Saturday 17 February 2018

No curbing their enthusiasm for doing it the American way

The Chevrolet promotions man is trying to muster a crowd. "Are the LA Galaxy fans the biggest party animals around?" He asks the question sensing that now is not the time to look around. "Or are they," he ploughs on, perhaps unwisely, "sensible and middle-aged?"

Unfortunately for the Chevrolet man, right now the party is going down at the Herbalife stand where people are taking it in turns to chant the name of a company that produces nutritional drinks and supplements. They are cheering Herbalife with all they've got, they love the nutritional glory of their drinks and supplements. The Chevy man is struggling.

"Are LA Galaxy fans the biggest party animals in town?" he asks again. He is splendidly amplified as you'd expect from a man who has turned up at the Home Depot Center with several of Chevrolet's finest cars which he is encouraging us to sit in. Right now with everyone cheering on Herbalife, he's talking to a crowd of one. His crowd is a middle-aged man carrying a four-foot Galaxy banner.

This man is sure that Galaxy fans are party animals but he's wearing maroon shorts, a top that clashes with his maroon shorts and he has passed the point where he can be described as balding. He nods when he's asked if Galaxy fans are party animals but then he walks away. It's best for everyone. The Chevrolet man needs somebody else to match his enthusiasm.

It is easy to mock US enthusiasm especially when it clashes with the established traditional values of football.

In America, they anticipated the reaction to Robbie Keane's arrival and they were already prepared to defend themselves. When I mentioned at half-time in the Galaxy's game against San Jose Earthquakes that I didn't think San Jose were much good, they were defended and my criticism was modified. Their defence wasn't much good.

Alexi Lalas says the standard of MLS is mid-to-low Premier League level but others would concede it is closer to the same point in the Championship. Yet this is progress for a league that has established a model for competitiveness that few in Europe can match.

They also can't match the European league for spending money but the defenders will argue that they also can't compete for debt.

Both Landon Donovan and Clive Toye, the general manager of the New York Cosmos when there really was a New York Cosmos, made the point last week that MLS might not be able to compete with the Premier League anytime soon but an English club could go bust any day now too.

Before Keane's debut, I talked to a few fans and they all had as much enthusiasm for the English league as they did for MLS.

It has gone beyond the point where it needs even to be stated that the US are no longer enthusiastic amateurs, lacking in knowledge about the game. One man, whose daughter was taking part in one of the many coaching clinics the Galaxy run, had 'Tivoed' Arsenal-Liverpool that morning and confessed to caring more about Liverpool's win than what would happen with the Galaxy. It sounded very familiar.

Another was wearing a Dublin jersey but knew nothing about GAA -- his parents had brought it back from a trip to Ireland. Twitter has revealed that some of the finest writers about the game live in America. In the Galaxy press box on Thursday evening, everyone was up to date on Shamrock Rovers' victory.

Keane's arrival captured their imagination because this was getting closer to what they wanted.

The next step, as all acknowledged, was a player truly in his prime, a player in his 20s. Tom Payne, the Galaxy's president, said they had been close with a few players in this category but strangely these had been the players whose commitment was questioned.

To show up and not care is to openly mock their enthusiasm. The US may now be to China what we are to Germany -- but they still have a belief that they can get things done.

Their enthusiasm for everything, including their enthusiasm for medication should be enjoyed. My favourite TV ads while I was there were, of course, the ads for medicines, some of which included stated side effects of staggering proportions such as "suicidal thoughts and actions".

Or the alternative to Viagra which warned that if an erection lasted for more than four hours you should seek medical advice to prevent injury. Injury to whom wasn't made clear but I then remembered the story of the Premier League footballer who couldn't go out for training one morning because the effects of Viagra hadn't worn off from the night before. This now explains a lot.

California, with 12 per cent unemployment and a property crash, might be a little bit more familiar to Robbie than he expects, despite the opulence and the differences that are everywhere.

The temperature topped 100 degrees for much of last week but every morning the coffee shop near my hotel switched on its propane heaters in case anyone outside might be feeling the chill before the temperatures peaked.

People were falling in the heat all the time. One morning a man collapsed outside the coffee shop. A woman announced to her friend that she was "sending him good energy. That's what he needs right now". He also needed an ambulance.

America has always accommodated the romantic alongside the hard-headed. At times, they have found romance in being hard-headed. MLS is driven by the knowledge that a league in a country of 300 million people can bring great riches.

"The American Way is to win and be the best," Bruce Arena told me. "But when you play a global sport like football it doesn't happen that quickly. We need to have some patience. How many World Cups has Ireland won? Our people think we should have won one already."

I don't think they'll settle for being the best party animals in the world for long.

Sunday Indo Sport

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