Avi Creditor: Blatter was out of touch, out of line in disparaging MLS

The FIFA president blasted MLS for not having a strong enough foothold in the United States in a recent interview, and his comments demonstrate a lack of comprehension.
In many ways, FIFA president Sepp Blatter is a walking contradiction.

As recently as Monday at the Ballon d'Or gala in Zurich, Blatter yielded his latest material, praising AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng for his courage to walk off the field amid racist fan chants just days after he said that Boateng's course of action was the wrong one to take.

In November 2011, Blatter blindly claimed to CNN that "there is no racism" in soccer, only to see the following year be riddled with controversial, racism-sparked episodes that continue to mar The Beautiful Game.

He claims to be attempting to rid the game of corruption, but he oversees an organization that is oftentimes synonymous with it. He expresses his desire to grow the women's game across the world, then belittles the gender and maintains his male chauvinistic ways. Last January, he equated the International Olympic Committee to a "housewife" because "she receives some money, and she spends some money." Seven years earlier, he suggested that female players should wear tighter shorts.

So who knows what Blatter really intended to say when he slammed Major League Soccer last week for failing to live up to its promise and potential as a mainstream sport in 18 years as America's top-flight league. Unfortunately, because he happens to be the head of world soccer's governing body, it matters.

"The problem in the United States, it's a little bit different," Blatter told Al Jazeera TV. "Don't forget that soccer, as they call football there, is the most popular game in the youth. it's not American football or baseball, it is soccer. But there is no very strong professional league. They have just the MLS, but they have not these professional leagues which are recognized by the American society.

"It is a question of time. I thought when they had the World Cup in 1994 ... but now we are in 2012, it's now 18 years. So it should have been done now. But they are still struggling."

There are a number of more clinical terms in the DSM-IV that could likely more accurately describe Blatter, but based on his most recent critical comments, three words come to mind: Ignorant, misinformed and naive.


What exactly "should have been done by now?" Who is "still struggling?" If Blatter hasn't noticed the immense growth of MLS in 18 years, then he just simply is not watching or paying attention. No, MLS is not on par with the the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga or Serie A from a stature and quality standpoint, but was any rational being truly expecting that to be the case in 2013?

MLS is a continued work-in-progress, as any league in its relative infancy compared to its competition would be. But it is on steady ground. It continues to grow in all aspects, with record attendance numbers being raised annually, big-time atmospheres being cultivated in places like Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Kansas City and worldwide respect growing by the year.

If there are any aspects of American soccer that lend credence to Blatter's blabbering, it is the need for a more reliable way of developing the abundance of youth players into better-equipped professionals and a way to improve on the putrid television ratings that MLS continues to churn out.

Even when the league had a marketing tool like David Beckham, it could not seem to outdraw some isolated sporting events that should not be considered competition. The fact that the MLS Cup final has frequently gone up against primetime NFL games or major college football conference championship games during its time-slot is a legitimate issue, and the television numbers very much remain a concern.

What Blatter likely is not taking into consideration in his rash judgment, though, is the fact that of any mainstream sport in America, soccer has the greatest room for growth and continues to be on an upward trajectory. The NFL -- and football in general -- is what it is: An absolute monster that reigns, and will continue to reign supreme. Baseball and basketball have generations upon generations of fans, rich histories and unrelenting foundations but don't really have any greater levels left to reach. Hockey has its captive audience, but it continues to alienate itself to prospective fans with work stoppages.

In America, like anywhere in the world, sports need histories, legends and traditions to lean on before reaching their full potential. Even though 17 seasons might sound like an exhaustive amount of time to Blatter, it really is not in the grand scheme of things, and MLS is still in its process of creating its story and evolving before moving onto more and more chapters.

If Blatter needs any evidence of the ability for soccer to make a difference and resonate in mainstream America, he needs to look no further than Monday's Soccer Night in Newtown event. In a grand act of giving, more than 40 MLS and U.S. Soccer players from past and present met with, played with and signed autographs for the children and families of Newtown, Conn. -- a town that suffered one of the most tragic events in this country's history with the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.

If Blatter wants to see what the league has to offer on the field and in the stadium first-hand, then he should take MLS commissioner Don Garber up on his invitation to come to an MLS First Kick match in March. Maybe then Blatter will be able to see things as they truly are for himself and backtrack again for his next contradiction.