How Major League Soccer Is Just Too American for Its Own Good

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IJuly 19, 2009

KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 06:  Rauwshan McKenzie #12, Pat Noonan #11, and Gino Padula #4 of the Columbus Crew congratulate Guillermo Schelotto #7 after Schelotto scored during the first half of the game against the Kansas City Wizards at CommunityAmerica Ballpark on June 6, 2009 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Let's face it.

Football—or soccer, if you will—is at a high mark in the States. For a fan in America, there are a lot of reasons to be happy about the state of football.

The national team sunk the Spanish Armada by two points to nil in a match they honestly shouldn't have even played in. They also gave perennial superpower Brazil all it could handle for 45 minutes of heart-stopping football before collapsing, 3-2.

But no worries about that. Brazil wasn't losing to any national team on the planet during the Confederations Cup.

Not that it needs mentioning at this point, but the team is also now in the Gold Cup semifinals. Details.

In the national league, the new-look Seattle Sounders Football Club have taken the country by storm, setting unprecedented marks for attendance and passion. When was the last time a team averaged 30,000 fans per match in MLS? Don't ask me.

League-wide attendance is also not an issue, although it could be better. But realistically, an average of 19,000 fans per game isn't so bad. For measure, that beats European clubs like Villareal, Udinese, Caen, CSKA Moscow, and Portsmouth.

So what's wrong with Major League Soccer?

It's just too American.

For the longest time, the United States has always done things their way. The "English" system over the metric one. Calling it "soccer." And now a salary-cap football league where nobody is relegated.

All other professional leagues, save for baseball, use a salary cap. MLS, by trade, divides all the earnings throughout the 16 teams to create better parity. That's all well and nice—if it's the only major league in the world.

Every other country on the planet with a football league has a system. The top few teams usually qualify for a continental Champions League. And the bottom few teams are relegated to a lower league where they have a better chance of doing well.

Now granted, no other league has the restrictions of Major League Soccer.

The world's largest clubs, like Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, or AC Milan can spend whatever it takes to bring in the best players. Assuming they have the finances, of course.

It's puzzling to think how a league with so many restrictions could compete with the best in the world.

Chelsea Football Club took the field against Seattle this past weekend in a preseason match for the European powers. Chelsea started most of the regulars, with the exception of Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, but still won fairly easily.

Don't misunderstand, the Sounders played inspired football. But they didn't have a chance of beating even a watered-down Chelsea roster. To be completely honest, though, there aren't a lot of sides in the world capable of beating Chelsea, even if it is the reserves. Many fine squads have fallen to the Blues.

Hell, Chelsea was only a minute away from a date with Manchester United in Rome for the UEFA Champions League final. And if it wasn't for a certain Norwegian referee, they probably would have been there.

However, Seattle—or any American club, for that matter—will never have a chance of beating the Blues. Those other squads might. Major League Soccer just doesn't permit it.

For football to grow in the United States to its full potential, clubs cannot be limited. For domestic competition and equality, MLS is great. It's run very similarly to the NFL or the NHL. But on an international level, that is a different tale.

Maybe the APL. American Premier League.

Start it with 18 teams, and instead of the "youth development program," incorporate the current USL teams as a First Division. Not so hard, eh?

Now to be fair, Major League Soccer has already taken some important steps in the direction of adopting a more international football format. Examples? Shirt sponsors, football-specific stadiums, a looser collective bargaining agreement that makes player transfers easier, and, most importantly, some owners who care.

Any non-American will think very little of this. It's already the norm in most circumstances.

Major League Soccer is close to being formidable. But until the league plays by the same rules as every other one in the world, it will most likely continue to be looked upon as a retirement home by the best players around instead of a destination of their primes.

I look forward to a day when the Los Angeles Galaxy can go toe-to-toe with Manchester United. Or Seattle takes Chelsea to extra time in a playoff match. Or even D.C. United running stride for stride with Barcelona.

But drop the American settings first.


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