The Premier League and Major League Soccer today announced a landmark agreement to establish a tournament during the summer to be played in the United States beginning in 2009.
Full details have yet to be announced, but here’s what we understand thus far. From mid-July to early August, four Premier League teams will compete in games against Major League Soccer teams. The benefit for the EPL sides is that they’ll gain considerable match practice before the league begins in early August. For Major League Soccer, the matches against the Premier League sides will provide a welcome mid-summer break to play quality opposition. The tournament will replace the All-Star game that MLS has traditionally played during the same time of the year.
From a marketing perspective, these games make perfect sense for both leagues. With the chances of the 39th game being extinguished by FIFA, the tournament in the United States gives Premier League teams a perfect chance to showcase the world’s best soccer league stateside as well as to earn significant amounts of revenue through ticket sales.
For Major League Soccer, the tournament will raise awareness and credibility of the league worldwide. At the same time, it’ll also allow the MLS teams to see how they stack up against quality opposition. Overseas, especially in the United Kingdom, Major League Soccer is still viewed as a laughing stock by many journalists and unknowing football supporters. This tournament will go a long way to either eradicating that viewpoint or strengthening it, depending on how the MLS teams perform.
The four teams from the Premier League that will be competing in the tournament next season haven’t been announced yet, but rumors are that Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Everton and Chelsea are interested.
If those four teams are the ones who enter the tournament alongside the 16 Major League Soccer clubs, my prediction is that you’ll see an all English semi-final with the four teams competing against each other after beating MLS sides earlier in the competition. The real question is whether it’ll be Villa, Pompey, the Toffees or Chelsea lifting the trophy. Based on Pompey’s success in the 2007 Asia Trophy Cup, my money is on Harry Redknapp’s side.
Another benefit for MLS is the boost in attendances that these games against Premier League sides will create. By piggybacking on the global success of the Premier League, Major League Soccer will bring new fans into stadiums, generate significant sums of money from ticket sales and will raise the standards of quality of games.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.