New Directions for the MLS: What Could be Done to Raise Soccer's American Appeal

Scott MachaCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2008

The primary reason the MLS has not caught on with larger audiences in the United States is because we are trying to make it to much of an American sport. The die hard American soccer fans see this and it is a real turn off on the American game. Trades, the draft, end of season playoffs, interviewing the players at half time and half time shows are leading examples of attempts to "Americanize" soccer. Furthermore once a team makes the playoffs, or is statistically out of the playoff picture, they have nothing else to play for and the passion leaves their games. I would like to tackle these issues one by one and give what I believe would be my solution to shifting the game here into something that could have much more mass appeal.

The trading system has worked thus far for other American sports, but soccer in many cases is a sport where you cannot afford to lose certain players in order to buy others. Imagine whatever league you follow having trades, the same selection of players would probably be continually cycled from team to team. Yes, having transfer funds and cash transfers will undoubtedly lead to certain teams gaining an advantage due to better spending power, this is a necessary sacrifice if your team is able to compete for foreign players. In addition to this the MLS already has a large number of players coming in from foreign countries in cash deals, and if this trend continues teams will look from abroad back to the states so they don't have to sacrifice any players.

There is no logical reason for MLS to have a draft, it leads players to have a lot more trouble adapting to the new level. It seems that very few rookies can make the jump to MLS level within two seasons, and they eventually get offloaded back to a USL team to ply their trade. If the MLS teams began having a youth system comprised of the best players in the area then there would not be a need for the draft anymore. Players that weren't picked up by a club could still play college ball and sign up on a free transfer after they finished their career there. This would have the further advantage of improving the country's youth national teams and US competitiveness at the national level.

I am a stern believer that the season should end after all of the teams have played each other twice and the team with the most points will be crowned the league champion. Once again the playoff system has worked in other sports, but soccer is not other sports and has the cup competitions to this end. That said the Open Cup will also need to be revamped for this purpose, but that is another issue for another time. Enough said on that subject.

Half time should be a time to let the players, managers and fans relax. Leave the pitch empty for fifteen minutes and then have the players come back on to finish off the game. Having an interview with a player at half time is a practice that I personally believe shouldn't be allowed in any sport, but that's just me. With a number of players it is obvious that they don't really want to be interviewed on their way to the locker room (especially anyone who has played abroad), and reporters shouldn't feel the need to bother them. Arrange a press conference after each game for star players and managers to reveal their thoughts, and then once again leave them alone.

In order to increase the passions of the players there should be a relegation/promotion system eventually established with the USL. The MLS has announced they are attempting to bring the league up to 18 teams by 2010 and I think they should aim to have a link with the USL by 2012. This will give a chance for some of the "A" League teams to ply their trade with the big buys, and will give players at the wrong end of the table something to play for. This will probably involve combining the USL divisions together in one in order to bring up the numbers in the second division. Furthermore regional leagues would probably need to be established to further the relegation/promotion picture. These wouldn't have to be full professional leagues but could be built similarly to the regional leagues in Europe that are built up of semi-professional players who also have other careers.

These are just my thoughts, and I am interested in hearing some feedback from people on their views.