Can Major League Soccer ever become one of the best soccer leagues in the world? It’s a question that year after year is constantly repeated to seemingly no end. Most players and analysts seem to think (and are likely correct) that the MLS has taken huge strides in its first 20 years, and time is the main reason the MLS isn’t as prestigious as many other leagues in the world which have been around for much longer. While I agree, I also want to consider another possibility- that the media is actually harming the growth of the MLS by so frequently making comparisons to other leagues.
The MLS doesn’t really get the credit it deserves. Some of it is the MLS’ fault. For example, instead of having an All-Star Game pitting the best players from each conference against each other, the league’s best players take on a top European team. Having your entire league match up against a single team isn’t exactly the best way to convey having a strong league. However, on an international level, the MLS isn’t a weak league. If you tell a lie enough times, people will start to believe it. Similarly, if you continuously downplay the MLS and question when it will finally become one of the “big leagues”, Americans will continue to see the MLS as disappointing and won’t be enthusiastic about the league. Realistically, the MLS is a top-15 and potentially top-10 league in the world, playing more competitively and at a higher skill level than most globally.
The United States is the biggest sports country in the world. Americans love sports and have grown the NFL, NBA, MLS, and NHL into the most prestigious leagues in the world for each of their sports. Already with such a gigantic sports market, incredible athletes and millions of diehard fans, the US has the opportunity to transform the MLS into a premier league on the world stage. We just need to take the MLS seriously. Stop treating the MLS like a joke, or something that will never get popular- of course it won’t with that attitude. The league needs support. A major factor preventing the MLS from further growth is low salaries for the average player compared to many leagues. This can be altered by America changing its soccer philosophy from something we watch only during the World Cup to something we watch weekly. Passionate fans can grow rivalries, buy tickets and jerseys, generating revenue which will allow teams to sign better players and drive the league forward.
We need to destroy the idea that we’re too good for soccer, or that we shouldn’t play a game just because other countries played first. We should stop being close-minded, writing off soccer as “boring” because “nothing ever happens”. While that may be the opinions of some, everyone should experience “The Beautiful Game” before accepting that idea. The United States has produced many of the greatest athletes to ever walk the Earth. Imagine what would happen if we chose to develop soccer players in the same way we grow future football and basketball stars? It’s not an easy process, but one that’s very achievable. We just need the right mindset.