Reflections on US Soccer Impostor Syndrome and the MLS All-Star GameBy: Laurie | July 27th, 2008
A couple of years ago, before I embarked on the whole soccer blogging adventure, I swapped emails with another blogger on the topic of whether I’d be able to write regularly on a subject where I felt, essentially, like a total impostor.
As for [feeling like] an impostor, I think it’s something that is fairly unique to the American soccer fan.
I’ve found myself reflecting on that sentence a lot over the past two years.
Brits (like our editor Daryl) don’t feel this way. They grow up with this stuff. They tell stories like, “When I was very little, I asked my dad why England didn’t just buy better players. He looked at me like I was adopted.”
In other countries, you can tell stories like this and everybody laughs knowingly. In America, if you’re over the age of twenty-five and can tell a story like this, your dad was probably born in another country. (Or is Bob Bradley.) And because other people can tell stories like these and you can’t, chances are that, regardless of how fanatical a fan you are, you may feel a bit like an impostor.
What is US Soccer Impostor Syndrome? You might suffer if you’re American and have ever:
• Assumed somebody knew more about the game than you just because he had a foreign accent.
• Kept assuming this even when the guy’s comments made it clear that he was totally clueless.
• Assumed without even reading that a foreign tabloid’s footie articles were more credible than a legit sports article written by an American who’s spent a lifetime studying the game.
• Figured Tommy Smyth knew the most of all the ESPN commentators because he’s European. (Because Ireland’s soccer record? SO much better than the US’s.)
• Assumed that not only is American soccer inferior to the rest of the world’s, but that it always will be and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
Any of these sound familiar?
And Soccer Impostor Syndrome is never more prevalent than around MLS All-Star time.
Before the All-Star team selections, I made this comment about the game format:
MLS fans, it’s time! Time to start thinking about the July 24 MLS All-Star game, where we can once again prove that our best-of-the-best can beat an off-season, mid-table European squad. After which we can say, for another year, “See? We can compete with Europe!”
This offended some MLS fans. But basically? It’s true. It’s how the current All-Star format was designed. The particulars may change from year to year (Chelsea were not mid-table, Chivas de Guadalajara weren’t European) but the competition is just a little bit rigged in favor of MLS. The reason, in my opinion? Our national psyche, our collective American Soccer Impostor Syndrome, requires that the deck be stacked in our favor.
Before, during and after the game this year, the TV, print and online commentary was multiple versions of the following: “How important is a win to prove that MLS can put a product on the field that can compete with the rest of the world?” And the answer was multiple variations of “Very.”
American MLS fans in 2008, I have good news. Our best of the best did not just beat an off-season, mid-table European squad. They also looked damn good doing it. Despite the fact that they’d barely taken the field together before the game, by the half hour mark their play was connected, team-like, high energy, and fun to watch. This was a team that could probably hold its own against most individual clubs across the world, at least on a good day. (And the fact that a sizable number of the players weren’t American? A topic for another post.)
But that’s the All-Stars — the league’s best of the best, who are proving that they are not impostors. What would it take to make US fans feel good about our MLS league as a whole?
Here’s a comment one of the readers of LA Galaxy Offside left a couple of weeks back, after the DC-Galaxy game.
On the bright side, had a houseful — who’ve either never watched or disdained MLS — getting ready for EURO final. Never expected they would be distracted by this match, but within the first few minutes everyone was paying attention.
They were impressed by both teams and enjoyed the action. Obviously not as thrilled during second half but they’d seen their own Premiership and La Liga clubs, respectively, wilt on occasion as well.
And here’s another comment on another game, from our own resident Argie, Red Bulls Offside blogger Dave Martinez:
You have to hand it to the Galaxy – their attack is beautiful – one touch / pass attack, quick on the ball, able to cause major fits to any defense. And with weapons like Beckham, Ruiz, Klein and Donovan commanding their offense, it is really no surprise they were able to pull off such a late surge.
Yes, both were talking about the Galaxy, a team that’s entertaining to watch this year because they simultaneously have both the best offense and worst defense in the league. But I’ve read similar comments elsewhere recently too, about other MLS teams. And what pleases me about comments like these is that they’re talking about league play — about the week-to-week games that happen when a couple of superstars play day in and day out alongside our homegrown boys. The influx of quality players into the league seems to be causing the native-born players on every team to raise the level of their game. Eurosnobs and MLS haters may deny it, but the quality of play is improving, slowly but surely.
Even last year, a lot of the MLS games I saw as a neutral didn’t hold my attention. They weren’t compelling. They weren’t pretty. That’s still true, sometimes, but it’s becoming less and less so, and the change is coming faster than I would have thought possible. Pretty play on the field — which is, in my opinion, one of the results of having our native boys playing alongside our All-Stars — is looking like a good way to get the job done for MLS.
When the Designated Player Rule (aka the Beckham Rule) was implemented last year, I thought it was mostly a marketing thing. Beckham comes, he sells jerseys, he puts butts in the seats, the league makes money. Pele and the New York Cosmos, twenty-first century version. Now I’m thinking that the marketing aspect was a side benefit, and that the improvement of play on the field will be the most beneficial result. And when we combine that with the contract and salary cap changes that are inevitable with the upcoming 2010 Player Union negotiations, and with the league’s country-wide focus on youth player development…
Well, I’m hopeful. Perhaps our grandkids, or maybe even our kids, may not ever know what Soccer Impostor Syndrome feels like.
Eventually, assuming MLS can walk its multiple tightropes without falling into the lava pits that burned NASL, we’re going to have a product on the field that will be every bit as pleasant to watch as some of the highest-level leagues in the world.
In twenty years, or maybe fifteen, or maybe even ten, it could happen that the best, most interesting, most exciting MLS All-Star format may turn out to be some version of the original: Pitting MLS’s best against each other.
Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to come full circle?