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The Case of Summer Friendlies

D.C. United's opponent for their summer friendly.
D.C. United's opponent for their summer friendly.

Summer friendlies in MLS are a strange thing. They seem a throwback to American sports in the 1920s, when exhibitions of all shapes and sizes were in vogue. Barnstorming tours crisscrossed the country, bringing daredevil airshows to the masses. Traveling performances, like horses jumping off of diving boards, where also popular. Sure, part of this was due to the fact that there was nothing else to do back then, but traveling shows were a key part of the American experience.

Out of the major American sports, soccer is currently the only one that has an exhibition season against teams from other leagues. MLS has long promoted these matches as a way to grow the game in the States, and they are also good money makers for MLS and SUM (which isn't a bad thing in of itself). There are issues such as the fact that other countries don't have the same level of high quality opponents that there are in soccer, but I can't help think that there's something more.

Consider D.C. United's summer friendly saga this summer: Juventus originally signs up for an American tour, pulls out leaving numerous cities up a creek, but United is able to get Paris Saint-Germain in at the last minute to fill in. Its reasonable to think that teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Mexico can bring in the big bucks for summer friendlies. But what good does a team like PSG, which is good to great but not world renowned, do for United this summer? Our good friend, the Gofffather, predicts that United will sell 16,000 tickets for this match; a good number to be sure, but not much different than a regular MLS match.

I have no problem with the big matches, like the All-Star game or the top teams in the world playing friendlies in the summer. However, I would rather my team focus on anything else than play teams like Stoke City, Montpellier, Swansea City, PSG, and Lyon. If we really wanted to build soccer in the United States, what about a barnstorming tour of MLS teams against lower level teams? Might that bring out more excitement about American soccer? Probably not, but I think we have moved past the traditional summer friendly.