Soccer continues to grow in the United States, and Major League Soccer is a big reason why. It has consistently gained fans over the years, and that shows no sign of slowing down.
However, the MLS is still not considered an elite league around the world. Over the next 10 years they hope to change that perception. It is a tall task, but one that is not as impossible as some may believe.
Parity is starting to become more and more prevalent around the globe. That will allow the MLS to close the gap and show that their squads are joining the ranks of the other important clubs across the globe.
Here are five things that the MLS has to have happen in order to be considered among the elite.
The United States has put together exciting performances in the past two World Cups, and that needs to continue. Under Klinsmann, the USMNT is hopeful to push past the first round of the knockout stages as well.
This is important for our youth. As they watch the sport at its highest level they need to see that our colors are just as good as other nations.
Exciting matches and finishes will make them want to go outside and pick up the ball. And when those kids turn on the television to watch more they will find the MLS on television and associate the success with our domestic league.
The USMNT will help foster the love of the game for the next generation who will focus on trying to make it to the MLS. They need to see the league as the endgame.
The MLS All-Star Game has routinely pitted the MLS All-Stars against a top squad from overseas. It has been nice, but it is time for that to stop and time for our teams to take on more international friendlies themselves.
Having an elite team compete against our all-star automatically confirms that this is a B-league. That perception must shift for the MLS to move forward.
Are our teams as good? Not currently, but you only get better by playing the best. It will help teams and players continue to improve. Eventually, they will be on that level and those international matches will be high-profile contests everyone looks forward to.
It will show that the MLS teams are willing to compete against other great sides on their own merit—not as a stunt for an All-Star game that demeans our domestic league.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann knows the system needs changed. For the MLS to make a move to the elite levels of club soccer, it has to.
America has a plethora of athletic talent. Some will say that the best athletes will not play soccer, but that is a nearsighted argument. As soccer continues to grow some of those athletes will flock to the sport. Especially if the MLS can begin to offer bigger paydays.
The current system of youth soccer needs to be overhauled to make the game more accessible to all. We are seeing some changes, but it is not happening quickly enough.
With a country this large, with this growing population of many cultures, there is no reason the United States cannot find enough elite-level talent to fill the ranks of Major League Soccer.
Major League Soccer has several involved team owners who are excellent for the sport, but they need more owners who have extremely deep pockets.
They cannot immediately start spending large sums of money to compete and steal talent, but over the long term they will need to do just that. More importantly, however, is developing fanbases in markets that are still not full accepting of their MLS teams.
If the MLS wants to continue to grow they need owners who can build their brands and make them worth hundreds of millions (and eventually billions) of dollars. The footprint of the teams needs to be bigger. These kinds of owners bring incredible value to the league.
At this point, MLS franchises are also a great investment for these potential owners. They can buy them low, and increase their value exponentially as the sport, and league, continues to grow stateside.
Major League Soccer has media deals with various outlets—none more high-profile than ESPN and NBC. However, they cannot lock themselves in to too long of contracts at this point.
As the television landscape changes, sports programming is coming at a premium. This puts MLS in a prime position to force a bidding war for their product as these various outlets need more programming to fill their airwaves.
Prior to the 2012 season they signed a three-year deal with NBC. NBC needed MLS programming for the NBC Sports Network. Earlier this month, Fox announced that they will be bringing the Fox Sports 1 network to the airwaves this summer.
The MLS is consistently growing, and with more big money players vying for their services they will benefit from this. Larger media deals mean more exposure and more money—two things vital to the growth of the league.