. Most MLS clubs have imported designated players but, for the most part, these DP's are older players at the end of their careers brought in principally to attract fans through their star power and past associations and some, notably David Beckham and Thierry Henri, have been able to significantly improve the talent level on their teams. In general though, MLS does not have the competitive standard to compete for top players against the likes of Chelsea, Bayern Munchen, Barcelona, or AC Milan and etc. More importantly, nor do MLS clubs, with a few notable exceptions, have the financial resources needed to sign these talents.
Additionally, MLS is at a stage where many organizations still need to commit much of their financial resources to infrastructure such as stadiums, training facilities, organizational necessities and player development systems. The league must also devote resources to upgrading their own administrative mechanics including the recruitment and training of a body of competent, professional officials to eliminate the ludicrously inconsistent officiating that plagues the league today. The league must to continue to improve and promote it's product aggressively all over the continent.
The same applies to national football associations. In Canada, specifically, much of the national sports priorities and financial resources are centred on hockey which is Canada's most popular sport. However is the the money being allocated fairly? Some unofficial numbers suggest in fact that football should be getting a much larger slice of the pie. In Canada in 2010-2011, 572,000 people of all ages played organized hockey of some sort. By comparison, in 2006 there were 2,695,712 people kicking footballs around in organized groups. A lot of the responsibility for the lack of governmental support lies with SoccerCanada who take a lot of criticism for letting down the soccer public at the grass roots level and for failing to utilize the resources and develop the talent available to make Canada more competitive at the International level.
What does it all mean? It means that MLS and it's member franchises must develop lucrative revenue streams from broadcasting contracts, sponsorship deals and creative marketing campaigns and the revenue generated needs to be reinvested in the league and in the clubs to improve facilities and player development. The league must press hard to increase the standard of play and the level of competition to attract star talents from around the world to play in MLS whilst at the top of their careers. National governing bodies must support and develop amateur and minor football at the local level to develop the game and the players who will be it's future stars or it's future bums on seats in the stands or in front of television sets.
All of this can be done as long as the governing bodies and the people in charge have the will to get it done and the public support the programme by taking their children to the parks to play and by turning out to watch their local kids, amateur and professional teams.
It will take time. Who knows how long. Remember that all of the teams and leagues that I have cited as major world powers have been operating and competing for over a century in some cases. The encouraging fact is though that we have in North America is imagination, will, energy and money. This could all happen sooner rather than later.
And as for today's match? Does it get any better than that?
I hope that it will. On Wednesday night.