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MLS Ranks Shockingly Low in IFFHS Study

marco MLS Ranks Shockingly Low in IFFHS Study

For years MLS’ proponents have claimed the league is among the most competitive in the world and have generally assigned a ranking to the league somewhere in the 15th-25th range worldwide. I have myself in the past partook in such madness until I realized all such analysis are subjective and it appeared MLS was not making the grade.

But now we have new evidence that Major League Soccer is regarded very poorly abroad. This latest piece of evidence comes to us from the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. The IFFHS puts out an annual ranking of the top leagues worldwide and based on this study, Major League Soccer is not even remotely competitive in its own region. No surprise that the English Premier League tops this years survey but this study to me is very credible: it debunks the bias many European commentators have towards their own leagues and other leagues in the region by ranking three Latin American leagues in the worldwide top eight.

Since the advent of Superliga we have been told that MLS was closing the gap with the FMF. But this survey ranks the Mexican League as the 8th best on the planet, while ranking MLS 77th.  MLS is also ranked below the Honduran, Costa Rican and Guatemalan leagues by the IFFHS. From my vantage point, MLS is certainly inferior to the Costa Rican league. I’ve maintained now for several years that MLS is the third best league in the region vastly behind Mexico and slightly behind Costa Rica. However, I am surprised to see this study ranks Guatemala and Honduras in front of MLS and in fact ranks the Honduran league ahead of Costa Rica.

A large part of the formula for determining the strongest leagues by the IFFHS is performance by domestic teams when entered in continental competitions.  The CONCACAF Champions Cup and Champions League are factored into this survey, but Superliga which was won by an MLS side is not. International friendlies such as the Chicago Fire’s 2-0 victory over Everton are not factored into the formula either. Honduran and Guatemalan teams are helped by playing in preliminary rounds of tournaments that MLS and Costa Rican teams gets byes through.

The ranking for MLS is lower than it should be. It can be strongly argued that the league is better than most of the leagues in the 50-75 range and even some of the league above #50 in the rankings. For example, a great like Marco Etcheverry (picture above) would not have opted to play in MLS over his native Bolivia for eight seasons if MLS was truly substantially inferior to the Bolivian league. However, this should be a wake up call to the commentators who consistently try and compare MLS favorably with the Mexican League and some of the top leagues in South America.  MLS is a young league and is growing in a logical manner. But to needlessly raise expectations and standards for purposes of self fulfillment (I’m convinced a number of MLS fans and commentators over sell the league in order to justify spending so much time watching or covering it rather than appreciating it as the domestic league in our home nation) ultimately dooms MLS to riducle from those at home and abroad who are threatened by its success.

This entry was posted in Leagues: Major League Soccer, Major League Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

31 Responses to MLS Ranks Shockingly Low in IFFHS Study

  1. nathan says:

    great piece… it puts everything into perspective! even as the MLS continues to grow, their is still a lot of catching up to do. lets remember that the mls is not even 2 decades old so lets not get that depressed about the ranking, being 77th cant be that bad for such a young league. things will defiantly start to change once more mls teams are invited to the libertadores and sudamericana cup (winning those matches are just as important).
    as for the reference to Diablo, i think he played in the mls because of the challenge that playing in a new league presented and establishing his legacy in a league that soon will be amongst the best in the world… we just have to patient!

  2. bq says:

    Singapore, Belarus, Lativa, Zimbabwe and Lebanon? No way, I don't believe we are worse than those leagues for a minute.

    What I do believe, is that MLS is extremely inconsistent. Yes, this can be found in most leagues, but there are games in MLS that are so good and others that are so bad that it virtually seems there is no defense or where the attackers can't seem to score with wide open nets. I think part of the issue is that it's just too easy to go through the season and not win a game here or there and not have it matter in the long run – you can still end up in a playoff spot and possibly win the league title if you have a good run in the playoffs.

    Now I'm not saying I'm against the playoff system and I'm not so naive to believe relegation and promotion is what we need. We don't have the history or infrastructure for relegation promotion. However, there are some things that the league could do -and have started to do- to increase the competitiveness of the games. It's important for the league to set up systems that makesf each and every game worth something so there is more consistency from week to week. If that was done, I think you would see a far more competitive league that would therefore raise the bar.

  3. Jason Davis says:

    I'm glad you could find a study to validate your opinion that the sky is falling, Kartik. I'm of the opinion that the rankings mean nothing as long as the MLS operates under a

  4. Jason Davis says:

    My previous comment got cut off….

    I'm glad you could find a study to validate your opinion that the sky is falling, Kartik. I'm of the opinion that the rankings mean nothing as long as the MLS operates under a different set of rules (financially) than everyone else.

  5. Thomas says:

    So basically MLS should be in the top ten.

    For three consecutive years now MLS has proven it is better than the Mexican League, which this silly site ranked 8th.

    In 2006 MLS clubs won a majority of head to head matches and friendlies against Mexican opposition.

    In 2007 3 of 4 Superliga semifinalists were from MLS.

    In 2008 two MLS teams reached the finals of Superliga.

    These comparison charts are bunk that don't appreciate the fact that our league plays on a different calender and has a salary cap.

    The number of MLS players who excelled in Europe and then flopped in MLS speaks for itself.

    I'd say MLS is realistically in the 7-10 range worldwide. I argue and claim we can beat Premier League teams, but obviously the PL, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga are better. After that MLS could easily slide in as high as fifth but without my rose colored glasses on I would say 7th to 10th.

    • Mexico is better says:

      You’re an idiot. Mexico dominated this lame league since the start.
      Superleague was meaningless. The CCC was the barometer. The 77th
      ranking is spot on

  6. Estefan says:

    MLS is what it is – a fledgling league in a country that – for the time being – could largely care less about the sport. Both are changing. Quality players (Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Cuatemoc Blanco, Juan Pablo Angel, David Beckham, Jaime Moreno, etc) from abroad are involved, and more local talent is beginning to flourish (Chad Barrett, Dwayne DeRosario, Chris Rolfe, Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Ricardo Clark, Jimmy Conrad, etc.) .

    Maybe you don't follow or like a bunch of these players, but if not, so what? My family and I do. We like Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire and New England Revolution. My kids like the Galaxy – even though I don't – but I don't discourage them like too many of the brainless bozos who constantly bash the MLS because it's not 150 year old English league!

    My advice to those who can't do anything other than puke when they think or talk U.S. Soccer (or Canadian for that matter) is to ignore it and watch the extremely over-rated EPL. We'll stick with enjoying the sport that's played in our own back-yard thank you.

    By the way, we DO enjoy Mexican futbol as well, and when MLS sides are playing to their full potential, the two leagues appear to be very close in capabilities and talents. It shouldn't be long until the two leagues are competing for the better N. American (and maybe even S. American) talent. The best will still go to Europe, because many of those fools would mortgage their houses and sell their children for their leagues.

  7. Bishopville Red says:

    I'd like to see the criteria IFFHS uses to establish their rankings. Sometimes things used on a micro level are not appreciated in a macro environment.

    I doubt 77 is true indicator of MLS's status in the world, but people talking about MLS being in the top 10 are out to lunch. As for beating EPL sides, you're joking. Sure the blind squirrel might find the odd nut, but any MLS side would be relegation fodder, easy. Remember, it took an all star squad to beat a mid-table and dropping pre-season version of West Ham. No club on their own would stand a chance.

    As high as fifth? No way! Better than Russian, Greek, Portuguese, French or Turkish leagues? No way. Brazil or Argentina? Forget it! Even a Colombian, watered down Duch Eiredivisie, and SPL would swat MLS.

    20-25 tops for MLS. But I wold really like to see the criteria and weighting of the data. If it's on performance against clubs from other leagues, MLS might not even be the top league in North America.

    SB

  8. Enrique says:

    Before you write an article like this, do a little research. IFFHS last year named an Arab player, Mohamed Aboutreika, the most popular in the world in 2007 and this year the Honduran forward Oscar David Suazo was way over C. Ronaldo or Messi. This should make me happy because my roots are Honduran, but it's just simply not true. I voted for Suazo at least 20 times. You have to understand that this organization by making an equation has placed MLS 77th. We can come up with one the places this league above La Liga, but that is just absurd. Just because we read something it does not make it true, lets be a little more objective and analytical before we start going crazy over a list that makes absolutely no sense. Syria, Uzbekistan, Singapore, 30 spots over the US. The fact that you took this seriously makes me doubt your judgment when you tried to rationalize that MLS is at least in the top 50 and the Costa Rican league(who only have historically three competitive teams) is better overall than the MLS. It's your opinion and you are entitled to it, but you are basing it on bogus rational.

  9. anony says:

    To be fair, an MLS all-star side also defeated Chelsea a couple years ago, so it's not like they've “only” beaten West Ham. It still does not indicate that a regular MLS team would survive relegation in a top flight league. I agree the league is probably around #25, maybe.

  10. Pingback: How good is MLS? One study says not very good at all. | Inside Minnesota Soccer

  11. Ian says:

    Actually Suazo is the best player from CONCACAF and probably one of the top 10-15 players anywhere. No he is not Ronaldo or Messi but the fact he's Honduran should not inhibit his reputation. He is easily better than any other player from this region.

    Those who believe MLS is in the 20-25 range or even higher are deluding themselves. The struggles of the MLS in CONCACAF competitions is nothing new. In fact in the 2003-2006 period the MLS fared even worse than today and contrary to Kartik's claim that MLS must be better than the Guatemalan and Honduran leagues, those teams actually beat MLS teams when they faced off.

    The MLS teams who advanced in CONCACAF would generally draw a Panamanian, Salvadorian, Nicaraguan or Caribbean based team. I hear all the blabber from MLS fans about how the league is so competitive and has so many strong teams compared to 2-3 in all of Central American leagues but this is plain wishful thinking. Homer thinking I believe is what American sports fans call it. MLS teams who miss the playoffs would struggle in the Mexican second division. When I watch Mexican football the quality of play and lack of defensive breakdowns are so evident that even though MLS teams can get the results in Superliga playing at home with biased officiating, they'd simply die in Mexico. I include the top MLS teams in this. I do not believe a single MLS team would make the Mexican first division playoffs and would more often than not be fighting relegation.

    I actually think MLS is realistically about 50th or 60th best league in the world. That is nothing to be ashamed of but just some cold reality. You can bash the IFFHS all you want but for many worldwide football watchers like myself it is a credible resource fo football information.

    I too find fault with this article and Kartik's biases. But my issue is that he automatically without any reasonable explanation says MLS should be higher than two leagues believe it may not be better than < Guatemala and Honduras> and that he can attribute a rough number to MLS standing, saying it should be in the top 50 without analyzing the 27 or so leagues MLS would have to jump from this list to get into the top 50. I can guarantee you without doing the research that MLS is NOT better than every league listed from 50 to 76 here.

    Enrique, as for the Costa Rican league, do you know how poorly MLS has traditionally done against that league? Do you realize that MLS has won a total of two games all time against Costa Rican competition against six losses and four draws in legitimate competitions? Yet the second flight USL Puerto Rico Islanders won once and drew once against Costa Rican opposition.

    The posters here are drinking the MLS kool aid. I watch football from all over the world and do support MLS. But pretending the quality is top 25 or even top 50 caliber is just plain wrong.

  12. kkfla737 says:


    I'm glad you could find a study to validate your opinion that the sky is falling, Kartik. I'm of the opinion that the rankings mean nothing as long as the MLS operates under a different set of rules (financially) than everyone else.

    I've stated in the post that I disagree with the article. However, last year MLS was ranked higher so the poor performances in the CONCACAF Champions Cup and Champions League this season had its affect. Recall last season (2007) Houston won the home leg against Pachuca in the CCC, so that must have helped MLS rating.

    Syria, Uzbekistan, Singapore, 30 spots over the US. The fact that you took this seriously makes me doubt your judgment when you tried to rationalize that MLS is at least in the top 50 and the Costa Rican league(who only have historically three competitive teams) is better overall than the MLS. It's your opinion and you are entitled to it, but you are basing it on bogus rational.

    Costa Rica is a better league than MLS. I have stated that for years and will continue to state that. The top 2-3 teams in Costa Rica are at the level of top teams in Mexico. The top 2-3 teams in MLS are not. The rest of the league in both MLS and C.R. are roughly equivalent.

    Last year GOL TV's American Soccer program had a whole discussion about these rankings. So do you not take Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson seriously? IMHO they are two of the top commentators about football in this country and they were alarmed by the IFFHS ranking of MLS.

    When I watch Mexican football the quality of play and lack of defensive breakdowns are so evident that even though MLS teams can get the results in Superliga playing at home with biased officiating, they'd simply die in Mexico. I include the top MLS teams in this. I do not believe a single MLS team would make the Mexican first division playoffs and would more often than not be fighting relegation.

    This is simply an opinion. I happen to disagree. I think the FMF lacks quality defensive players. Sure the Mexican League is more exciting than MLS. In fact I would argue the FMF is more exciting that the PL, because of all the goals scored. That does not mean the quality is much better.

    I agree that MLS clubs would struggle there but you imply because of the number of goals it is a better league.

    I can guarantee you without doing the research that MLS is NOT better than every league listed from 50 to 76 here.

    Have you watched any of those leagues?

    Enrique, as for the Costa Rican league, do you know how poorly MLS has traditionally done against that league? Do you realize that MLS has won a total of two games all time against Costa Rican competition against six losses and four draws in legitimate competitions? Yet the second flight USL Puerto Rico Islanders won once and drew once against Costa Rican opposition.

    Good point

    contrary to Kartik's claim that MLS must be better than the Guatemalan and Honduran leagues, those teams actually beat MLS teams when they faced off.

    when?

  13. Enrique says:

    Do i need to really watch the Syrian league to say it's not better than the MLS?. I lived in Honduras for ten years and constantly watched competition against Costa Rican teams, historically it's close but Costa Rica has the edge with their league and national team. The fact that Costa Rica's Saprissa and Alajuelense; Honduras' Marathon and Olimpia do well internationally does not mean that they have better leagues. They have more money and year after year dominate the league because of disparity in competition. How come you don't hear Deportes Savio in Honduras or Carmelita in Costa Rica winning anything or having winning records. Because they are small leagues with few giants. How come San Luis and Tecos are good in Mexico, the Crew won here and RSL are good in this league(small teams). Kartik, you are absolutely right when you say the top 2 teams in Costa Rica can play in Mexico and head to head against MLS have had the advantage. It does not mean that the overall league is better. Parity in Mexico and here allow the leagues to be more competitive overall. I am not saying MLS is at par with Mexico but overall have a better league than in Central America. It's like saying that Peru has a better league than Uruguay because in the past Alianza Lima has beat Penarol in the Libertadores. Watch Ramonense in Costa Rica, Vida in Honduras, Jalapa in Guatemala, Metapan in El Salvador and tell me if those teams are better than San Jose or L.A. Again, how come the same teams from Central America are always going to the CCL? Yes, the top teams have a lot of quality and can win against MLS, it does not mean that those teams represent the whole league. Watch Central American competition like I do, not just the top teams and let me know if you have the same opinion.

  14. undrafted says:

    Kartik, how many times have you seen lower level Costa Rican teams play?

    Better or not, the Central American leagues (outside of Saprissa) are much more feeders to MLS than vice versa.

    Anyways, I'm just going to have to deal with crying myself to sleep over how the leagues in Finland, Angola, Latvia, and China are superior to MLS.

  15. Johnny says:

    Ummm yeah, I dispute any list that has the Spainish league behind a league in Argetina????? Come on, its ridiculous — the MLS isn't perfect but don't try to tell me its below the league in Peru or any other South American country.

    MLS, thought its not a top tier league, is still a bonafide league that has strong competition all around. Did David Beckham not fit in quite nicely to the game in Rome on sunday? And is he not an MLS player?

    Let's see any league in south america make that claim (excluding of course the Brazilian league)

  16. BW says:

    MLS is actually a top 10 league by almost any standard.

    Look at the number of Argentine players who have left Argentina to join MLS. They have come for better pay and a better standard of play.

    I believe MLS is the best league in the Americas. If we were able to buy our way into the Copa Libertadoras the way the Mexican league has we'd show up all of these leagues ahead of us in this list: I include Argentina and Brazil in that list.

    The CONCACAF competitions are mickey mouse. When something was on the line namely, a million dollars MLS teams have dominated Superliga. Three semifinalists in 2007 and an all MLS final in 2008.

    Look at how well so many former MLS players have fit into the Premier League and Bundesliga. Most european scouts would admit MLS is the best league outside Europe which is why they mine it for so much talent. If Mexico is so good why do so many Mexican league players struggle in Europe? They cannot cope anywhere but Mexico.

  17. Jonathan says:

    - Rankings as a whole don't matter (see the that ridiculous US and Czech Republic ranking at the last World Cup )

    - The Champions League and its previous format proved that MLS is not in any sort of shape to be compared to England's Championship or the top flight of Mexico. I'd take those results more over rankings.

    - Pointless friendly games are such fools gold in terms of comparing one's league with others. Brag about beating Chelsea, West Ham, and Fulham at your own peril. On the other hand, a Japanese team missing so many Japaneses internationals thrashed the Dynamo. Both were in pre season.

    - Competitive? If I want competitive, I'd tune into NFL.

    - Deluded MLS fans? As long as the likes of the Lalas brothers make a living off soccer, it's reasonable to have so many out of touch people.

  18. Jonathan says:

    @Johnny
    Beckham was a non factor on that game. So was Ronaldinho. Pato and Ambrosini's introduction saved Milan

    @BW
    - Check out the CONCACAF Champions League where USL teams like Montreal and Puerto Rico saved the reputation of US based leagues. You must have missed that.

    - Argentines in MLS? The best ones are already in Europe.

    - If MLS teams are so superior, how come they can't dominate CONCACAF Mickey Mouse tournaments?

  19. dp says:

    your nuts, the argentinian league is arguably the best league in south american, just as competitive but better quality of play than brazilian, people just dont follow it as much. there used to be parity in that league, but now the quality is spread throughout. the argentinian league is the biggeest exporter of the best players in the world. look how many argentinians play in germany, italy, EPL, brazil, spain, and so on….

  20. jmt21 says:

    The lack of teams is probably the reason for the low rankings… but even then, in terms of competition and on individual player skills the mls is better than almost any league in the western hemisphere.

  21. jmt21 says:

    none of the south American leagues are all that good, mostly because all the young talent is quickly signed by European teams. MLS could very easily compete with these leagues if only they had more teams.

  22. Elninho says:

    The IFFHS rankings have been debunked over and over and over. I don't need to do so again, but…

    The IFFHS simply ranks leagues by the points earned in all competitions by the top 5 teams. This is flawed because:

    1) It includes domestic competition, favoring leagues that have dominant clubs over those that are relatively competitive. Likewise, in a small league, 5th is mid-table, while in larger leagues, 5th is in the top 25% and will pick up more points in domestic competition. Furthermore, there is no adjustment for length of season, so longer seasons are overwhelmingly favored. Finally, the points that IFFHS awards for a result in domestic competition are based on a subjective “rating” of the league – basically, nothing more than someone's opinion. One has to wonder, of course, what the point of including the domestic results is, because all the clubs are only competing against each other! I suspect that IFFHS did this so that the top 5-10 leagues would look subjectively correct, completely ignoring everything below that.

    2) If a club competing in international tournaments does not finish the season in the top five, the points it earns playing foreign opposition are worth NOTHING in this ranking. Again, counterintuitive. In MLS it is common for a team to play in CONCACAF competitions while propping up the bottom of the table – this should reflect on the league's strength, but instead the IFFHS evaluates it in the exact opposite way.

    3) The only weight to international games is what continent they're played on. Smaller leagues rack up a lot of points in qualifying rounds for continental tournaments. Also, Mexico, for example, is overrated not only from competing in two continents' competitions, but from picking up points against domestic competition in the Interliga and Pre-Libertadores rounds. Other Latin American leagues also gain points in domestic qualification rounds for the Copa Libertadores. (See rsssf.com for confirmation that these games are played.)

    The end result? A few years ago, I did the math, and showed that Guatemala and Costa Rica would ALWAYS be ranked ahead of MLS, even if all of their clubs crashed out of CONCACAF competitions in the first round and even if MLS teams won every game to produce an all-MLS final. That is absolutely ludicrous, and serves as absolute proof of the meaninglessness of these rankings.

  23. Elninho says:

    A brief addendum: I encourage any of you who are interested to read the methodology on the IFFHS website. I don't know if it is still there, but it certainly was for quite a few years.

    Set up a hypothetical scenario in which MLS teams win EVERY game against foreign opposition in a calendar year, right up through the Club World Cup final.

    That's what I did in 2003 and 2004, and in both years, changing results so that MLS beat everyone to set up that all-MLS CONCACAF final, while Costa Rica and Guatemala lost to everyone, still would not have pulled MLS ahead of those two leagues on the “points” that the IFFHS was using.

  24. vince says:

    I think that your article is great. People who love mls try to make themselves think its better then it is for self-fulfilment. One aspect of a league that makes it entertaining is the stadium and crowd. i think as more mls teams get soccer-specific stadiums it will become more popular. for some reason i have a lot easier time watching toronto FC because of its passionate fans than any other team. the mexican league is a better league in my opinion even if mls beats them because their fans, players, and annoucers are crazy about the game. i mean absolutly crazy. and i think that makes it more enjoyable

  25. Edward Camuffo says:

    Who ranks MLS below the league in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile? Obviously, someone who knows absolutely nothing about MLS, or about football outside of maybe Europe. The only two leagues in South America that may be better than MLS are the Brazilian and Argentinian Leagues. Just like the FIFA National Team rankings are laughable, so are these.

  26. Useful info. Fortunate me I found your web site by accident, and I am surprised why this accident didn’t happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

    • Charles says:

      And we have a new winner.

      >>>Tim says:

      December 14, 2011 at 1:08 am

      The better question is why in holy hell are you posting on a two

      year, nay nearly 3 years old post?

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