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Clear & Obvious: To appeal more broadly to sports fans MLS needs a new jersey numbering system

Sam called me brilliant twice in the intro to this new thing and this article will show he needs to check his dictionary because what I think is that what sounds great in my head sounds worse written, but would be somehow also worse said out loud unless it was being spoken by Paul F. Tompkins and that’s never going to happen and for good reason

MLS: New England Revolution at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one thing that MLS excels at, it’s creating a profitable system by which owners maintain profits by squashing competition and restricting the labor market so that their employees can’t easily move within or outside of the league while also profiting off of the Women’s National Team (by controlling their marketing rights through it’s totally not corrupt arrangement with USSF) even though that team’s players aren’t paid what they’re worth. If there’s two things MLS excels at, it’s trying to compete with other big sports leagues in the USA while avoiding actually doing anything to create a soccer culture (Atlanta and LAFC notwithstanding, but overall the league does a bad job of this). Hence, we have the playoffs, Soccer Bowl MLS Cup, instant replay that’s poorly implemented, an All-Star Game, and had early attempts at attracting the average Denver Broncos fans to the Rapids by stopping the clock and making what’s good about soccer (that it isn’t football) more like football.

Well, there’s one thing the league hasn’t tried, updating the soccer numbering convention so that they align with other sports. I mean, are they even trying if they haven’t done this? Don’t waste your time with VAR - this is where the world needs to learn something from America. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken in an MLS game and someone asks, “hello good chap, I dare say, in this game of sock-keer I can’t seem to identify the shortened stop or batsman.” Well, I’m here to help.

Without further Freddy Adu, here’s the new standardized numbering system for MLS players.

Show this to anyone interested in baseball, football, basketball, rugby, bowling, and hockey and they’ll understand. Since you’re a soccer fan and have abandoned all other sports, it might not be that obvious, so here it goes:

44 - Every striker is basically Adam Dunn, they’re going to swing for the fences every chance they get and if they connect it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever seen - if not, well they’ll hit .248 and still be a legend because one year they’ll manage to do it 50 times and bringing joy to 30,000 people that many times is totally worth the humiliation of a strike out.

23 - The best player on every sports team in the United States should immediately have to change to the number 23 whatever the sport. Tom Brady, you’re 23 now, same with Mike Trout or that annoying guy with the Nationals. It’s a better looking number than the number 10 (nobody remembers Mike Bibby) and it’s unnatural not to do this after Michael Jordan wore it and ruined basketball for me since I know I’ll never see anything as great as MJ ever again. LeBron James intrinsically knew this and it’s half of why he won as many championships as he did. Start right now with Carlos Vela. Get him a new kit, he can tattoo the number on his body it’ll be great. That way ever single person watching him score a hat trick against Daniel Lovitz will know he’s the best player in the league.

3 - Sports are about scoring and I think soccer and basketball share more in common than they do with other games. So let’s give the small forward number to a winger - run fast, score, assist, whatever, get to the goal. Same idea. See, now your friend who likes basketball but things soccer is boring gets to find out that Paul Arriola and Kawhi Leonard are the same guy. Good times!

11 - Yamil Asad gets to be enshrined here for all time. Hang his number from the rafters, he was the platonic ideal of an outside attacking player. BRING HIM BACK ALREADY DARREN. Just tell someone about Yamil Asad. Tell them about how he didn’t stop running or trying to elbow people and how he and Miggy and Josef and Garza and Tito and LGP were best friends and how his tragic story ended with having to play for Ben Olsen because of the dumb labor rules in MLS and they’ll be an instant fan of the league and immediately have a take about why the Chicago Fire are so hilariously helpless and awful.

50 - This is pretty self-explanatory, it’s middle linebacker. Just explain that every team (ideally) should have a guy whose job it is to be an enormous pest and get in the way of the other team’s best player and kick people when the referee isn’t looking and they should be a fan for life. Show this to them the time that Kyle Beckerman single handedly saved the US from being eliminated in the 2014 World Cup with a cheap foul and they’ll instantly get why this is good:

6 - This is for the people who like math, it’s shortstop. If you have ever listened to a Braves radio broadcast for like three innings, you have heard that the best athlete on the field the shortstop. That’s probably about accurate for box to box midfielder, but everyone is running for 90 minutes so let’s not take too much away from anybody. Still, with new statistical metrics you can now do things like explain why Michael Azira is the best midfielder in the league - that’s not a discussion I want to have, but if you are deeply invested in the concept of WAR showing that someone can hit .220 with single digit home runs and RBI in the low 60s then it shows you who to pay attention to on the field. Sports!

7/10 - Who doesn’t love bowling? It’s a game that’s always there when you need it, doesn’t judge you, and enables those who play it to do so with an elevated blood alcohol level. In terms of why 7/10 is the best number for left back, well nobody knows who a good left back is or where to find one. Especially an American one, it’s apparently the most difficult roster spot to fill so 7/10, you will never pick up that spare and you will find like one good left back in any soccer league around the world.

28 - The average MLS centerback is taking up a roster spot by virtue of the fact that they’re an American who is a low salary cap hit or on a rookie contract. Once that’s done with either they latch on to a team and spend their career lumbering around trying to defend against Giovinco only to lead their team to a championship in a shootout won by attrition and then be spanked the next year in the re-match because that was more luck than good planning - OR - they try their luck at the highest level and end up going out on loan with Reading or something. Maybe they get lucky though and the All-Star game suddenly changes format and they’re voted in as a joke BUT end up scoring the critical goals and win MVP of the game despite the league trying to demote them to the minors to stop from being embarrassed. Show this to a hockey fan and they’ll know exactly why Chad Marshall and John Scott are the same person.

13 - Look, you will eventually find someone who plays a critical position and ends up wearing the number 13. On the 2003 Chicago Cubs, it was their shortstop who committed a hilarious error before being bailed out by Steve Bartman. In soccer this should naturally go to the centerback who is equally prone to either make a hilarious mistake or tremendous play in any given moment in the game with no rhyme or reason to any of it. Somebody tell Walker Zimmerman he’s got a new kit number.

1 - I can’t make any weird allusions to this and then try to tie it all together at the end and hope you got what I was talking about. This is the number worn by something called the Loosehead Prop in rugby and there’s no way I’d be leaving this out once I found out that a position called Loosehead Prop existed in another sport. Good luck to whatever former American winger turned right back gets to have this honor.

91 - This only makes sense. In another life Dennis Rodman spent his days smashing soccer balls away from a net and played five unforgettable seasons for the Kansas City Wizards before trying his fortunes for a mid-table team in England that plays in a decaying stadium and pretends that it can catch the top six despite spending half as much on players and having no chance of ever building a new place to play, nothing but the best. Anyway, Rodman has the goalkeeper mentality through and through, he’d have been a great netminder... no doubt that’s why Trinity Rodman has something of a future with the sport.

Anyway, thanks for playing the worst game of Jeopardy ever written, are all of your friends soccer fans yet?