As our owner and head honcho The Gaffer highlighted last week, The Guardian podcast snubbed MLS deeming it not a ‘Major league’. Quite ironic for the satirist’s amongst you given it’s name but that’s irrelevant.
Now before I reel of a list of reasons, let me state this as de facto. I like Major League Soccer. A lot in fact. The following article is in no way a justification for their comments. It’s merely an explanation for why those in England (since I’m British) and maybe Europe find the concept of MLS so perplexing.
First off, the salary cap. A staple of American sports that stops the likes of Portsmouth and, lower down, Plymouth Argyle ever becoming a reality in the US. To some, though, it removes the excitement. For certain purists it’s brilliant. Imagine Manchester United having the same budget as Blackpool and forced to cut their cloth accordingly. It evens the divide and makes sure that no one stretches out. It keeps the league competitive.
In turn though it means you won’t see a team establish true dominance because they can’t just go out and sign all the best players. The situation at Man City would never happen. Nor Chelsea for that matter. To an English journalist used to seeing both ends of the financial spectrum in a league table, the concept of money boundaries is alien.
Then of course there are the playoffs. Now while the Football League does adopt a playoff for the third promotion slot, it does not give it to those in first and second so that is ignored. In some instances I do see their point. After all the team that finishes highest doesn’t always win the MLS Cup.
It almost spits in the face of the league season if all you need to do is qualify and then perform in the knockout rounds. A bit like a World Cup in some senses. To an American audience, this is fine. However, they’ve grown up with it. Yet to European football/soccer fans (delete where applicable), it can seem almost like cheating.
The distinct lack of relegation. Just as much as the English media likes to revel in champions, they love to pan the cameras, to the tearful fans of those unlucky relegated trio. Be it children or grown men balling their eyes out, the worst teams are deemed not fit to eat at the top table and must earn that right by fighting it out with the other peasants in the Football League.
The fact MLS doesn’t have a tiered league structure with promotion and relegation makes it unique in soccer. Even South America uses it, albeit on the most confusing and slightly irrational three season add-points-divide-by-three-pull name-from-hat method they use.
The best analogy I can come up with is two boxers. The loser is carried away and then a new contender is brought in. If the same two boxers just fought, it would end up the same result, in theory. I say in theory to protect myself from a barrage of abusive responses.