Written by: Will Rymer (@PopeWolfgang)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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This weekend marked a triumph for Major League Soccer simply by kicking off. An on time start to the season looked to be in serious jeopardy amidst collective bargaining talks. At times, it seemed highly unlikely that anything but negotiations that cut into the season was possible. Nevertheless, the season started and with more teams from more cities than fans have been accustomed to.
Perhaps the most scrutinized match-up was to be that between the two expansion teams. NYCFC, New York’s newest MLS team, had it's integrity called into question when it was made public that Frank Lampard would be staying with Manchester City for the duration of the Premier League season. It was initially reported that Lampard had been loaned to the England club, and the player would return to the states in time for opening weekend.
Lampard proved to be a key figure for Manchester City, and City insisted that he was under contract to have stayed there all along. While this was certainly a controversy, bigger headlines have replaced it. Namely, the unlikely start to an MLS season that promises to be one of best ones yet.
The game between NYCFC and Orlando City SC was played in front of a sold out crowd in the Sunshine state. David Villa and Kaká took the field, treating everyone to two of the most talented players of their generation. Both have won world cups, something American soccer fans aren't accustomed to seeing.
The game looked to lack any real quality on the day until a brilliant curling effort from Mix Diskerud opened the game. In the end, the fans were treated to a Kaká equalizer in stoppage time. The game isn't what should garner attention, it's the atmosphere the fans provided from start to finish that needs to be noted.
For a team’s first outing, there was certainly support from the sellout crowd. Many were probably lured in by the big names, primarily Kaká and David Villa. Will the capacity number continue? Probably not. It’s much harder to pack a stadium to capacity during the heat of summer, which is when the majority of the MLS season runs, than a rather mild day that opens a club’s time in a new league.
The numbers will drop off, but the interest is certainly there. Every four years, most Americans get behind their country at the World Cup and show support for soccer even if they follow it at no other time. An outpouring of support such as this shows that Americans are very curious about what makes the game so popular.
However, the test that will show how dedicated these fans are will come in July. Attendance in the months of July and August will be indicative if the fans are here to stay. As for New York, they already passionately support one team, and the only question is if they will be able to support two. If soccer follows in every other sport’s footsteps, there will be little doubt.