MLS Expansion 2013: Proposed New Clubs Risk Spreading U.S. Soccer Too Thin

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIAugust 2, 2013

Major League Soccer's proposed expansion by four teams in 2020 puts a lot of faith in the brand of the sport in the USA, but it's a substantial risk that could spread the league too thin.

The best, most entertaining football America has to offer is battled out on the NFL gridiron, while the MLS takes a backseat in terms of major sports popularity.

Regardless, commissioner Don Garber decided to announce at halftime of the recent All-Star Game that the league would expand by four teams in the coming years, per The Washington Post's Steven Goff:

That game showcased the gap between U.S. soccer and others, as many of the MLS' best players were beaten comfortably 3-1 in a match against AS Roma, who finished sixth in Italy's Serie A.

In order for the MLS to eventually approach the interest soccer has in the rest of the world as the planet's most beloved sport, the quality of the game needs to be the primary focus, rather than the number of teams.

While bringing soccer to new U.S. markets could be a catalyst for enhancing its profile across the country, it's important that the game is being played at a high level in those instances. Given the current talent pool of the MLS, it doesn't seem feasible.

Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune points out how local TV markets are faring rather well in the expanding league, but that national television ratings are still very minimal.

A big reason for that is the lack of individual star power, which is what ultimately drives sports. Absent a true set of faces of American soccer, it's hard to sell the MLS.

Even if the league experiences a massive influx of skillful, world-class players over the next seven years or so, it's still a bit of a long shot that soccer will be popular enough to be a massive hit in the U.S.

There are plenty of Americans who play soccer, but when seeking out the most entertaining matches, nearly none turn to the native product for predominant consumption. Rather, the English Premier League, La Liga and other European leagues are looked upon as the gold standard.

Rightfully so, too, because watching that type of play as opposed to what transpires in the MLS is frankly like watching two different sports. The game is faster, more physical and far more captivating throughout the 90 minutes of action on the pitch.

Both the EPL and La Liga have 20 clubs playing in the league each year, with the bottom three being demoted for relegation.

Unfortunately, American soccer doesn't have the luxury of relegation.

Any league in the States other than the MLS is scarcely followed at all. Adding more teams to the mix may not be a viable solution either, though, because it threatens to water down the already inferior competition to the more advanced leagues around the world.

Instead of simply adding more teams to the MLS, the league should focus on adding minor-league affiliates and expanding that way.

If developmental youth programs could be put in place for each club, too, that would give younger American talent an earlier opportunity at a pro career. It would provide a more direct line to an MLS roster than the North American Soccer League or the USL Professional Division.

Thus, a more defined path to the top American league could also provide more incentive for kids from the United States to take up soccer and stick with it.

To be fair to the MLS, it has made huge strides since its founding in 1993, but this latest proposition is stretching it.


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