Why MLS is better* than the Premier League

I’ll say it: Major League Soccer is better* than the Premier League.

There are, of course, many caveats to that statement, the most important being the addition of “for me” at the end of it, perhaps with the arguable parenthetical “(and anyone living within, say, 50 miles of an MLS side),” but specifying either upfront would push the boundaries of 140 characters and break the rules of social etiquette on the Internet.

As a 2014 World Cup convert to the Church of The Beautiful Game, I was left wanting more after Germany claimed their victory, so I latched on to the tail end of the 2014 MLS season and lucked into an impressive late-season push for–and almost all of the way through–the playoffs by the New York Red Bulls (of Harrison, NJ) which also happened to be Thierry Henry’s swan song as his historic career came to a dramatic conclusion in the MLS Cup Semi-Finals vs. the New England Revolution last November.

Red Bull Arena is 15 minutes from my home in good traffic, and my son and I caught four games in that amazing stadium, all but one of them impressive wins full of energy and fight. Even the loss, in the first leg of the semi-final vs. the Revs, was more exhilarating than any game I’d watched on TV, not the least of which is experiencing the non-stop energy of the South Ward in person.

As the 2014 MLS season headed into its playoffs, England’s Premier League was just getting going, and everything I read argued it was the epitome of The Beautiful Game, the NFL/MLB/NBA of soccer, and not only should I watch it, I’d need to pick a side. So, despite NBC’s botched app (no Chromecast, no peace!) and broadcast schedule too frequently leaving me hate-watching Chelsea or Manchester United, I jumped in [ridiculously early] every Saturday and Sunday morning, initially drawn to Leicester City’s underdog narrative before fully understanding how the rigged pyramid scheme of England’s promotion/relegation system stacks the deck against true underdogs. (Imagine the Durham Bulls competing against the Yankees and Red Sox every week for one season, and then getting swapped out for the El Paso Chihuahuas the next…)

Eventually, I found my way to Tottenham–a team whose history felt very familiar to a die hard Mets/Jets fan, and whose ride or die uptempo style was very appealing–and the MLS off-season sailed by with an all-too familiar series of exhilarating highs and frustrating lows, on both sides of the Atlantic. Between Spurs’ Jekyll and Hyde performances and Red Bulls front office upheavals, 2015 got off to a crazy start, but something was missing from the Premier League side of the experience.

Run With us!That something finally clicked this weekend when I made it to my first Red Bulls home game of this season: nothing beats being able to support your team in person.

Even in defeat, there’s nothing like watching a soccer match in person, but when your side wins, it’s an absolutely glorious feeling, and Friday night’s game was a great reminder of that. From the great beer selection and unexpectedly delicious chicken & waffles with sriracha syrup (?!?!), to the perfect weather and excellent result, it was a great night all around.

It also helped me understand the appeal of new expansion side, New York City Football Club–part cynical marketing ploy, part necessary evil–as some New Yorkers, no matter how much they love soccer, simply won’t cross the Hudson River for any reason unless it involves air travel. (Sorry, Cosmos, but Long Island is even worse than New Jersey!) As a native New Yorker who reluctantly relocated and still commutes in everyday, I know that feeling. And yet, despite playing in the suboptimal confines of Yankee Stadium and not being terribly good (yet), they’ve been drawing larger crowds than the Red Bulls who are defying expectations and have gotten off to an impressive start.

I’m not buying into any pre-manufactured zip code derby just yet (rivalries have to be earned on the pitch), but I am looking forward to NYCFC’s first visit to Red Bull Arena on May 10th in the hopes that some of their fledgling fans get a taste of what live soccer in a real stadium feels like and are forced to reassess their feelings about crossing the Hudson River.

That’s a feeling I’m unlikely to ever experience via the Premier League–or La Liga, Serie A, et al–and that’s why Major League Soccer is better than the Premier League for me (and, arguably, anyone living within, say, 50 miles of an MLS side).

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