3 Things MLS Must Do to Take Advantage of Euphoria in US Soccer
As the United States men's national soccer team made its run in the 2014 World Cup, Americans showed up at public watch parties by the thousands to support them.
For a country like the United States, with a nascent soccer culture, the World Cup offers a unique quadrennial opportunity to grow the sport's fanbase. And with the U.S. team providing four exciting matches, many Americans were given their first taste of the game.
Many of these newbies are now hooked on soccer and will be seeking ways to stoke their passion in the weeks and months ahead.
Here are three things Major League Soccer can do to take advantage of that euphoria and bring those fans into the MLS fold.
Get the Upcoming Stars and the Best Games Front and Center
One thing that Major League Soccer has in spades is fresh, young American talent. Now the league needs to do its part by putting those players front and center and billing them as the future of the U.S. men's national team.
This Saturday, in particular, MLS has two matches full of players who could become future stars for the U.S. national team. However, most fans throughout the country will not be able to watch.
In an average week, the league has one game broadcast on ESPN and another on NBC Sports. There's not much the league can do about that, but the games that are typically shown on NBC Sports don't showcase the best up-and-coming American players.
For example, this week, NBC's game of the week is the San Jose Earthquakes against D.C. United on Friday. While D.C. has some exciting upcoming stars, two other games would draw more interest from fans hoping to watch future players of the U.S. national team.
On Saturday, the Philadelphia Union take on the Colorado Rapids. That game will feature American youngsters Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams for the Union and Clint Irwin, Chris Klute, Shane O'Neill and Dillon Powers for the Rapids.
The Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution match is another from this weekend that would draw interest from those seeking to watch future American stars. The Fire have youngsters Benji Joya, Sean Johnson and Harry Shipp, while the Revolution have Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Patrick Mullins.
But the only way for fans to watch either of those matches is to purchase MLS' Direct Kick package. Everyone else will be forced to watch the Earthquakes—the Western Conference's last-place team—against D.C. United.
Keep the World Cup Stars at Home
After their performances in the 2014 World Cup, USMNT members playing in MLS have already had several European teams come calling.
Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler, who had a terrific tournament in Brazil, has reportedly drawn enormous interest from many clubs in England and Germany and will be sitting down with Sporting's management this week to discuss his future.
Seattle Sounders right-back DeAndre Yedlin has also drawn much interest from clubs abroad, reportedly including teams in Italy, Spain and England. He's been most closely associated with a transfer to Roma, although the deal has not been made official.
For new fans, their association to the game will be based on the players they came to know during the World Cup. If those players move abroad, it will be harder for those new fans to continue following MLS.
If the league can keep those players at home, MLS has a much better chance of increasing its fanbase.
Bring More Americans Home
Just like the MLS keeping its young American talent, the league would do well to bring home more of its stars—a trend that has become much more common in recent years.
At this point, the interests of MLS and U.S. Soccer have become somewhat divergent in this regard. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has repeatedly stated his preference that his top players play in Europe, while also saying that in MLS, they are not held accountable for poor performances.
But for the league, bringing home a player like Jermaine Jones—whose inspired play and overt patriotism in the 2014 World Cup made him a fan favorite—can only be a good thing.
Other players, like Mix Diskerud, Aron Johannsson, Fabian Johnson, Julian Green, Jozy Altidore and John Anthony Brooks, also have their own cult followings and would likely become instant hits in MLS.
Again, bringing those players home would probably not be in the best interest of the U.S. national team, but it would undoubtedly help increase the popularity of MLS. In recent years, the league has also shown, with its financial commitment to players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, that playing domestically can have substantial financial rewards.
Despite the ignorance of some sports pundits, there is not going to be a watershed moment for soccer in America. Every four years the sport has received an incremental bump in popularity due to the World Cup, and this year is no different.
For the older generation of fans, that moment was the 1994 World Cup, when the U.S.'s inspired play at home helped create the first generation of native-born soccer fans in America. The team's quarterfinal run in 2002 helped usher in another generation of Americans to the game. And more recently, Americans were drawn together by the team's dramatic win against Algeria in 2010.
This summer, the U.S.'s thrilling win against Ghana and an exciting match against Belgium helped create a number of new fans. Now, it's MLS' job to take advantage and draw them in.
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