Trying to gauge how the best Major League Soccer teams would fare in the English Premier League is an academic question, but one that’s worth looking at just for fun.
Deciding the “best” MLS teams is an exercise in itself, but to keep matters simple, I selected the L.A. Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo, the two teams who battled in the MLS Cup final in 2011 and 2012.
Here are the factors I considered:
How many points would it take for an MLS team to avoid relegation?
The “magic number” for avoiding relegation in the EPL is generally considered to be 40 points. Looking at the past five seasons in the EPL, that number is pretty close to the center of the dart board.
Here is what it took to finish in 17th place and avoid relegation in each of the last five EPL seasons.
2011-12 37 points QPR
2010-11 40 points Wolves
2009-10 35 points West Ham
2008-09 35 points Hull City
2007-08 36 points Fulham
How do L.A.’s and Houston’s squads match up?
Again, this is an impossible question to answer, but in an attempt to take an unbiased look at the squad values, I used the transfer values of the typical first XI from each squad.
The Houston Dynamo’s first XI, adding up all of the transfer values from transfermarkt.co.uk, is worth £4,550,000. The starting XI for the L.A. Galaxy is worth £5,950,000.
By comparison, I put together similar numbers for Fulham, Wigan and Birmingham City. I used Fulham because their average league finish over the past five years was 9.8, or about 10th place, therefore making them a good example of mid-table team. The transfer value of Fulham’s starting XI was £37,350,000, pretty far away from the values of the Galaxy and the Dynamo.
Wigan, who I used as an example of a team that manages to barely escape relegation each year with an average league finish of 15.2, has a transfer valuation of £38,175,000 for their starting XI.
Hoping to find someone comparable in the English Championship, I selected Birmingham, who finished this season 12th out of 24 teams in the English second division, exactly in the middle of the table. Even at that level, the transfer valuation far exceeded that of either L.A. or Houston, with a value of £12,425,000 for their starting XI.
While it’s impossible to quantify the effect a team’s supporters have on a squad, it is certainly an important factor. England is rightfully proud of their fanatical support for their local clubs. So, how do the size of the crowds in MLS stack up?
The average attendance for MLS last year was 18,807 per game. That number was high enough to put MLS seventh in the world in average attendance behind the Bundesliga, the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Argentina’s Primera Division and Liga MX.
While detractors, especially those from Europe, might think this is due to the giant NFL stadiums in the United States, the vast majority of MLS teams play in soccer-specific stadiums, much more like the size of Fulham’s Craven Cottage.
The crowds of the Galaxy, at an average of 23,126 fans per game, and the Dynamo, at 21,015 fans per game, stack up favorably with the bottom of the EPL table. The Galaxy would fall between 17th (Reading) and 18th (Swansea City) comparing the average attendance of the 2012 MLS season to the average attendance of the 2012-13 EPL season.
Are MLS teams deep enough to compete in the EPL?
While most MLS teams can put a fairly strong first XI on the field when they are healthy, the injuries that occur as part of any footballing season can put a serious strain on MLS teams, who usually do not have great squad depth.
The Dynamo would struggle if any of their regular defenders in Kofi Sarkodie, Corey Ashe, Bobby Boswell or Jermaine Taylor were out for lengthy spells in a league as competitive as the EPL. Their midfield is a little better equipped to handle injuries with Adam Moffat, Ricardo Clark, Boniek Garcia, Brad Davis and Andrew Driver available, but not by much. Up top, the Dynamo have Will Bruin and Giles Barnes, but to think 34-year-old Brian Ching would be called on to become a regular starter should Bruin or Barnes go down is a scary proposition.
The Galaxy are slightly better equipped in terms of squad depth with defenders Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Sean Franklin, Todd Dunivant, Leonardo and Tommy Meyer all available when needed. In the midfield, however, the Galaxy are thin, with only Marcelo Sarvas, Landon Donovan, Juninho and Mike Magee truly considered first-team regulars. Up top, the Galaxy have Robbie Keane, but then rely on youngsters Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal.
If either the Galaxy or the Dynamo were to compete in a league as strong as the EPL, their campaigns would take a serious hit should any of their regulars be knocked out for any length of time. Even with their current schedule, MLS teams struggle to compete in multiple competitions with the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League stretching squads to their limit.
Star Power and Experience
The one thing that could save a team like the Galaxy in an EPL campaign, should everyone stay healthy, is their star power and experience.
Even though Donovan’s early forays into the European game were not successful, he proved on two separate loan stints with Everton in 2010 and 2012 that he could not only compete in the EPL, but thrive. In both loans to the Merseyside club, Donovan was named the club’s Player of the Month.
Keane has also proved time and time again he can compete with the biggest names in Europe. He was thrice named Tottenham’s Player of the Year and the EPL Player of the Month.
Omar Gonzalez, while still a relative youngster, has been dominating the league defensively for the past two seasons. He may also be ready to prove he is capable of playing at the highest levels with a summer move to Europe possibly on the cards—the type of move which has worked out relatively well for American defender Geoff Cameron.
As far as coaches go, MLS could not have two better representatives in Bruce Arena of the Galaxy and Dominic Kinnear of the Dynamo.
Arena has won the MLS Cup on five different occasions and, as coach of the United States men’s national team, won the CONCACAF Gold Cup twice and led the USMNT in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Kinnear is also highly regarded, having won the MLS Cup twice and having led the Dynamo to the championship game the last two years running.
Both coaches should also be praised for their ability to win in MLS, where the league’s single entity rules make it impossible for a team to act freely in the transfer market. Transfer fees, wages and allocations must all be approved by the league and managers and teams alike work under a very tightly controlled system.
Although MLS continues to grow in quality and popularity, it is doubtful even the best MLS teams could earn the 36-37 points necessary to stave off relegation. Perhaps they could manage for a season, buoyed by the excitement that often accompanies newly promoted teams, but overall, MLS in 2013 is probably most aptly comparable to the mid-to-bottom range of the English Championship.
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