Many of us have been there. A delayed flight turns a routine trip into a day-long headache. Maybe weather was the culprit, or maybe there was some sort of organizational incompetence at play. Either way, we cope by channeling anger and frustration into a seething tweet, at-ing the airline with the irrational hope that this expression of rage and injustice will somehow bring cosmic forces together and release us from Terminal C limbo.
Major League Soccer players, it turns out, are just like us.
But instead of taking to social media to torch Delta or United or any other behemoth that will hardly notice the complaints, their posts are subtweets directed at MLS commissioner Don Garber and league owners.
Wayne Rooney, one of the league’s two biggest Names-People-Who-Do-Not-Follow -MLS-Actually-Know, made his contribution last week.
“Looking forward to a 12 hour travel day which could be done in 6 but hey this is mls,” read a line in Rooney’s tweet.
That is some Eat Arby’s-level nihilism.
— Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) August 18, 2019
The diehards who engage in MLS Twitter may have noticed the uptick in this genre of tweets in 2019. It is no coincidence that players across the league have suddenly become so exasperated with difficult journeys to and from away games that they can no longer resist the urge to post. MLS players, to their chagrin, fly commercially instead of enjoying the convenience and comfort of private jets like other professional athletes in North America.
The MLS Players’ Association is hoping to change that by increasing the number of allotted charter flights in a new collective-bargaining agreement with the owners.
Representatives have talked up the subject of charter flights ad nauseum, but it is difficult to garner fan support and the leverage that comes with it when labor issues come across as dull and distracting compared to actual games. Think of men in suits talking into microphones on SportsCenter during the various work stoppages in North American sports leagues over the past 25 years: snooze-fest. Getting snippy in viral tweets, however, is a sacred pastime for today’s young adults. It is an effective way to break through and connect with fans.
3 games in a week, cap off the week with a great away result. Now sitting at airport, flight delayed 4 hours till 3pm. Good recovery and day off ☑️ #mlstravel
— Tim Parker (@Tim_Parker26) July 22, 2019
“Posts like these illustrate the distance this league still has to go to become a league of choice,” MLSPA director of player relations Ty Harden said in an email to Pro Soccer USA. “Travel is a very visible, tangible example of this, but the same holds true for the improved competition, increased fairness and continued investment necessary to move MLS forward. The players’ voices on all of these issues are a key part of creating that change.”
Michael Parkhurst is in his 17th season as a professional and his ninth in MLS. Parkhurst is well versed in the logistics of away days in this league. Even if there are no unexpected issues and the flight is direct (which is not a guarantee for teams based near smaller airports), a stateside team visiting one of the league’s three Canadian clubs comes with the hassle of going through customs with the rest of the flying public.
— Julian Gressel (@JulianGressel) June 25, 2019
“We’ve had travel struggles for a long time,” Parkhurst said after that game, a 3-2 loss to Toronto FC. “Every team, every guy that’s played in MLS for a while has got their own crazy story about travel, and now it’s just easier to share those things to social media. This year, it’s probably getting around a little more often.”
The trend gained steam in Parkhurst’s estimation after the Montreal Impact’s arduous trip to New England in April. The Impact were scheduled to fly into Boston on Tuesday, April 23, for a game the following day, but a series of delays resulted in the team arriving just a few hours before kickoff. MLS denied Montreal’s request to have the game postponed. The Impact defeated the Revolution 3-0 anyway, but that Revs team under doomed manager Brad Friedel was a shell of its current iteration.
Neither Harden nor Parkhurst confirmed the suggestion that this is an organized effort directed by the Players’ Association. Nevertheless, players assuredly will take to their smartphones as soon as the slightest travel-related annoyance emerges this season.
“Our players understand the power they have to spotlight issues that are important to them,” Harden said.
“It’s an issue,” Parkhurst confirmed, “and it’s one that we’re talking about and that needs to be improved.”
Should’ve flown out of Vancouver last night after early kickoff.
Instead, we wake up at 4:45 am, spend all day in airports (connect in Toronto) & on airplanes w/ no legroom cross country, and just finally landed back in Philly.
What a great recovery day. 🤦♂️#MLStravel pic.twitter.com/iiyU81wVf0
— Alejandro Bedoya (@AleBedoya17) April 28, 2019
It is difficult to assess exactly what kind of impact all this tweeting is making. Google Trends data for a variety of searches related to the issue is inconclusive at best and non-existent at worse — which is a symptom of a different, but related, problem for MLS, according to the players. The league still struggles to grasp the attention of American sports fans, even those who enjoy soccer. It lags far behind Liga MX and the English Premier League in television viewership.
For those soccer enthusiasts who also are MLS haters, a perceived lack of quality is the common reason why they hold their domestic league in contempt. MLS players argue better travel conditions would lead to an improved product on the field.
“I don’t think it’s looking for public sentiment,” Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan said when asked about #MLSTravel Twitter last week. “You look at the grand picture, it’s not good enough. It’s not about people feeling sorry. It’s not about, ‘Oh, poor us, poor us, poor us.’ We’re trying to progress this sport in this country. We’re trying to progress this league and make it a real league.”
— Spencer Richey (@spencerichey18) June 1, 2019
Whether all of these angsty tweets become catalysts for real results remains to be seen.
To make an impact, they need to break through the comparatively niche MLS media-sphere, grab mainstream coverage and cast the league’s travel reality in an embarrassing light.
In Rooney’s case at least, that appears to be a job done.