Many thought that with the arrival of David Beckham that soccer in America would finally make its breakthrough. However, it’s been two years since Beckham first started officially playing for the Galaxy and things are no better for soccer in America.
Initially, the Beckham experiment seemed to be doing quite well. However, when he only played eight total matches and scored only one goal things began to go downhill. Things got worse when Beckham went to AC Milan on a loan. He insisted that he would be back in America for the start of the MLS season, however, Beckham ended up trying to secure a permanent transfer to the Rossoneri. Yet, due to Galaxy’s asking price of around 15 million dollars, they opted to extend his loan until July 2009.
When he returned to L.A., Beckham was not well received by Galaxy fans. Constantly booed and taunted at their home stadium for the first few matches, he even confronted one fan who jumped the wall and attempted to come onto the field before being subdued by security.
All this being said, obviously David Beckham was not the answer to America’s soccer woes.
Team USA’s performance in the Confederations Cup helped spark some interest in soccer, however one upset in a small tournament is not going to turn soccer’s luck in the States. Therefore, I have come up with five suggestions that would help to further promote soccer in the United States.
First, Major League Soccer (MLS) season needs to run at the same time as many of the other major leagues in Europe. This way, the transfer windows can coincide and international players in the MLS don’t have to leave their club team to go play for their country. In addition, if all the games are played on Saturday and Sunday like the premier league, it gives players the week to travel and practice.
Second, the MLS needs to expand to 20 teams and then stop. There are currently fifteen teams that play this season, and three more are to be added in the next few years. In addition to these eighteen teams, St Louis should have a team, and Miami Fusion should be brought back into the MLS. With twenty teams, the MLS could still keep the Western and Eastern conferences and have ten teams in each.
Third, the United Soccer Leagues First Division (which has 11 clubs) and the United Soccer Leagues Second Division (which has 9 clubs) need to combine into one league. This league would also have a total of twenty teams. Even though there are technically two parts of a fourth division and a fifth division, they should not be included in this system in America.
Fourth, there needs to be a relegation/promotion system between the two leagues. The worst team in each conference of the MLS needs to be relegated to the second level, and the two teams that acquire the most points in the second level should be promoted to the MLS. Promotion/relegation gives teams in the second division something to fight for and something for teams in the first division to work away from.
Fifth, tournaments need to be done a little differently. I like the tournament that’s at the end of the season; it makes the MLS unique in that aspect. In addition the U.S. Open Cup would stay as well, it would just include the first and second level of soccer instead of all five. Additionally, the CONCACAF Champions League and the SuperLiga need to be scrapped. Instead, the countries from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL need to combine to make one “Champions League” for North, Central, and South America. Granted, it’s a 13 hour plane ride from Ontario, Canada to Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, the groups stages would be done would be separated into two sections - North and Central America, and South America. Each section would send 8 teams to the round of 16. The rest would proceed like any knockout tournament (of all the suggestions I have, the “America’s Champions League” seems the least possible because of the distance between teams)
All this being said, while it’s not perfect, the MLS has done a few things well. The idea of a salary cap is noble; however, it needs to be raised if the MLS is truly going to attract more quality players. Also, each MLS team should be required to have a youth development program. This is why the teams in Europe have more talented players than the MLS; they’ve been professionally developing the players for years by the time they reach the pros.
In conclusion, I’m excited to see where the MLS goes in the next five years. Seattle was one expansion team that did things right and I hope the next three attract as much attention. Even though my suggestions may never be implemented, I hope that someday soccer in America can be something that’s talked about at dinner along with baseball, football, and basketball.