For two years now I have been following Major League Soccer, embracing all of its peculiar quirks along the way.
As an English football writer I thought I knew the beautiful game inside out, but really I had only ever seen Europe’s interpretation of the game, and how we think it should be played.
There is of course another way: the American way. Believe it or not, it is just as enthralling and equally exciting,
After throwing myself in at the deep end and watching as many games as possible – all the while supporting Toronto FC, last season’s ‘worst team’ - what I found was quite remarkable.
I saw geniuses happily plying their trade alongside the virtually inept in an over-complicated yet captivating league.
I saw washed up European players, who you would be excused for thinking had dropped off the face of the earth, picking up their pay packets, living the MLS dream, while being played off the park by young and quite talented domestic players.
I saw an army of knowledgeable, passionate fans, who have no choice but to listen to professional half-wits talk them through televised games, when they so clearly would rather be talking them through hockey or basketball.
It pains me to say it, but I once heard a commentator accidentally call the ball a puck.
However, it is all of these qualities that made it so compelling, like a football experiment that keeps throwing up anomalies.
The perfect example to illustrate my point is one Ruben Bover Izquierdo.
Bover is a young midfielder who was playing in Championship club Charlton Athletic’s U21 side. He wasn’t pulling up any trees with the Addicks, and was allowed to leave for a trial with the New York Red Bulls.
And so, one month after failing to impress in the Professional Development League 2 – South in front of less than 50 people, the midfielder was suddenly starting alongside Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Juninho Pernambucano in front of a sell-out 20,000 crowd in New York’s MLS opener against Portland Timbers.
I’m sure it helped that Bover’s agent was Darren Dein, who could sell hay to a farmer - but that’s probably a story for another day.
The news he was starting in New York’s first team came as a shock to many both at The Valley and around the second tier to those who knew their stuff.
In truth the Spaniard has struggled so far, but the midfielder’s debut was certainly nowhere near as bad as one of those washed up European players I alluded to earlier.
Former Manchester United and Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre endured what could arguably be described as the worst debut ever in Portland Timbers 3-3 draw against the Red Bulls, barely breaking sweat throughout.
The French defender is part of the ever-growing club that now also includes ex-West Ham man Frederic Piquionne and in the past has employed the likes of former Rangers striker Kris Boyd, who struck out in the Championship with Middlesbrough before faring a little better on loan at Nottingham Forest.
Elsewhere in the league, the spectrum of blasts from the past runs from Montreal Impact's Italian duo Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio to the likes of Caleb Folan and Teemu Tainio.
Watching such players fail has become my guilty pleasure. – it is shamefully gratifying.
However, the league is more than just a graveyard for European footballers.
For every Silvestre or Folan there are at least two genuine talents – many of them homegrown.
Chris Wondolowski, Chris Pontius and Matt Besler are great examples of just this, while Geoff Cameron, Kei Kamara and Brek Shea have earned Premier League moves after excelling in MLS.
Major League Soccer is an unpredictable, competitive league in which money doesn’t mean everything, because of a salary cap system that could make the Premier League winnable for more than just four teams.
It has a knowledgeable, growing fanbase who are keen for the league to grow, but in order for it to do that it needs to shake off a reputation of being spiritless and insipid.
Mute the commentary if you must, but this season’s Major League Soccer campaign is well worth watching. So sit back, relax and check your perceptions at the door.