For so long, it was the ‘Big 4′ in pro sports in the U.S.: baseball, hockey, football and basketball. But soccer’s uptick over the last few years can’t be ignored. MLS has become respected and sought after by sports fans across the country.
MLS is kind of like the NHL in that very little about it is discussed on the top sports talk media shows, but attendance is proving that it is deserving of the ‘Big 5′ label with the others, the NBA, MLB, and the NFL.
Only seven metro areas in the U.S. can boast of having a team in every league of the ‘Big 5.’ Of these seven metro areas, which cities can say they have the best overall performance?
The Top Two
New York City teams generally do well, some better than others. The Giants and Yankees are the cream of the crop of teams.
The Mets, Nets and Jets all rhyme together and play tease at the same time.
The Mets have a couple of World Series titles from years back. Now, they are a tough sell.
Fans are weary of the commitment from ownership. Even with a new stadium, the Yankees easily outclass them. Blame it on Jeter. It’s his town.
The Nets are going to Brooklyn after surviving Jersey with good times and bad. The Nets have been to the NBA Finals more recently than the Knicks, but Madison Square Garden is a hard place to beat. It is at the center of town and gobbles up all the attention, extending itself to include the Rangers, who are trying to add to the NYC allure this season.
The Jets brought in Tebow, but until they win a Super Bowl, the Giants are going to steal the limelight. It’s Eli vs. Rex and Rex is starting to wear out his welcome. Big things are expected this season from the Jets and anything less than big will mean tough times lie ahead for them.
Thierry Henry is playing his best Soccer, leading MLS in scoring this season. Can he lead his team to a championship? He is the face of Soccer in the Big Apple and he knows the pressure’s on. The Red Bulls desperately need to reestablish themselves as the league’s best and prove to their fans that their great stadium is well worth playing in as the home team.
New York City Grade: A-
Boston has had the best overall performance over recent years. This is hard to ignore.
The Patriots look to continue their dominance this upcoming season, and why not? They picked up some defensive presence in the NFL Draft and some of their rivals don’t seem to be able to keep up. The Patriots are a perennial contender for a Super Bowl appearance.
The Red Sox have faded in reputation over the last couple of years, but the World Series titles can’t be taken away from Big Papi and others. It’s still early in the MLB season, so they can’t be counted out, yet.
The Celts are still in the hunt, and with Bulls’ hopes fading they are most likely candidate to challenge the Heat. They’re in the playoffs again with the same cast of characters and they can’t be taken for granted. Rondo can turn on the jets, Allen can rise up, Pierce and Garnett can shake n’ bake.
The Bruins are out this year, but got on the bandwagon last year. They kept Boston on top by winning the Stanley Cup over the Vancouver Canucks in a fantastic series last season.
The Revolution of MLS are the weakest link, down in the standings and playing in what fans consider the worst stadium. A new stadium proposal is out there and could turn the tide completely.
For now, they are not playing like their city counterparts, but it is still early in soccer season, too. They have one U.S. Open Cup win 15 years back, but still no MLS Cups yet. Is this the Boston area’s next pro sports winner?
Boston Grade: A-
The Next Three
Chicago has shown some grit in recent years, getting championships from teams without them in a long time. The White Sox and Blackhawks both came through.
Two baseball teams makes the chances a little better than having only one team. At least blaming Steve Bartman seems to finally be over and done with. The Cubs are are annually one of MLB’s most compelling stories when they are competitive, and they will continue to be until the century of futility comes to an end.
The Bears are not doormats, but they are not dominant either. Jay Cutler at QB is a tough sell sometimes, but fans have to believe in something, so they are willing to give him one more season. Unless it is a stellar year, rumblings will begin to replace him.
The Blackhawks are out this year and the Bulls are highly unlikely to be serious contenders without Rose, but at least they both look to contend for next season.
The White Sox are coming off a disappointing season, so expectations are not high. Getting to the playoffs would be a huge surprise.
The Fire have been to the top of MLS once before, but it has been a while. They have had much better success with the U.S. Open Cup, winning it four times. Fans are up and down with this team. Attendance is up and down too, year to year.
Chicago Grade: B+
Philly is pretty good in most pro sports right now. They are strongest in baseball, boasting arguably MLB’s best pitching rotation. They won a World Series title a couple seasons back and are a threat annually, which few teams can say.
Their hockey team is poised for a run. They enter the second round of the NHL playoffs as the higher seed. The Flyers are overdue for a Stanley Cup title and this is putting it mildly. This year is one of their best chances.
The Sixers made the playoffs as the last seed and worst overall playoff team, but they get a chance to show any mettle by battling the Bulls without Derrick Rose. How will they do; will they push them, or not? A lot is riding on this series because expectations for next season are already being mulled over by the press. Depending on how they finish, they’ll be going out with a whimper or they stay in the news.
The Eagles get another shot with Michael Vick. Both are looking for redemption and the nation has their back. Michael Vick and Andy Reid are the types to root for, but they always seem to come up short. Will they rally this year or give fans more reason to give them the boot?
Not much to say so far about the MLS Union. As the 5th team, they are getting good numbers at the gate, but when the novelty wears off, what then? Just like anything else, they must win.
Philly Grade: B+
Dallas is red hot in a couple of sports, dominating MLB right now and coming off a recent NBA championship. Even losing to the Thunder this year won’t dampen the breakthrough the Mavs had one season ago.
It was a ho-hum NHL year; the Stars won more than they lost, but didn’t make the playoffs.
The same ho-hum can be said for FC Dallas, who made an MLS Cup Final in 2010 but haven’t done much of anything else since they took over from the Dallas Burn in 2005.
They currently sit at mid-level of their division, typical for them. Brek Shea continues to be the best reason to watch; he is a U.S. national team player who drives, dribbles, and dishes with lefty zeal and surprising lefty moves. Fans have been fickle by not supporting the team at the gate like other MLS teams are getting.
The Cowboys got their supposed blanket cornerback in this year’s draft and are feeling some mo, but the window is closing for another mo: Romo. They must find a way to surround him with loads of talent or it will be groundhog season once again. Playing in what many consider the NFL’s toughest division has made a Super Bowl re-appearance challenging to Cowboy brass and frustrating for fans.
Dallas Grade: B+
The Best of the Rest
Denver has been average in most of their pro sports, lately.
The Broncos are feeling like they are back in the mix with Peyton Manning and being in one of the NFL’s weakest divisions. The days of John Elway are long gone, yet the team’s best new memories are with a QB who has moved on, Tim Tebow. Can Manning take the Broncos further than Tebow took them?
The Rockies have knocked on the door a few times since coming into MLB. Todd Helton is still their guy and Coors Field still has an allure. The fans are there, the extra wild-card will help, but in order to get the sports world’s attention they will have to win a World Series.
Playoffs are only so convincing, just ask the Nuggets.
The Nuggets have been around a few decades and have failed to push through to an NBA Finals. They’re in the playoffs again this year, but not expected to do much. They have some of the pieces of the puzzle, but lack a superstar stud player to get them over the hump. Melo is gone and he was the biggest one they ever had.
The Avalanche of the NHL have a couple of titles, just like the Broncos, but just like the Broncos, they aren’t knocking on any serious doors of late. They have a good fan base too and can contend most years. This season saw an above .500 team, but no playoffs.
The Rapids of MLS came through big a couple seasons back to upset the league with an MLS Cup title. Fans have remained unpredictable with the team, though, bringing some big crowds and other medium-sized ones. The years are up and down at the gate. Overall, the Rapids are a steady presence, not always winning much, but worthy of a surprise or two for sports fans.
Denver Grade: B
Washington, D.C. may be the most interesting of the bunch. They only recently became a five-team town.
The Nationals joined most in the not-too-distant past and have experienced very little success so far. But in some ways they carry the most hope for the future. They finally have their two young guns on the field together for the first time, Steven Strasburg and Bryce Harper. At least they are creating a buzz.
D.C. United, the Green Bay Packers of MLS, who won early titles and have carried a winning reputation for many consecutive years, may be seeing a renaissance this season, finally stringing together two home wins in a row for the first time in a long time. They are playing well and in second place in their division.
The Capitals are in the second round of the NHL playoffs and hoping this season is finally the one that gives Alex Ovechkin and fans the championship that has eluded them since their inception.
The Redskins are now officially in the RGIII era and they are on a high because the season hasn’t started and reality hasn’t struck. His star is still shining. He’s a great kid, but many pundits feel he is unproven and not of the kind of stock to stop a streak of disappointing seasons.
The Wizards are going to the lottery. Unfortunately, this sounds good for them. No team wants to be in the lottery, but for the Wizards, it’s another shot at picking number one. The odds say they shouldn’t win, but that’s what makes the NBA lottery so much fun for the D.C. community.
Washington D.C. Grade: C
Do you agree or disagree with any of the rankings? And which of these seven cities do you think is #1? Chime in below.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com