Major League Soccer seems like a misunderstood step child of World Football. As a fairly young league by international standards, its growth has been remarkable and the fact that the United States has been to five consecutive World Cups appears lost on some critics of the league. One of these critics even referred to MLS as a “third tier” league while labeling the Championship, the second division in England which boasts far fewer regular national team players per team than MLS as a “second tier” league. The critic claimed that the rating system was based on the top teams in the league not on the entire league, which with salary cap based leagues like MLS and the Aussie A-League is an easy way to put them at the bottom of any rating system.
This particular critic is one of several here in the United States that seem to want to ridicule anything the league does. These critics often compare MLS in every facet to Northern European leagues, particularly the Premiership forgetting that geography, culture, and climate make MLS very unique.
Applying a distinctly Northern European standard to rating MLS is unfair and flat out wrong. Here’s why:
In England teams often times take a one or two hour coach ride to next match. In Major League Soccer Chivas USA for example probably has to take a six flight flying in coach class to Boston to board a bus to take an hour drive to Foxboro. Plane travel itself is more consuming physically than ground travel, not to mention to change of time zones.
MLS critics like to make a big deal about when MLS’ season takes place. Now personally I’d love to see the league on the same August to May calender that the top European leagues are on. However, the harsh climate in the northern US and Canada makes this impossible. It is no coincidence that since MLS began play, leagues similar climates such as Scandinavia and Ireland have moved their calender more in line with MLS.
The style of Major League Soccer has become more and more distinctly Latin than it was let’s say in the 1996 to 2000 time period when it had more of a Northern European flavor. You can argue which style of play is better or more attractive. However, applying a strictly Northern European standard to judging MLS quality and attractiveness is wrong. It is in fact something I have personally been guilty of in the past because I watched the Premier League and Bundesliga (or at least the highlight shows we received in the US) before MLS existed.
Part of me believes comparing leagues is foolhardy and something just meant to provoke controversy by certain individuals. It seems that despite the efforts of some to ridicule the product in MLS, many around the globe and even in the United Kingdom enjoy watching the league. Certainly no argument can be made that MLS is on par with the top divisions in England, Spain, Italy and Germany. However, a legitimate argument could be made that MLS as a whole (again not the top teams, as in a salary cap based league parity rules) is nearly as good as several other European top divisions and is far superior to the second division (the Championship) in England. Those who watch very little football from outside of England and admit fast forwarding through many of the English games themselves aren’t in a credible position to judge and rate leagues from around the world.