What went wrong with the MLS Cup?

November, 24, 2010

As finales go, Sunday's MLS Cup final was an anti-climactic ending to what was an exciting 2010 MLS regular season and playoffs.

Here's what MLS got wrong:

1. Location: Staging the game in recent expansion cities is all well and good, but Toronto was a poor choice for a number of reasons. It was an awfully long way to travel for fans from almost any other MLS city. It was cold. It is a town enthralled by hockey -- and pretty much only hockey -- in the month of November. And, most importantly, it isn't the hometown of either participant. Staging the final in a neutral city is a quaint tradition that just doesn't work in MLS. It's hard enough to get fans to come to the stadium; don't make them spend many hundreds of dollars on travel to see their team in a final.

2. Fan experience: It will have escaped nobody that BMO Field was no more than 70 percent full for the bulk of the game, after dismayed Toronto fans allegedly protested their many grievances by walking out after kickoff or during halftime, depending on who you believe. It looked terrible. The lack of fans of the teams contesting the game was also glaring. Having been asked to travel either 1,225 miles from Dallas or 1,345 miles from Denver, few materialized. Worse still, those that did take the trouble were stowed away in bad seats -- in the upper deck on the outer corners of the end-line -- and on the same side, no less, giving them no chance to vocally go up against each other. That is, if there had been enough of them.

3. Timing: 9 p.m. ET on a Sunday night in November is not a smart time to hold a major final. The game is too late for children, the fans of the future, to watch. Plus, MLS had to compete with an NFL game. It's little surprise that in spite of being a hard-fought final, which offered up exciting, if qualitatively very poor soccer, the broadcast saw a 44 percent decline in television ratings from last year.

Commissioner Don Garber suggested before the game that this might be the last final at a neutral site, that the higher-seeded team might earn hosting honors in the future. That would be a most welcome development. So would a move to the middle of the work week, because let's not pretend this game is in any position to compete with Sunday Night Football or any other real prime time event.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.



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