MLS Means Business
Soccer is the pulse of Europe and the nagging itch of America. While we stateside are far more privy to the sports we’ve created, soccer culture has thrived since the founding of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1993. Our puppy love phase with soccer has evolved into something serious. Now with its success and growth, the sky is the limit for MLS. For fans though, nothing would be more important or fun to watch than our league rivaling and challenging the best of Europe.
MLS commissioner Don Garber has promised since 2013 that by 2022, MLS will be among the best leagues in the world. "There is no reason that in time Major League Soccer can't be competitive with the world's best," Garber said to ESPN FC in 2013. "It's going to take a lot of hard work and continued investment."
The MLS has all the potential in the world to get to the level of Garber’s pipe dream, all American fans need is patience.
The biggest advantage that European clubs have on MLS is age. Because many English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian clubs arose around the turn of the 20th century, they have had the advantage of the better part of a century to develop their prominence.
But for how young of a league MLS is, it’s developed at an amazing rate and attracted some incredible talent over the last 24 years such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, and more recently David Villa and Ricardo Kaka.
In MLS, legends have been born quickly, as was the case of SoCal local Landon Donovan. In his 10 seasons with the LA Galaxy, Donovan notched 144 goals and 136 assists in league play during his career and remains the all-time leader in goals and assists for the US Men’s National Team and in contention for best MLS player of all time.
Donovan gives life to the case that legendary talent can come out of the states, but one of the most important things US clubs can do is pursue the youth of Europe and make the US a viable destination to start a career.
An investment in academies overseas would be another huge spur into developing the kind of talent needed to become one of the best leagues in the world. The English, Spanish, and German clubs have already started academies in the states, recognizing a new growing market and cashing in on American athletic experience. Arsenal has their Soccer School in New Jersey, Bayern has theirs in Boston, and Barcelona has set up numerous FCBEscola academies across the country.
Youth academies in MLS have already produced wonderful players such as Los Angeles’ own Gyasi Zardes and Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta and both have very promising careers ahead of them. With MLS setting up academies across the world, a new pool of diverse talent would be available to come and help American soccer evolve into what it should be.
For Americans though, we have a firm vision of what football is in our minds. But as of recently, the NFL has been slowly declining in viewership. According to ESPN, daytime games on CBS and FOX were down six to seven percent overall in 2017 and in the months leading up to the election and in the middle of the NFL season, viewership was down by 14 percent compared to 2015 due to commissioner Roger Goodell and others’ political views.
A host of various reasons are responsible for the decline, but primarily the concussion crisis and political differences have become the biggest factors that have driven down the popularity of the NFL. With a new vacuum opening up in the American sports world, now is the perfect time for MLS teams to batten down the hatches on the marketing end and draw in as many new fans as possible.
The number one thing that American soccer fans will want to see is competition for major cups. MLS is able to send up to five teams to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, but many people don’t even know the tournament exists.
The CONCACAF is the North American Confederation of FIFA and every year the winner of the tournament gets to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup where the top clubs from every confederation across the world. For MLS, the FIFA Club World Cup is the highest trophy they can lift. However only the 2001 CONCACAF Champion LA Galaxy have been the only American side to qualify for the Cup, and their dreams were cut short when the entire tournament was canceled in 2001 due to a collapse in marketing power for FIFA.
MLS clubs Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Montreal Impact, have all found success in the CONCACAF, with Real Salt Lake being the runners up in 2011. With MLS siding as regulars in the tournament, it is only a matter of time before we see one of our teams walking out of the tunnels getting ready for the biggest game any MLS club has ever played.
Soccer will eventually become more than a subconscious thought in the minds of most Americans. Garber’s pipe dream is far-fetched, but entirely realistic. For us fans, the time has finally come for MLS to get the respect it needs and deserves. Soccer is a sport full to the gills with glory, and we’re thirsting for some of that glory stateside.