Looking for some soccer this weekend? Look close to home!

Kalif always runs with jazz hands - Steve Dykes

Even with no Premier League, there's a lot going on this weekend, and many sports viewing options from which to choose. But might I suggest something you weren't expecting?

As we all know, there are a bunch of stupid internationals this weekend. I am not a fan of internationals, even tournaments, but that's a whole 'nother post. I know there's probably a few people out there like me, but even if you like internationals, there's a dearth of top flight soccer this weekend thanks to those games.

In the US, at least, it's a very busy sports weekend - it's the first weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, with something like 645 games in four days, starting Thursday; if you love college basketball, you're happy as hell right now and no amount of soccer will distract you from the tourney, nor should it.

If you like baseball, spring training is still going on, and teams are rounding into shape as we get to the end of spring; this weekend, there's a bunch of games on and I for one will be watching a few, because baseball.

I'm sure there's NASCAR this weekend, and there's probably also golf; the point is, there's a lot of sports on if you're wanting to fill the no-Premier-League void this weekend. But, I'm about to utter a sentence that five years ago, I would have not only not uttered, but would have mocked you for uttering:

Why not give MLS a shot?

MLS, unlike Europe, is playing this weekend. Not every team is in action, but there's seven games this Saturday, and one on Sunday. I know more people are watching MLS than ever before; stadiums are fuller (except if you're Chivas USA or New England), TV ratings are up, and general interest is higher than it has been. But there's still a healthy amount of skepticism about MLS among the soccer fans of the world who are used to watching top leagues in Europe and South America, and a lot of disdain for the product MLS puts on the field. I'm hoping to change your mind, and hoping that if you haven't already, you'll check out some MLS games this weekend.

MLS is, undoubtedly, an inferior league to what you're used to watching. But just because it's a less technically proficient league doesn't mean it's not a hell of a lot of fun to watch. MLS is a much more physical league than England; the refereeing isn't very good, so players have this tendency to want to see what they can get away with, which leads to some fairly...robust challenges and lots of aggressive play. This is mostly a good thing, but it can lead to some sloppy play as guys try to outmuscle instead of outplay. But even still, MLS isn't as horrible at playing soccer as it was 10 years ago - it's making quality-of-play progress every season and is probably about English Third Division or whatever they call it these days in quality.

As with any soccer league, there can be boring games and thrilling ones, but this weekend should have a few tasty matchups: You have Thierry Henry's New York Red Bulls, the Arsenal of MLS (but they've NEVER won a trophy!), taking on Montreal, who nobody expected much out of but have turned out to be the surprise of the season after three games, because of their ridiculously stout defense. On this coast, you have San Jose, home of the most dislikable player in MLS (Hi, Steven Lenhart!), taking on the Seattle Sounders, a team that I personally can't stand (I heard they strangle senior citizens and poison puppies!) but who as a neutral you should like.

The Sounders are ambitious, they're driven to succeed (three straight US Open Cup wins prior to last season, and a playoff regular), and they have Obafemi Martins and Djimi Traore, so they're Liverpool! But aside from that, they have several exciting players you've never heard of, like Steve Zakuani, one of the fastest players in MLS (who is just back as of late last season from being Shawcrossed), Eddie Johnson (although he's with the US team this weekend), and DeAndre Yedlin, who has ridiculous hair but is going to be a really talented player. I hate them.

MLS doesn't have the history of the world's major leagues, but it's slowly and quietly building its own - it has stopped trying to force rivalries and instead is letting them grow. Toronto sent almost 5,000 fans to Montreal for a Canadian derby last weekend, the Timbers always send 1000 or more fans up to Seattle for Cascadia Cup matches (and Seattle sends as many down here), and Colorado and Salt Lake are building a nice rivalry for themselves as well.

So, if you're not gorging on NCAA basketball this weekend, do yourself a favor - check out MLS. You might find something you like, even if the Timbers aren't playing.

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