MLS: The Minor League of World Soccer

Harold MatskevichContributor IJuly 30, 2010

HOUSTON - JULY 28:  Landon Donovan #10 of the MLS All-Stars looks to control the ball against Manchester United during the MLS All Star Game at Reliant Stadium on July 28, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Soccer announcers have been fawning over the myriad successes and near-successes that MLS teams have had in their battles with European clubs, yet one must wonder if the victories have any meaning.

The culmination of these friendlies (The MLS All Star Game) sheds the most light on the fledgling position of the MLS in the footballing world.

Unlike the rest of the major American sports leagues, which showcase a match of their best star players in competition with each other, MLS chooses to field a team of its best players against a major European club.

Moreover, the European clubs in both the All-Star Game and the friendlies are in preseason form, with their best players watching from the stands.

The MLS All-Star Game is akin to a preseason match between the New York Yankees and the best that the Japanese baseball league has to offer.

Even if the underdog wins, the victory is attributed to the incomplete, preseason form of the favorite.

While Manchester United was praised for its 5-2 thrashing of the MLS All-Stars, had the result gone the other way, Manchester’s poor performance would have been blamed on the absence of Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, and the club’s other top stars.

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Consequently, the most that the MLS could have hoped for in all of its friendlies was to be recognized as a decent breeding ground for talent...talent that is to be plucked by the real superpower leagues of the world.

Can American soccer grow under the current status quo? One needs to look south for the answer, to the leagues in Argentina and Brazil.

While the Brazilian and Argentinean National teams are arguably two of the best in the world, only three Brazilian and six Argentine members of their respective World Cup 2010 squads play at clubs in their home country. (The U.S. had four MLS-based players on its World Cup team.)

In fact, the remaining players on the national squads are playing in the major leagues of Europe.

It seems that the soccer leagues of the two South American powerhouses have perfected the art of developing young players, only to see them leave for the European leagues once they reach a certain level of professionalism.

Perhaps there is hope yet for American soccer? While MLS may not be a strong league, the U.S. has a strong grassroots soccer program that has produced many fine players.

One must not forget that the vast majority of the best U.S. soccer players, including most of the members of the World Cup squads, started out in MLS.

But can MLS ever achieve the level of the English Premier League, Serie A, or the Bundesliga? Highly unlikely!

Not only are the European leagues a path to stardom and World Cup glory, but they also pay significantly better than all other leagues. As a result, MLS is simply unable to retain its best players due to financial limitations.

Yet even if MLS were to become the richest league in the United States, it would still not be able to rival its European counterparts. One of the most important elements of European soccer is competition.

Domestic league competitions are second in most fans’ minds to the UEFA Europa League and Champions League, where the best clubs of Europe compete to be crowned the kings of the continent.

The level of competition is fierce, and the prize is coveted. Even if MLS were to become a strong league, the other leagues in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL would have trouble following suit.

As a result, interleague competition in the Western Hemisphere would remain weak, and the vast majority of fans (including American fans) would remain more loyal to their favorite UEFA team.

According to a report by Bleacher Report contributor Andre Rojter, MLS was ranked 88th in the world by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

With the financial situation of the U.S. and the dominance of Europe of as a football federation, the statistic is unlikely to change.

One can only hope that MLS will continue to produce young and talented players who will reach their full potential in the leagues of Europe.

To see the article by Andre Rojter, please follow the link: 


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