Is MLS Really Competitive


The continued outstanding form of the Houston Dynamo and the likelihood that Houston will win yet another MLS Cup title this year begs the question: Have MLS proponents and the league once again exaggerated MLS’ quality, this time in claiming how competitive the league is top to bottom.

Consider this: Historically one of four clubs has been represented in every MLS Cup final. Los Angeles, DC United, Houston/San Jose, and Kansas City. If you look at the last thirteen tournaments in Mexico, they have produced nine different champions. In MLS however, only six teams (again taking the rightful liberty of counting San Jose and Houston as one team) have won the MLS Cup. For all the talk of a salary cap and squad limits creating more competitive and meaningful matches all it seems to do is dumb down the competition and allow the top front office people like Houston’s Oliver Luck, DC United’s Kevin Payne or the dearly departed Doug Hamilton to who led the Miami Fusion to the Supporters Shield and the LA Galaxy to the MLS Cup in consecutive seasons to dominate the league. In reality MLS rules which its fans and front office claim promotes competitiveness have in fact resulted in tremendous imbalance.

Despite league manipulation at times and several ownership groups coming into the picture and then selling the team the general performance of the New Jersey franchise in MLS has been poor. If MLS were really the competitive product that is claimed, would not one of four ownership groups who have run the Metrostars/Red Bulls have gotten it right by now? The reality is anyone who doesn’t know the system backwards and forwards as Luck and Payne do are at a disadvantage under the current league structure.

MLS is in many ways if you look purely at who has been winning titles and who has regularly represented the league in CONCACAF competitions as uncompetitive as many leagues in Europe that MLS fans bemoan for predictability. Since 1999, a total of 13 different Mexican league teams have represented the league in a CONCACAF event. For MLS the number is smaller: seven, again taking the liberty to include San Jose and Houston as one team. In addition, Columbus birth in the 2001 CONCACAF Giants Cup was based on attendance figures not on the pitch performance. Kudos to Columbus fans who filled Crew Stadium for qualifying the team for the event, but the point is that qualification had nothing to do with league performance.

Right now MLS is no more competitive than the average European league that typical sends the same teams to UEFA competitions over and over again. The league is not as uncompetitive as the English Premier League or French Ligue Un, but is not as competitive as the German Bundesliga or Spanish La Liga: so basically it falls right in the middle of European leagues, even when you look ay leagues in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. As MLS moves forward on this and many other counts, the league cannot repeat tired old lines and just expect football fans in the United States and Canada to believe these claims when evidence proves the contrary is true. The league, led by Commissioner Garber must take steps to ensure competitiveness beginning with the revision of squad and salary cap restrictions as well as an emphasis on qualification and success in continental competitions not run by MLS itself. (ie Superliga.) Only then can MLS claim as many of its proponents do that it is one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

9 thoughts on “Is MLS Really Competitive”

  1. Consider this: Historically one of four clubs has been represented in every MLS Cup final. Los Angeles, DC United, Houston/San Jose, and Kansas City.

    You don't mention New England.

  2. and 3 of the 4 “franchises” are below average this year. Listing 5 cities with historically strong teams in a 14 team league means the league isn't competitive? No, it just means it's not random. mini-dynasties can result from good front office work.

    places 6-8 in the playoffs see 6 teams between 33 and 35 points with 3 matches to play

    bewildering. let's check a dictionary and find out what “competitive” really means.

  3. Why do you hate MLS?

    If I 'hated” MLS I wouldn't write about or think about it the way most euro snobs in this country are. Why do I constantly criticize the league? I've followed the league since its inception in 1996 closely and it is not the product it was promised to be by a long shot. Moreover, the media in this country with a few exceptions either over sells the league and its proponents who you can find on message boards all over the place claim its one of the top leagues in the world while others simply ignore it and act as if it does not exist. We try and strike a balance: talk about MLS but critique the product and explain why in my opinion the quality of play and many other things have not grown as well as we were promised in 1996.

  4. re “Why do you hate MLS?”– “Competitive” doesn't mean 12 different champions in 12 years. It means that week in and week out you don't have a great idea who will win or not, and it means that going into the last 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 rounds of the season, neither the champion or playoff seedings are even remotely clear. Just like this year, and the past several years

    If anything, MLS is TOO competitive, meaning that since all teams are just about equal, it often makes for some very pedestrian soccer.

    Competition wise, as a self contained league, MLS has little to worry about.
    Now if you want to say the quality could (should?) be better, or the competition versus those outside of MLS, we can talk.

  5. Wait!
    Kartik writes a column comparing MLS to the rest of the world and talking about MLS not doing well in foreign competitions and how MLS is mediocre based on those two talking points?
    What a shock!


  6. There have been 8 teams win the Supporters' Shield and 5 teams win the cup. Out of a league of 14? Thats pretty competitive. You can argue that the MLS stinks but this point is not well thought out…..

  7. no validity in your point. eliminate tfc and san jose since they have been in the league for less than 20% of its existence. this means of the remaining 12 , 75% have won the supporters shield… a number that truly shows the competitiveness. the mls cup side, not always the best team wins, just the hottest… which is fun to watch, but does not show competitiveness. or does it? considering we do not know who will win, or who will even compete for it when the season begins or midway through. no one would have picked the crew to raise the shield this year, but they are going to after being out of the playoffs for a few years. rsl may make the playoffs for the first time. and ny has made the playoffs, just because they have not found a way to win the cup does not mean the league lacks competition. when was the last 5 goal victory? when was the last time upset got thrown around? the lack of these two occurences shows the league's equality.

  8. Allow me to introduce you to the “Comma”. It's a great tool that will make your articles a tad more readable. Realistic expectations wouldn't hurt either.

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