There were 22 MLS players included on 2014 FIFA World Cup rosters which is an all-time high for the league. Half of those were members of the U.S. men's national team that qualified out of the "Group of Death" and narrowly lost 2-1 to Belgium in the round of 16. These numbers signify that Major League Soccer is set to take another giant step forward.
Seven MLS players started against Germany, and many of them played key roles in the next match versus the Belgians, including Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler and Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey.
Even though the U.S. progressed out of arguably the most difficult group at the World Cup, the feeling is that the Belgium defeat reflects negatively on MLS. This is partially correct as the U.S. averaged the seventh lowest possession percentage, the joint-sixth lowest shot total, and allowed the most attempts out of any other country, per Whoscored.com.
However, the US traveled over 10,000 miles compared to Belgium's 1,368, per the Daily Mail's Craig Hope. It's definitely less taxing for the team that spends less time commuting. Even injuries took their toll on some players, including one integral figure that plies his trade in MLS.
Besler on his hamstring: "It wasn't an issue that game (#BEL). I was kind of hanging on there for a couple of the games."— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) July 4, 2014
Regardless of the opinions on the USMNT's showing in Brazil, it's clear that MLS has received a massive boost in popularity and exposure. Players like Kaka and David Villa have signed for Orlando City and New York City FC, respectively. Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard is also set to announce that he's joining NYCFC.
Current MLS players that represented their countries, such as Tim Cahill for Australia and Julio Cesar for Brazil, all shined on the big stage. This has people noticing that the MLS is a quality league that should be taken seriously.
Other American internationals that were in Brazil have been linked to some big European clubs as well.
DeAndre Yedlin has been heavily pursued by Serie A club Roma and Liverpool of the English Premier League, and Matt Besler has drawn offers from overseas as well. If the U.S. players were as inferior as some claim, then these two players would not be courted by elite European leagues.
As reported here first 3 days ago, Kicker reporting Freiburg are interested in signing Matt Besler. http://t.co/HOrO6ixchM— MLS Transfers (@MLSTransfers) July 8, 2014
TV ratings haven't been as impressive as MLS Commissioner Don Garber would have hoped for at this stage, but he can still look forward to a big payday. ESPN and FOX will pay around $90 million per year for MLS rights through to 2022, according to Graham Parker of The Guardian.
MLS teams are even starting to outdraw some MLB teams this year thanks to the continued growth in popularity among the younger generation. Those numbers will continue to climb as more high profile players join Kaka and David Villa in the coming years.
It's clear that MLS and soccer as a whole has grown hugely on this side of the Atlantic. A few markets with their own MLS team have garnered some of the highest ratings in the United States, including Atlanta. The 2014 World Cup is nearly over, but it has helped to start something special for Major League Soccer.