Every time a European team comes over to the United States, the players are asked about the growth of Major League Soccer and the sport in this country.
Occasionally a player will say something interesting, which is why these types of stories continue.
On Tuesday, a day before the Bayern Munich-AC Milan preseason game at Soldier Field, Xabi Alonso and Holger Badstuber of Bayern and Riccardo Montolivo and Gianluigi Donnarumma of Milan took part in a panel to discuss American soccer and the development of technology in the sport.
All four players talked about how the sport is growing in the U.S. and that they hear MLS is improving, but Alonso had a slightly more in-depth perspective thanks for a former teammate.
“I recently spoke with Stevie Gerrard (of the LA Galaxy),” Alonso began. “Maybe people tend to think the level is not as high, but he really thinks that it’s very demanding. The players are really strong.”
As much as having players like Gerrard, who is 36 years old, in the league feeds into the “retirement league” stigma that MLS continues to wear around its neck, other players around the world will listen to his opinion of the league. Alonso played with Gerrard at Liverpool from 2004-2009 and hearing Gerrard say the league is quality will increase the chances of more well-known players joining MLS. As much as the retirement league stigma can be a negative, Gerrard speaking praise about the league to other players can possibly offset that stigma.
The second part of Alonso’s quote is not as positive about MLS.
“Of course what is different is the system of the competition,” Alonso continued. “Sometimes they lose a game and it doesn’t really have that impact, but for sure it’s becoming more popular for European players, for worldwide players to come to the States to play. That’s great news I think.”
The fact that MLS has playoffs to determine its most prestigious trophy is foreign to, well, foreigners. Leagues all around the world give the league title to the equivalent of the regular season winner and have cup competitions, both domestic and continental, to create playoff-type drama. On top of that 60 percent of MLS teams make the playoffs, which devalues the regular season. Apparently, this hasn’t gone unnoticed in other parts of the world.
While players like Alonso and Montolivo have become more familiar to American soccer fans because of the increased access to games in recent years, that goes both ways. Not only are the Premier League, Bundesliga and Serie A being shown in the U.S., but MLS is being shown in Europe.
“They are on German television, some games you can watch there,” Badstuber said. “I think it’s good. I think that old players from Germany are going to go to the States, too, after their career in Germany because it’s a different culture, it’s a new life and they can learn a lot. This is a fact that players want to go to the States.”
The players are also aware it’s not just older players that have come over. Montolivo brought up Sebastian Giovinco, the 2015 MLS MVP who Montolivo has played with on the Italian National Team.
“Major League Soccer is definitely improving in trying to bring players not at the end of their careers, when at full strength,” Montolivo said through a translator. “For example, Giovinco came at 27 and he came to win.”
These players were at a promotional event so they weren’t about to trash MLS and make enemies of American soccer fans. Still, there was more substance to these quotes than you probably would have seen maybe five or seven years ago. Perception is reality and the perception of MLS does seem to be improving abroad.
CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26. You can view Edgy Tim's other football previews here.
School: St. Viator
Head coach: Dave Archibald
Assistant Coaches: OL Jackson King, RB Al Panzeca, WR Casey Lynde, DC/DB Dan Fitzpatrick, LB Jason Churak, DL Kyle Jenkins, Def. Assistant Bob Lamick, K-Fr. Dan Hall, DFO Mr. Mike Tubridy
How they fared in 2015: 1-8 (0-7) East Suburban Catholic Conference. St. Viator failed to qualify for the 2015 IHSA state playoff field.
Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Lions get back to their winning ways this season?
Names to watch this season: TE Cole Kmet, LB Austin Ruetschke
Biggest holes to fill: The Lions have just four starters back on defense this fall including just one starter on the defensive line in senior Anthony Barcal.
EDGY's Early Take: New head coach Dave Archibald comes to St. Viator from Wisconsin Lutheran and can hopefully bring some new life into the Lions after struggling last season. St. Viator has experience in the offensive skills and that group be asked to produce early and often this season.
As the Bears check into Bourbonnais, they'll certainly face their own health, roster, and depth chart challenges between now and the Sept. 11 opener in Houston. In fact, they've already been confronted with a thinning of veteran depth on the offensive line, with the retirements of Manny Ramirez and Nate Chandler. Keeping what they still have in good health will be key over the next six weeks. The last thing they want to face is the pre-Week 1 juggling they were forced into a year ago, when the main camp drama concerned Kevin White's health.
Since late last week, three of the Bears' first four opponents have been either forced to, or have chosen to, adapt on the fly before they were even settled into their dorms.
The big one, of course, involves that first foe, the Texans. As much as we probably shouldn't put anything past J.J. Watt that's physical in nature, it's hard to believe he'll be ready for the Bears after back surgery last week. And even if he somehow is, they'll likely catch a break in that he won't be in three-time Defensive Player of the Year shape.
On a lesser scale, when the Bears travel back to Texas two weeks later to take on the Cowboys, Rod Marinelli won't have last year's second-round pick Randy Gregory at his disposal after the former Nebraska standout entered a substance abuse rehab facility today and will be slapped with a 10-game suspension. Granted, Gregory didn't do much last year as a rookie and was going to miss that game anyway due to a previous violation. But his latest incident puts him on that same waiting list fellow linebacker Rolando McClain is on, and promising third-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will be three-quarters of the way through a season-opening suspension of his own. Poor Rod.
Finally, the first division rival the Bears will see in week four, Detroit, added some skill, toughness, talent, and, yes, "experience" to its offense by reaching terms with free agent Anquan Boldin Tuesday. No, he and Marvin Jones don't make up for Calvin Johnson's retirement, but Boldin is 12th all-time in receptions (1,009) and 17th in career receiving yardage (13,195). He makes the Lions better and more dangerous than they were when the week began.
Join Chris Wednesday at 2 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet when we bring you live coverage of the opening training camp press conference in Bourbonnais of General Manager Ryan Pace and Head Coach John Fox. You'll also hear from quarterback Jay Cutler as the team checks into Olivet Nazarene University ahead of Thursday morning's opening practice.