Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Major Leaguer

When TigerBlog was in Seattle recently, he considered going to see the local MLS team, the Sounders, on a Sunday night.

He actually did go to see the Mariners play the Twins at Safeco Field, which itself was quite an experience. Felix Hernandez toyed with the Twins for eight innings, and never before could TigerBlog remember a 1-0 lead that looked so insurmountable. Until the Twins scratched out a run off King Felix in the ninth, making it a 1-1 game, forcing extra innings. The game would go 13 innings until the Twins would win.

TB made it through 11 innings. He would have stayed for the duration, but he was part of a group of 32 people, about half of whom were still left at that point. When everyone else decided to pack it in, TB figured he'd go along for the ride.

Or, more precisely, walk.

The walk from Safeco Field to the Hotel Monaco is a little more than two miles. Actually, it didn't really seem to matter where anyone leaving the stadium was going. It seemed like everyone walked.

Oh, and the walk to the hotel was mostly straight uphill, at least going from 1st Ave. to 4th Ave. Still, it was a nice walk.

Safeco Field is a very friendly, welcoming place. It has a great videoboard, a lot of good concession choices, easy sight lines, comfortable seats and a fanbase that is so loyal to its teams that it cheered wildly when former SuperSonic Gary Payton threw out the first pitch.

It was a perfect baseball night, too. Seattle may get rain 10 months a year, but the two it doesn't offer about the best weather on the planet.

And how many went to Safeco on this night? How about 23,162.

The baseball stadium is right next to Century Link Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and the Sounders. Two nights after the Mariners drew 23,162 for as good a pitcher as there is in baseball right now, the Sounders drew 38,463 for a game against Chivas USA, the worst team in MLS.

And this was before the Sounders signed Clint Dempsey, whose first home game, Sunday the 25th against the Portland Timbers, is expected to draw more than 70,000.

Major League Soccer is in a really good place right now. The league long ago achieved stability and now has gone beyond that. New, soccer-only stadiums are the norm (unlike in Seattle, where the team plays in a giant NFL stadium) and more teams and stadiums are on the way.

The league came along at the perfect time, when soccer in Europe was able to come to this country through TV and the internet and brought with it an overall rise in the interest in the sport in this country.

Today, soccer is everywhere in the U.S., and not because every little kid plays the sport. That was always the logic, right? So many kids played soccer in this country that eventually they would grow up and be adult soccer fans.

That's not exactly how it worked.

What happened was that soccer did what the NBA did. It built its sport and its appeal around its top stars, and everything trickled from there. And because those stars are international, it needed the media explosion of the last 10-15 years to make it happen.

Go to any Princeton soccer game this year, women's or men's, and you'll see kids and adults wearing Messi jerseys or Ronaldo jerseys or any number of others.

You'll also see someone who knows all about the success of MLS, maybe more than anyone else.

Jesse Marsch graduated from Princeton in 1996 after a great career with the Tigers. His 16 goals his senior year are the second-most ever in program history and the most in the last 43 years by a Princeton player, and he was a 1995 first-team All-America.

After that, it was on to MLS, back in the first year of the new league. In all he would play in 321 MLS games, scoring 31 goals with 40 assists. When he retired in 2010, he was one of just four players remaining from the league's first season.

Marsch began his coaching career as an assistant coach with the U.S. men's national team under his college coach Bob Bradley. He was with the U.S. team for, among other events, the most recent World Cup.

After that, when Bradley became the head coach of the Egyptian team, Marsch became the head coach of the MLS expansion franchise in Montreal.

And now?

Well, first there was the matter of a little time off and some traveling, and by "some" TB means "a whole lot."

Yesterday TB ran into Jim Barlow, the Princeton men's head coach, and Marsch, his new assistant.

It's amazing how much huge, international, major soccer coaching experience Marsch has, and now he's on Barlow's staff for the 2013 season.

It takes someone who is able to park his ego outside, because going from coaching internationally at the World Cup and as a head coach in MLS to anything in the American college soccer world can't be easy.
Marsch, by all appearances, is the perfect man for something like this.

The head coach and his new assistant were both quoted in the story on goprincetontigers.com announcing Marsh's new role. Both are telling.

Barlow spoke about Marsch's experience as a student-athlete at Princeton and how much he has to offer the new generation.

Marsch spoke of giving back to the University and continuing to learn about the game.

TB has always thought it would be great for Bradley to come to Princeton one day as an assistant coach, and bring with him the benefit of his career back to this campus.

Now, with Jesse Marsch on the coaching staff, Princeton men's soccer has the next best thing.

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