Sizing Up Major League Soccer

mls logo Sizing Up Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer is the highest level of professional football in the United States. Whilst the League has enjoyed growing domestic support over the past decade, it does not have much of an international profile, and member clubs have virtually no following outside North America.

However, the 2007 departure of David Beckham from Real Madrid to an MLS club, the LA Galaxy, earned Major League Soccer an unaccustomed moment in the international media limelight. Beckham’s move to the league highlighted the steadily improving quality of its player base as well as its growing financial power.

International Media Coverage

Major League Soccer enjoys comprehensive domestic coverage by major cable networks in the United States, with both Fox Sports and ESPN providing live coverage of Major League games. However, there is relatively little coverage of live Major League Soccer in the United Kingdom and Europe, with matches available only on ESPN and Fox via satellite and cable television.

Differences in time zones also reduce Major League Soccer’s chances of attracting interest from Europe, as the majority of Major League Soccer Games are played in the early hours of the morning. For this reason, most Europeans are only exposed to Major League Soccer via televised highlights packages and the vast majority focus their attention on local competitions such as the Champions League or the UEFA Cup Football Tournament.

Global Perceptions of Major League Soccer

Needless to say, limited international coverage of Major League Soccer means that most international football fans are poorly informed about the league, as well as the names and quality of competing clubs and players. To date it is world-class players transferring to Major League clubs that makes front-page news, rather than the reverse.

Furthermore, many football fans still regard the United States and professional football as a somewhat odd coupling, a perception that is reinforced by America’s use of the outdated cockney abbreviation for ‘association football’ as part of the description of its top-flight professional league.

Football fans are well aware of the dominance of traditional American sports in that country, and few believe that association football is taken seriously enough in North America to enable a highly competitive and well-supported league to emerge.

The Future of the League

In the foreseeable future Major League Soccer is unlikely to attract significant interest from Europe, bar the occasional poaching of promising young MLS players by wealthy European clubs. Instead, the League could capitalise on the central and South American market, particularly following the formation of the Super League, which pits American and Canadian clubs against top clubs from Mexico.

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26 Responses to Sizing Up Major League Soccer

  1. While I personally use the term football to describe the beautiful game, the British media’s obsession with the reference to the game as “soccer” is simply childish. Soccer is a British word as you state and Cockney or not, it’s rather elitist to look down on the use of the term.

    Secondly, professional football in the United States may in fact be an odd coupling: I don’t doubt that our two leagues, MLS and USL are not run by the general standards of international football, but the quality of footballer from this part of the world is not to be sneezed at in Europe. England’s deepest World Cup run of the past 18 years matches the US’ deepest World Cup run. The US has also defeated Germany (twice), Brazil, Argentina (twice), Portugal, and England in the same period.

    You’re points about MLS’ reputation in Europe are well taken. It’s not just time zones or lack of highlights. It’s the strange business and footballing setup I referred to above.

  2. Lars says:

    Quite frankly, I could care less if Europeans don’t like the term soccer.

    The people that matter are South America, North America and the Caribbean. CONCACAF teams could win the World Cup and the Club World Cup and we’d still be told that CONCACAF fields inferior futbol teams and that you’re not allowed to call it soccer.

    Major League Soccer may be an inferior product to that which is seen in some south american and european countries, but it’s still better than three quarters of the rest of the leagues in the World. It’s an inferior product but at least it’s [i]our[/i] inferior product, rather than some countries clinging to past glories claiming to have the best clubs in the world that field almost no domestic players.

  3. eplnfl says:

    Dear Mr. Guest Author:

    Do you think most MLS`fans think one second about what Europeans think of our game. Fear not, we do not. Do you think we worry at night on how to get some viewers for MLS in the Old World. You may find this hard to believe but we do not. Why is it that we hear a great uproar when an American owner comes in to say a Man U to buy the team or that an American player is held up from signing with a European club because of a “work permit” problem or a promising Yank is without explanation forced to set on the bench while his talent is wasted until he learns the European game. It seems that European’s do care about what what we do but are afraid to admit it.

    Well Mr. Guest Author, we do not care about your old world and just think if we took our money and players back. Europeans do fear the Yanks Mr. Guest Author but hide it with the use of snobbish comments like the above post.

    Kartik: Why did you let this guy on without using his real name. I profoundly support allowing all comment no matter how`irrational, but if you can not publicly stand by your comments then do not make them!

  4. TTB says:

    MLS is better than 90% of the European first divisions.

    USL is probably better than 95% of the European second divisions.

    We actually have a national youth development academy. Does England?

    We actually watch football from around the world. Does England? Heck, if I am not mistaken Serie A is not even on English TV.

  5. Footballer says:

    This guest author is spot on. How the hell do you Americans expect us to respect your football when you don’t even know which sport is football? C’mon now! You all make fools of yourselves being the only country that mixes it all up. One sport is modified Rugby. The other is Football. Why are you people so stubborn? Do you fear your gridiron superiors? In that case, no one’s going to respect football in the USA.

    So no, this author was NOT childish. His comments are very valid. If you want to be respected as football supporters, support the game of football. As football.

  6. Lars says:

    No.

    We don’t have to. If you don’t like our sport, stay the hell off our blogs about it.

  7. Footballer says:

    Lars sounds like a petulant little kid who refuses to eat his greens. Are your arms folded too? Are you pouting as well?

  8. Lars says:

    Oh poor me, I’m being insulted by someone who only cares about what happens in Europe. Boohoo.

    As I say to all [b]Eurosnobs[/b], if you don’t like it, go back to Europe. If you’re in Europe, go back to pretending North America doesn’t exist. We don’t need you, and we certainly don’t want your advice.

  9. Footballer says:

    @Lars: Very well then. I was only offering my point of view. I happen to have a deep passion for the game of football. So does the original poster. Reread his post. He makes many excellent points.

    It’s just rather odd that you people let gridiron supporters steal the name of the world’s most popular sport. Australia had a similar problem. But now they’re fighting back. That is very respectable.

    That’s all. It’s just an opinion. I don’t know why you people feel the need to hold on to that silly little nickname for football. Many people here see that name as tantamount to a child’s pet name for objects they perceive. Like calling a car a “vroom vroom”. Or a duck a “quack quack”. It reduces the game to a child’s endeavor, characterised by his mother driving him to practice in a minivan.

    Just think about it, mate, that’s all. Good day.

  10. Lars says:

    Rugby Football (as it was originally established in Canada by this name and spread south) now simply known as Football, will always hold this title in North America. When you say you like football, people ask you what your favourite team in the NFL is. Nothing will ever change this, and this is what the rest of the world hasn’t realized.

    North America is blessed with four major sports leagues, and Major League Soccer is a smaller, fifth, league. No other country in the world can make this claim. NFL happens to be the largest in North America, and I don’t see this ever changing. Football will always belong to Rugby Football, and never to Association Football in Canada and the United States.

    Soccer shortens the conversation so you can avoid talking about the Green Bay Packers, and Brett Favre, and save a solid 15 to 20 minutes of your life.

  11. mike says:

    funny thing is the world cup champs dont call it football either in italy its calcio.

  12. Shell says:

    The league is a joke from a footballing standpoint.

    It markets well and over sells itself. But the soccer quite frankly stinks.

    77th in the world for a reason.

  13. eplnfl says:

    Why is it that the name we use becomes a basis to downgrade the American game? Go ahead, please show me how Yanks can’t play football/soccer because we call it soccer. Ok, you can’t so intelligent critics well know drop that point.

    Can the quality of the game be better she no doubt and as America becomes more of a soccer nation it will get better and better. You can rate a league the way you want to, the biggest joke out are the FIFA World Rankings as we all know. If you did not take part in Euro 2008 you can not be highly ranked. BTW, I missed the English team on the ESPN coverage, did anyone else see them. How can the Mexican team be ranked higher then the American team when the USA has now dominated Mexico for years? You can get a survey to get you the results you want by the questions you ask. Easy really. The real test becomes how many big names you can sign. Yes, we need to sign more of them but with every player we sign from Europe the eurosnobs get more and more worried that their Old World leagues will become less and less relevant.

  14. Lars says:

    EPL, for the record, the US is ranked higher than Mexico now. I believe the US is in 17th, and Mexico is back at 23.

  15. Kartik says:

    Lou- Mexico is ranked lower than the US now, but if you beat Brazil three times in a five year period while the US beat NOBODY ranked in the top 10 in the world, that’s how you get ranked higher. Also Mexico made the second round of the most recent world cup while the US finished LAST in its group. those are cold hard facts.

    Scotland beat Italy AND France (twice) in Euro qualifying. Should they be ranked higher than those countries?

    Even in American sports the who beat whom argument holds no water. For example four years ago Georgia beat UK twice in the SEC season in basketball. Georgia missed the NIT and Kentucky made the elite 8. Should Georgia have been ranked higher?

    Until we start beating non CONCACAF powers regularly, Mexico will be the most feared team from our region regardless of what the FIFA rankings say.

  16. eplnfl says:

    Thank you gentlemen for inserting now. I should of stated that previously, or said not long ago, most of the time, but left it as was written to make the point. I sort of thought that I would hear that and also the point about Mexico being able to advance farther in the World Cup if they make it that is.

    Sports of all sort all filled with examples of teams that match up well against one team but fail to win against others or advance to a champioship while the team they trounced on more then ocassion plays on. It fair for Kartik to feel that way about Mexico but with the US not only dominating the Senior team but now also showing a clear adavantage over Mexico in other events ( ie: U-20 and Olypmics) you must say advantage US.

    And that makes all of our points to the eurosnobs. Mexico is a good team with a lot of talent and so is the US and one of these days Canada will get it’s act in shape and be a major player. The fact of the matter is that the world has to fear the North American teams and to see either the US or Mexico advance in the next World Cup is expected and not a surprise. Good for the New World!

  17. eplnfl says:

    Oh:

    BTW: For those still concerned with calling it soccer or football, well haven’t we forgot a certain country in Europe called Ireland. Now in Ireland what passes for football doesn’t look like the English game to me. Yet we never hear how they do not play proper football in Ireland do we?

  18. Rory says:

    To continue the World Cup US/Mexico results conversation. The US was last in their group because of how they were seeded (in this case, the ’06 WC, but do take a look at how the two were seeded in the two prior world cups). Take a look at who was in their group. Nine times out of time the US is not going to get favorable results playing Italy, the same can be said of Nigeria and Czech Rep.

    Mexico, was seeded at the top of their group which means they did not have to play two European teams. Instead, they play Angola?!? Mexico advances in a weak grouping because they were granted a the top of their seed. I watched the ’06 seeding live and listened to the whole conversation that Mexico was seeded at the top of their group while the US was not because Mexico had done better in the last three World Cups (even though the US had the most points in qualifying for CONCACAF). Lets see, if we scrub ’98 France, then the US advances to the second round twice, and Quarterfinals once. Mexico, however, doesn’t have a ’98 debacle. Despite current trends, Mexico gets to play Angola, and the US plays Italy. Fair? I don’t know. However, the road to the second stage of WC play has been more difficult for the US for the last few World Cups. Mexico’s has looked a little easier.

    My opinion, not entirely perfect, but worth reading.

  19. Rory says:

    Aww, Wikipedia, my friend. I’m wrong on a few facts, but nevertheless my argument is what I wanted to get across. The US was one place outside of getting seeded at the top of their group and summarily got shafted in the blind draw.

  20. Footballer says:

    Lars: Well, if you guys do what Australia did (changing the name of their federation to Football Federation Australia), that would be respectable and show that you people respect the roots of football and its basic identity.

    If you told your American friends “fuck you, MY sport is Football, yours clearly is not”, then you would earn my respect. But as I and many others have said, you people do not have a TRUE passion for the game.

    mike: The Italians speak Italian, not English. You Yanks claim to speak English. If you claim to do so, then speak it properly. Football is football.

    epl: I’d bet you 100 quid if you educate your children on the history of the game, a) they will appreciate it and love it more, and b) know it as football. It goes hand in hand. Immerse your lives in the game, then you will see.

    And the Irish people I know know football as football. You would expect that from football fans. Football haters can call football the lollipop word. It sounds degrading, so it’s appropriate for THEM.

    Those world rankings you all mention are a joke. A supporter shouldn’t brag until his club accomplishes victories on the pitch. Only. Never pay heed to those stupid rankings. They are nonsense.

  21. Mexico was ranked ahead of the US until the Sven disaster for several reasons:

    - Consistent advancement out of the group in the World Cup
    - Mexico has NEVER not advanced out of the group at Copa America. Brazil cannot claim this. Argentina cannot claim this. Uruguay cannot claim this, only Mexico.
    - The US finished THIRD in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup behind Costa Rica and Mexico.
    - Mexico has beaten Brazil three times and Germany once in the last six years. These are facts.

    Those of you who read this site and listen to our podcast and listened to CSRN know I LOATHE mexico’s national team. I now hate the Chicago Fire because of Blanco who I have always considered an unsporting cheat. I root against any FMF side except Pachuca in international competitions. I’m dying a thousand deaths about Puerto Rico’s return leg to Cruz Azul hoping they can slay the dragon.

    But part of this hatred is born out of respect. As a US MNT supporter since the 1980s, I know what Mexico has accomplished and respect the heck out of them. They have issues like too many foreigners in their league now and a bad development system but to simply say we beat them consistently on American soil means we should be always ranked ahead of them is to ignore the entire picture.

    Oh and a point about the US home friendlies against Mexico. While most of the fans who go to these games cheer for Mexico it is NOT like playing in Mexico. The surrounding during training and prior to the match are comfortable and American. They are uncomfortable and un-Mexican. Part of the reason the US has failed so regularly at Azteca or Jalisco is because of the pre match surroundings for training as well as the altitude. Playing a friendly in Houston or Dallas does not simulate this in any way shape or form.

  22. eplnfl says:

    Footballer;

    In your future posts please share your love and not your hate. What is a quid anyway? Something that lives on the ocean floor? Please refer to real money like dollars, bucks, greenbacks, or yen, or something with a US President on it for monetary references. You may be happy to know that my child has seen the US men play England and seen the US women play Ireland as well as take in numerous Fire games. BTW, a proper education for her also has had her taking in the Chicago Bears. The pride and joy of Illinois. If you were a real footballer, then you would understand when I say BEAR DOWN!

    PS: A great score by Brian McBride for the Fire over the weekend. You may recall him and that Fulham wanted him back but he came home to play his football!

  23. Footballer says:

    epl: Pfft, I couldn’t care less about Gridiron. It is inferior to Rugby, the REAL tackle sport. The only reason Rugby isn’t popular in the USA is because they don’t pause for beer commercials. So it cannot create the revenue to promote itself the way Gridiron does. But if you want to educate your son on a tackle sport, show him the Rugby World Cup (especially the 2003 edition).

    You don’t know what quid means? Funny, I know about dollars, cents, nickels, pennies, quarters and so forth. In addition, we here know about the 3 branches of your government. Can you name the 2 houses of Parliament? Educate yourself about other cultures more.

    I do have an interest in your city, Chicago. I watch MLB during the offseason and I have taken a liking to your White Sox. Solid ballclub who did a magnificent job in 2005. So, much respect to Chicago’s MLB team, the Sox. I hope they add some more WS trophies to their mantle.

  24. eplnfl says:

    Footballer:

    House of Commons and House of Lords. Only the commons is elected and the Lords have no real power! There you go!

    BTW: They do not play the best baseball in Chicago on the Southside. Northside Cubs have the best team!

    Why go back to the 2003 WC, just took in Six Nations. Ireland with the triple crown suited me well. Be modern!

  25. White Sox rule over the scrubs says:

    epl: You are a serious idiot. The scrubs haven’t won a World Series in 101 years! How can they be the best team?! Since the scrubs won their last World Series, the White Sox have won 2 World Series, 88 years apart! The scrubs are pathetic!

    The Sox did better than the scrubs in 2005, 2006 and 2008. At least the Sox won a playoff game in 2008. Any way you put it, the White Sox> scrubs. You’re delusional.

  26. Dennis says:

    Does anyone seem to understand that American soccer fans, OH Lord, my mistake, football supporters developed a love and appreciation from our European parents, grandparents, or cousins that were born in the old country. Personally, my love for the beautiful game was passed down to me from my mothers family, specifically my Grandfather and Great Uncle who both emigrated from Scotland. They called it football and took me to NY Cosmos matches as a child. And now I support the MLS because although not as deep as Europe is my domestic league. When I refer to the game as soccer I mean absolutely no disrespect, just in North America (you guys forget Canadians refer to the game as soccer as well) if you say football, unfortunately, they think you are talking about the game played on the gridiron with that silly helmet. I dont think Americans or North Americans mean any disrespect to the beautiful game by using the term.

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