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.