There is language within this article that may not be suitable for all audiences.
All of us came to soccer in remarkably different ways. Since most of us are American, soccer has never been a sport that's been shoved down our throats - at least not until recently. Maybe we played the sport when we were younger, maybe we got sucked into the 1994 World Cup, or maybe we travelled abroad and were taken by the spirit and passion of a side like Arsenal or Barcelona.
Or maybe your story's totally different. But really, this isn't really about how we came to be soccer fans. If you really want to tell me, there's a comment section below, and Scott loves comments. What this column (a regular one, I might add) is about is taking a deeper look at international soccer.
We all like the Union and MLS - I hope. Many of us follow top Euro leagues like the English Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A. And a lot of people out here in Los Angeles follow the Primera Division (Mexico's top league). And of course there's the World Cup and Champions League.
But what happens beyond that? A whole hell of a lot.
There are many leagues in the world (I didn't bother counting, sorry) with varying levels of talent, and there's some pretty fucking awesome soccer being played that many of us are totally unaware of.
It's not like Holland is a ghetto of soccer or anything. A shitload of talent comes from the country, and one of the world's most respected sides is part of the Eredivisie (Holland's top league) - Ajax. But the country is often overlooked for leagues in other European countries, like England, Spain, France, and Italy.
Don't consider this a primer in Dutch soccer because the country has a long history that deserves a large, leather bound book. This is just a sampling, some facts you can read over while on the toilet. We all want to be better soccer fans, right?
Now onto the meat of it all: pro soccer started in the Netherlands in 1954 and the Eredivisie commenced two years later. Over time, the Amsterdam-based Ajax has been the most successful club, winning the league 22 times, mostly due to the hookers and pot brownies. PSV Eindhoven has claimed the league 18 times and Feyenoord 9 times. Since 1965, these guys have all won the league except for three times - Alkmaar Zaanstreek in '81 and '09 and FC Twente in 2010.
Like almost all of the world's leagues, the Eredivisie gets down with promotion and relegation. At the end of the season, the worst of the 18 clubs is automatically sent down to the Eerste Divisie (aka "First Division"). The rest of the process is a little complex, which our friend Wikipedia does a much better job of explaning than me:
"The next two clubs from the bottom of the Eredivisie go to separate promotion/relegation playoffs. The playoffs are played in two groups. Each group has one Eredivisie club and three high-placed clubs from the Eerste Divisie. In both promotion/relegation playoff groups, each club plays a home-and-away series with the other clubs. The winner of each playoff group plays in the following season's Eredivisie, with the other teams going to the Eerste Divisie."
Worldwide, there's a ton of Dutch talent on top teams. Robin van Persie is a premier striker for EPL side Arsenal (and one of my favorite players, as if you give a shit), and 2010 World Cup star Wesley Scheijder has continued to make a name for himself in Serie A with Inter Milan. Other notables include Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool, EPL), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham, EPL), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich, Bundesliga), and Joris Mathijsen (Malaga, La Liga). If you look at the Dutch National Team's pro club list, you'll see a who's who of the best sides in the world. This is a country full of really fucking good soccer players.
Past stars from the U.S. who played in Holland include John O'Brien (Ajax, FC Utrecht, and ADO Den Haag), Earnie Stewart (Willem II, VVV-Venlo, and NAC Breda), Eddy Hamel (Ajax), DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven). Currently, U.S. Men's National Team star Jozy Altidore is the only American in the Eredivisie. He's part of the squad at Alkmaar Zaanstreek.
There are a few Dutch players currently in MLS. Those include Elbekay Bouchiba, Nick Soolsma, and Danny Koevermans of Toronto.
And while he may not be current, what discussion of Dutch football could be complete without the mention of the great Johan Cruyff?