“The miracle is stability.”
I am of the opinion that American soccer changed forever with Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria at the 2010 World Cup. It’s hard to quantify the real impact of a goal like that, but the sport has been on a much bigger stage since. That World Cup final set a record as the most watched soccer match in U.S. history. A few months later, ESPN broadcast the Premier League for the first time. And MLS attendances and revenues have grown in the years since.
Beau Dure’s book Long Range Goals: the Success Story of Major League Soccer comes from a pre-Donovan world, published in early 2010. This is not a criticism; every book is written in a pre-something era. But as a result, some bits sound just a bit funny. Here in 2014, MLS is a league where the potential for growth feels massive, if not immediate. When this book was written, it had yet to top the attendance figures of its inaugural season. It’s a testament both to how much can change in four years, and to how closely-removed MLS is from an era when its very stability was a “miracle.”
If, you, like me, do not remember where this league began in the late 90s or early 2000s, Long Range Goals is a sobering, valuable read. It is shocking to think of how far the league has come from the early years, described in detail by Dure, when just a few owners held all the teams and a lawsuit threatened its existence. In some ways those early years are the crux here; the struggle between the league (and in the league) and the forces against it are more readable and interesting than the political stadium wrangling that marked much of the 2000s.
Dure has done a lot of work here. Much of the information in the book comes from interviews conducted in 2008, with seemingly every major figure in the league’s history to that point. The leagues two commissioners, Doug Logan and Don Garber, are naturally recurring voices, but so are lesser figures like Bruce Arena and Alexi Lalas. Freddy Adu has a large presence in this book, and some of the comments on his potential now feel very dated.
Each chapter of the book more or less correlates to a year or two in the league’s history, but in the last Dure mostly steps away and allows his interviewees to opine on the state and future of the league. Some of these opinions are now dated, but that makes the book all the more valuable as a time capsule. One aspect is timeless: the importance for the league to have stadiums of its own. In building stadiums for teams across the country, Major League Soccer has “set down roots” in a way none of its predecessors (Dure only really discusses the NASL, and not particularly much) ever did. In doing so, the league has ensured its vitality for years to come.