America's second wave have the scent of success

Major League Soccer has quickly established itself. Phil Shaw reports

While the cradle of football braces itself for Euro 96, the self- styled cradle of America that is New England stages its own mini-festival of "soccer" this weekend. The two matches, kicking off within 20 hours and 100 miles of each other, are likely to emphasise a peculiar dichotomy within a sport making its latest play for hearts and dollars in a land where gridiron is next to godliness.

Tonight, beneath the steep, imposing stands of Foxboro, Boston's out- of-town stadium, 25,000 spectators are expected to watch New England Revolution play Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer. The home team are coached by Ireland's Frank Stapleton (rechristened "Fred" in the club's first programme). Bobby Houghton, formerly of Bristol City, takes charge of the Rapids, who include the former England goalkeeper, Chris Woods.

In contrast, when a United States side featuring the Revolution's Alexi Lalas (he of the Catweazle goatee) face Scotland at Willowbrook Stadium, New Britain, tomorrow, the crowd for a game showcasing pounds 50m of talent is likely to be of Scottish First Division proportions. The non-competitive nature of the fixture - revealingly billed on posters as "USA men's national team v Scotland" - only partially explains the disparity.

Americans, for all their flag-waving, have a problem with international sport. Except on rare occasions, like the last World Cup or the legendary Olympic basketball victory over the Soviet Union, such confrontations do not engage the popular imagination. Yet label a contest as being between rival cities or states, and they will pay to watch two flies crawling up a wall.

Happily, and perhaps surprisingly, that argument is holding good for MLS. The first attempt to launch a successor to the North American Soccer League - which involved 24 teams at its peak and boasted Best, Pele, Beckenbauer and Cruyff before its debt-ridden demise in 1985 - the new set-up is exceeding most expectations as it approaches its second month.

Alan Rothenberg, the Midas man behind USA 94 and chairman of MLS, set the 10 teams a target average attendance of 12,000. So far the figure is 28,000, with Los Angeles Galaxy pulling a staggering 69,000 for the debut of Mexico's psychedelically garbed goalkeeper, Jorge Campos. Only the Denver-based Colorado franchise is having teething troubles.

The level of support, for a game often derided as an un-American activity best left to women, children and expats, has been all the more striking for the fact that MLS failed to launch on schedule last summer. Sceptics claimed it had wasted the chance to cash in on the interest created by the World Cup. Rothenberg countered that it was more important to be properly organised.

The major difference between MLS and the NASL lies in an ownership structure designed to avoid the old divisions between haves and have-nots. While individuals operate many of the new clubs, Rothenberg instituted a centralised control structure whereby national sponsorships, television fees and half of each team's ticket revenues flow into the coffers at MSL's Los Angeles headquarters.

Investors pay into a collective pot which was already stuffed with a $50m (pounds 33m) windfall from the World Cup. All backers are warned to be prepared to absorb losses in order to provide a financial cushion for a few years, a policy which flies in the face of free-market principles that are as American as pecan pie.

It is not that Rothenberg has undergone a conversion to communism; simply that he was determined to avoid the inequities that caused the NASL to implode. In those days, well-heeled clubs like the New York Cosmos monopolised the big names. So he introduced a system under which players sign contracts with the league, who then allocate them to the clubs. He also set a salary cap. Top players now take home $175,000 (pounds 115,000), novices $24,000.

If a franchise wants to go above the limit, as happened when Milan's Roberto Donadoni joined Eddie Firmani's New York/New Jersey MetroStars, the finance must come from special sponsorship deals. Otherwise each club is allowed a mere $1.35m from which to pay a playing staff of 18.

Ticket prices have been pegged below those of gridiron, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. Dallas Burn, for example, offer a package of four seats for $29 (pounds 20), aimed at families. The Texan club's efforts to woo the Hispanic population are also typical of MSL marketing strategy.

Club rosters have a less European look than in the 1970s. Most of America's first real indigenous stars, the likes of Lalas, John Harkes and Cobi Jones, are involved, but the main attractions tend to be Latins such as Campos, Carlos Valderrama, Hugo Sanchez and Marco Etcheverry.

Visitors from the United Kingdom will, nevertheless, find a few familiar faces. Mo Johnston, who would have been with the Scotland squad a few years ago, is somewhere over the rainbow with Kansas City Wiz, while USA Today carried a story this week that will be familiar to followers of Blackburn, Coventry and others.

It seems the injury-ravaged Roy Wegerle is making another comeback from a career-threatening knee injury for Colorado tonight. Even in this exciting new era for US soccer, as they will insist on calling it, some things do not change.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
life
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn