There seems to be an excess amount of soccer leagues and tournaments in the world today. Almost every country in the world has at least one major soccer league. The most famous leagues, however, are in England, Spain, and Italy. The most famous European tournament is, without a doubt, the UEFA Champions League.
To an American that doesn't usually follow these leagues and tournaments, it can be very confusing. I'm here trying to clear things up and show how these leagues and tournaments relate to MLS and the USA.
The top league in England is called the Premier League and was started in its current form back in 1992. Previously, the top flight in England was called the Football League First Division. It was part of a bigger league called the Football League which was founded back in 1888. It has twenty different clubs all competing to be the best in England. To many people the Premiership is the best league in the world. The rankings seem to agree with this fact.
The Premier League is ranked first in UEFA for the best soccer performance, ahead of Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A. More people watch the Premier League than any other league, and it's also the most lucrative league in the world.
The Premier League has always been kind to American players and MLS. A total of 21 Americans have played in the Premiership since its beginning in 1992. Among them were stars like Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Fulham had a reputation of bringing Americans to the club. However, with the loss of Brian McBride, that trend seems to be going to other clubs.
Don't worry though, it seems that many more players will move from MLS to the Premiership. The most recent player to make the move was Brad Guzan, who moved from Chivas USA to Aston Villa. Premiership clubs has also played many off-season friendlies in the USA. Most recently, West Ham United played MLS All-Stars, a match where MLS won.
Behind England's Premier League is Spain's La Liga, founded in 1928. Unlike the Premiership, La Liga has twenty four clubs competing to be the best in Spain. La Liga can boast the most successful clubs in Europe. La Liga is regarded as a technically better league than England.
Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Valencia have all won five or more international trophies in their history. UEFA has La Liga ranked second in terms of performance. They're behind the Premiership and ahead of Serie A in Italy. Real Madrid have won the Champion's League or European Cup as it used to be known as a record nine times.
Until recently, La Liga hasn't had many Americans play in the league. However, with the transfer of Jozy Altidore to Villareal FC, it might spark Spanish interest in Americans. That's not to say that there's absolutely no interest in American soccer from La Liga.
Spanish giants Real Madrid signed a 10-year partnership with the MLS club Real Salt Lake back in 2006. Also, the other Spanish giant Barcelona played friendlies against MLS clubs during this off-season. Maybe other Spanish clubs will get on board and start helping out MLS clubs.
Over the next few years Spanish clubs are expected to aggressively pursue the spanish speaking market in America, while trying to enhance their own image in America, than bring the MLS to the next level. But to get to the next level MLS teams will have to play top opposition and that means giving in to the Spanish giants for a while.
Next on the list of soccer leagues is Italy's Serie A. For years Serie A was considered the best league, but after several disappointing seasons, they lost that title. Serie A was formed back in 1929, one year after La Liga. For much of the leagues's history, only 16-18 clubs have competed. However, since 2004-2005 there have been twenty clubs competing to be the best in Italy.
Serie A can boast some of the most famous and successful clubs in all of history. AC Milan has won the most international competitions in the world; and Juventus is ranked third in Europe and sixth in the world as a club who's won the most international competitions. Serie A is ranked third in UEFA's standing for performance, behind the Premiership and La Liga. Tactically Serie A is the best league, but all too often the Italian teams come undone in European competition by being too rigid.
Italy's Serie A has virtually no interest in Americans or MLS. Back in 1994 Alexi Lalas, the former GM of the LA Galaxy, went to Serie A and joined Padova. His stint there lasted only one season though, as Padova ended up last in the league's standings.
Other than that, only one American has gone over to Serie A. That's striker Gabriel Ferrari from New York City. He was signed by Sampdoria in 2007; however, the club loaned him out to Serie C1 club Perugia. Doesn't say much for his performance, does it?
These three league's aren't the only international leagues in which Americans play in. Other successful Americans play for other big clubs in other leagues. DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu play for Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers; former DCU player Freddy Adu plays for AS Monaco; and USA international defender Steve Cherundolo plays for Hannover 96 in the German Bundesliga.
Also, players such as Brian McBride, Eddie Pope, Cobi Jones, and Kasey Keller, currently at MLS clubs previously played overseas.
The most prestigious club tournament in the world is the UEFA Champions League. UEFA is the governing soccer association in Europe; just like CONCACAF is for North America. The current format of the Champions League was adopted in 1992; but an European tournament has been held since 1955.
Previously, it had been known as the European Cup. The Champions League is open to all UEFA members, except for Liechtenstein who has no major soccer league. In England, Spain, Germany and Italy any club that finished first to fourth in their league is eligible for the tournament. In all the other leagues depending on previous tournament history maybe only one team may qualify or have to get through preliminary competion to qualify.
Clubs that finish 3rd in the group stage of the Champions League do not move forward in the competition but they do qualify to compete in the second most important European tournament, the UEFA Cup.
Americans have not fared well in either tournament. Mainly, because not many Americans are on clubs who qualify for the tournaments. The most successful American in a European tournament is DaMarcus Beasley. He's scored the most goals for an American in the Champions League and made it to the semi finals with PSV Eindhoven in the 2005-2006 season.
So what's next for American players in international soccer? Will MLS ever be respected by other international leagues? Well, MLS has made significant improvements in recent years. It also seems that more MLS players are going overseas.
CONCACAF, the governing soccer body for North America, has made attempts to gain recognition. Most notably, the creation of its own Champions League which is almost a direct copy of it's European counterparts.
If MLS and Americans play their cards right, they might be able to use this competition to gain some needed respect. It looks like European clubs are already beginning to notice MLS, but they are still leery.
Who knows, maybe in the future MLS could be as great as the top European leagues?
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