New England Soccer Today

A Universe Apart

Fifteen years ago, Major League Soccer opened for business with ten teams – two of which happened to be the same Los Angeles Galaxy and the New England Revolution that square off Sunday night in Carson, CA. And while both have survived shootouts, contraction, and corporate rebrands since the birth of the league in 1996, their current caches could not be more different.

Since those heady days of multi-colored kits and playing the occasional match at the Rose Bowl, the Galaxy have grown up to become the model MLS franchise it is today. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that owner/investor Phil Anschutz has more money than most third-world countries’ GDPs. And, of course, it there are few drawbacks to playing within a region that has wonderful balance of passion and celebrity ritz exist.

But to invest for the longterm, Anschutz, who many will tell you single-handedly saved the league in 2001 after Tampa Bay and Miami were contracted, either spearheaded or aligned himself with many of the league’s forward-thinking initiatives.

In 2003, the Galaxy boasted the finest home park in the league when they kicked off their season at The Home Depot Center. Although they weren’t the first club to call a soccer- spec stadium home (Columbus was the first in 1999), they certainly re-defined what an MLS stadium should be.

Meanwhile, 3,000 miles to the east, the New England Revolution had a relatively new stadium of their own as well. Kind of. Gillette Stadium, for all its state-of-the-art, fan-friendly leanings, was clearly built for its NFL tenants, the New England Patriots. Maybe one day the Revs could fill all 68,000 seats. But, that day still hasn’t arrived.

Three years later, the league introduced its Designated Player rule, which allowed any club to spend beyond the league-imposed salary cap to acquire one marquee star. Many cite Anschutz as spearheading this bold initiative in order to acquire the services of David Beckham, who signed on the dotted line weeks after the rule was put in place.

Over in Revolutionland, the only thing supporters could do is salivate at the idea of their club signing a big name of their own as well. Ronaldo? Ronaldinho? Pauleta? The possibilities were endless. But, the idea of a Designated Player arriving in Foxboro remained just that – an idea.

Probably not by coincidence, the Galaxy became the first MLS club to sign a shirt  sponsor deal weeks after the Beckham signing. Why not, right? The world’s most popular players sporting a shirt with a corporate logo is the stuff of marketing majors dreams.

Two years later, the Krafts found shirt sponsors for their football team – albeit, American football team. In 2009, the Patriots became one of the first NFL teams to run drills and plays with a corporate logo tethered to their practice jerseys. The Revolution? Well, that graffitied wordmark remained emblazoned on their chest for another season.

Money makes the world go around. With each passing season, that axiom becomes truth in the once-spendthrift MLS. Fifteen years ago, no club could dream of signing internationally-renowned stars like Beckham, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, or Freddie Ljunberg. At least without drugs.

Today, however, those players are the reality. Although the league remains single-entity, a healthy competition exists amongst the owner/investors. They want to capitalize on the fact that soccer is growing at a rapid pace here in the states. Contrary to the cautious thinking of yesteryear, there is money to be made in soccer.

And that money comes from investing money in the sport. It takes money to make money. Anschutz, more than anybody, realizes this. Thanks to an expansion of the Designated Player rule, his club now has two three Designated Players, with Landon Donovan making a pretty penny. The Krafts must know this as well, but for reasons unknown, have declined to take action on the memo that this isn’t 1996 anymore.

The progress is further reaching than just the business side. Success behind the scenes doesn’t guarantee results on the pitch. However, it’s worth noting that since 2002, the Galaxy have won two MLS Cups. The Revolution? Zero.

Sunday’s match pits more than just a pair of MLS originals. It’s a pitting of polar opposites. The Galaxy were the first MLS club to boast a stadium, Designated Player, and shirt sponsor. As of today, the Revolution remain the only club in the league without at least one of the three.

Regardless of the result on the Home Depot Center pitch Sunday evening, the fact of the matter is that, in the grand scheme of things, the Galaxy will remain miles ahead of their original counterparts so long as the Revolution continue to live in another universe.


  1. Barrett Madden

    March 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Actually, the Galaxy have 3 DPs – Angel, Donovan, and Beckham.

  2. Brian O'Connell

    March 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

    You are correct, Barrett, Thanks for the heads up!

Leave a Reply