Referee Spray & 4 More Things The Premier League Can Learn From MLS
It’s not easy being Major League Soccer.
The North American branch of the world’s most popular game can often seem to be more red-headed stepchild than prodigal son in the eyes of a local sporting public that favours the more traditional pastimes of the NFL, baseball and basketball.
There are even a large number of native soccer fans that fall into the much derided “Eurosnob” category as they fetishize the glories the Premier league and La Liga while steadfastly ignoring the efforts of their own local heroes.
Yet there are elements of Major league Soccer that can seem positively enlightening compared to what goes on in the Premier league week after week.
When a free-kick the signal is given for the referee to whip out what looks like a can of shaving foam from a holster
1) Referee Spray: When a free-kick is given this is the signal for the referee to whip out what looks like a can of shaving foam from a holster on his belt and promptly draw a circle around where the ball should be, then mark out the ten yards to draw a line over which the defending wall cannot pass.
The first time I saw this particular piece of, what looked like, improvisational theatre I smiled warmly at the naiveté of our colonial cousins, but now it just strikes me as a spectacularly simple solution to the ongoing problem of both encroachment at set-pieces and the thorny issue of where the kick should be taken from.
The Premier League should introduce it immediately.
2) Publishing player’s salaries: We may all know that Wayne Rooney is earning a lot more than Nick Powell, but seeing the official numbers in plain black and white can be fascinating.
The disparities in pay may not be so great in England as they are in the US but the shock of discovering that David Beckham, with a guaranteed annual compensation of four million dollars, is in the same squad as Bryan Gaul who earns thirty-four thousand dollars in the same amount of time can be startling (Gaul, by the way, has six goals in twelve games so far this season).
3) Rivalry Cups: Which Premier League team wouldn’t want to be the proud owners of “The Brimstone Cup” or “The Trillium Cup”? Probably not many, but these competitions (usually between two teams taking the aggregate of their league meetings to decide the winners) can provide excitement and glory to supporters who have little else to cheer for.
Sunderland and Newcastle may now be playing for local bragging rights; but how much more fun would those clashes be if the overall winner got presented with a trophy at the end of the final game?
It’s worth noting also that these Cups are invariably the combined brainchild of rival supporters groups which goes no small way to creating an atmosphere that is passionate yet, for the most part, cordial.
Every season they organize a “Supporters Summit” in which representatives of the fans of each team speak with both officials from the League in general and from individual clubs in particular
4) Official relationship with fans: MLS may not be perfect in its treatment of supporters (it can be overly suspicious of travelling fans for example) but it is at least aware of how important these people are to the future of the game.
While the Premier League could probably get by on the revenue from Asian media rights alone Major League Soccer knows that the local fans who turn up for the game are still the lifeblood of the sport.
Every season they organize a “Supporters Summit” in which representatives of the fans of each team speak with both officials from the League in general and from individual clubs in particular.
Imagine such openness from those in power at the Premier League?
5)Redefining the local derby: North America is such a big place that the Vancouver, Seattle and Portland rivalry is regarded as the most intense in the League and the three teams annually battle it out for the Cascadia Cup (see point 3).
Given that the drive from Vancouver to Portland takes over five hours and involves crossing an international border this kind of logic would turn every Premier League game into the equivalent of a Merseyside Derby making even a West Ham versus Norwich clash seem epic in it’s importance!
Okay that last point is not entirely serious but the other four certainly are.
Major League Soccer may make barely a ripple on the consciousness of the average fan in England but that doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed as irrelevant when it comes to looking at how the game should develop in the coming years.
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