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MLS ’13 – Accepting MLS as a Feeder League

In the United States, we are used to the best.  The best cars, the best electronics, the best TV shows, everything we have is the best.  Even if we did not make it or create it, we still want it here in the U.S.  So when the best version of a product cannot been found here in the U.S., we enter a state of denial.  It’s an unnatural state for us.

This past twelve months, when players like Brek Shea left MLS to go overseas, a state of panic hit MLS fandom.  We were used to up-and-coming players leaving, players like Tim Ream who seemingly needed to go abroad to reach their full potential.  These players were names, but the Tim Reams of the world were not the faces of MLS; they left before they could become that.  But when guys like Geoff Cameron and Shea leave, these are the faces of the league.  We assume that the league has a plan to establish identity guys besides Landon Donovan that are MLS and don’t need to go to England to become professionally actualized.

The fact is though, MLS is a feeder league.  In fact, all but maybe three or four leagues worldwide are feeder leagues.  Soccer internationally has the behemoths – the Barclays Premier League, La Liga, and the Bundesliga with Serie A and Ligue Un trying to enter that upper echelon.  These leagues have the best teams, the best leagues, and the best coaches.  Players dream of playing in these leagues because they are the best, and if you want to prove yourself you need to go against the best.

The best also have the money.  Manchester United’s sponsorship deals are a dream to MLS teams – they would likely be thrilled with the amount the Reds get for their jersey sponsorship alone.  The best money means better wages and MLS simply cannot compete financially.  Initially this may not be the case – the league could possibly match what Geoff Cameron is making in his current contract.  But if Cameron plays well, the next one would be well beyond their means.  Based on his name recognition, the league simply cannot spend the kind of money required to keep players from jumping overseas, especially if it means overpaying them.

All this said, being a feeder league is not a bad place to be.  Since 98% of soccer leagues worldwide are in the same position, MLS is in no way unique.  This is especially true since the league has only been in existence for less than 20 years; AS Roma wasn’t built in a day.  MLS is growing into a league that has garnered some international attention and as the quality of players grow so will the quality of the league.  It will likely be a while until it can aspire to reach the level of the EPL, but we do not necessarily need to be the best right now.

So if MLS is a feeder league, what should be the league’s strategy for growth?  To become a North American power.  Currently Liga MX and maybe Costa Rica’s top flight league are king of the continent, but MLS has some major advantages.  The draw of playing in the U.S. while still being able to retain cultural ties helps players from Latin America feel comfortable coming to the U.S.  As MLS draws the best players from the Latin American leagues – but especially Central America and eventually Mexico – its standing will grow.  Already we are seeing CONCACAF teams full of MLS players.  To help this trend MLS teams will need to begin winning the CONCACAF Champions League and competing in the Club World Cup, a very attainable goal.

In the future, MLS will continue to be a feeder league.  And that’s ok.  As long as it continues to grow in North America and recognize the limits and growth potential, MLS will be successful in the global soccer community.

12 Responses to MLS ’13 – Accepting MLS as a Feeder League

  1. Charles says:

    To say the other 3-4 leagues are NOT feeder leagues is not right, IMHO. I know what you mean, but if they were not feeders then BA would still play at Newcastle or where ever he was fed from before that.

    Soccer is set up to be a joke, and unfortunately MLS is not immune from the joke. Instead of watching Ba and Ex-MLSers be beasts, many times we watch then come off the bench for a few minutes.

    Those leagues are so wasteful in terms of not drawing fans (because they have to artificially demote teams) and wasteful in terms of talent, putting all the talent on a handful of teams. There is no way that MLS, even if it is only moderately successful, doesn’t crush the middle teams of those first divisions and very soon.

    A great example is Portland. In the inefficient leagues Portland gets demoted and doesn’t draw 14-15k for its preseason game. It doesn’t keep Ryan Johnson playing, he instead goes to a “bigger club” “to develop”.

    The only thing holding MLS back right now is salary ability, and there is plenty of ability above the current cap, everything else is lined up perfectly to change the ugly flow of talent you talk about.

    • Steve says:

      “Those leagues are so wasteful in terms of not drawing fans (because they have to artificially demote teams) and wasteful in terms of talent, putting all the talent on a handful of teams.”

      I can’t understand this at all. All competitive leagues promote and relegate over a fixed number of games. Rather than being wasteful, the competition fires both supporters and clubs alike to improve their status, or seek to retain it.

      Premier League attendances are rarely below 95% capacity no matter what point in the calendar and overall attendances have over 20 years, consistently grown. The clubs attract the best talent from across the world, including the MLS, and while I’d agree that the best talent goes to the biggest clubs, many of the ‘middle teams’ have their fair share of international players gracing the stadia of England. They aren’t going to get ‘crushed’ any time soon.

      The alternative is closed leagues. A removal of the driving force of the game – a hope that one day your club will be at the top table, the football dream. It couldn’t happen in England, where 92 clubs at four levels strive for that dream. It’s that belief that makes the game here so vibrant, and why the best of the world make their way over the pond. Long may it remain.

      • Charles says:

        You sure about that 95% capacity number for second division ?

        Many, a majority even, of those games are less attended than an average MLS game.

        Let’s say it is true. Who cares really, none of those teams are going to win the EPL ever. IF they were in first division that number would be higher, no ? Newcastle’s attendance drop was very big when they were shut out of the chance to win it all. We can agree on that I hope.

        Very, very few of the fans of those teams in lower leagues actually believe they are going to win the top division. Give me a break. If you offered them a spot in the first division of a parity league they wouldn’t take it ? There is NO WAY you are going to argue that are you ?

        So let Orlando, NY and whoever else wants in, into the top league, quit excluding teams and get rid of this crazy dream that at this point pro/rel is anything but a power hold by the top teams who are raking in the money by the exclusion of other teams.

        • Steve says:

          My comment of 95% was about the Premier league – our top division, the second division, our Championship has attendances which make it the 5th most watched in Europe.

          In response to whether the smaller teams would like parity in the top division of course they would, it’s a no brainer. That said I have never come across anyone that would say that they would want that at the cost of removing promotion and relegation.

          The top teams do wield power, the number of teams that can win the league is small, that is perhaps why the cup competitions remain the province of hopeless romantics. If ever there was an example of that, the fact that a team from the fourth tier Bradford city, will take on a relative newcomer to the top division in the League cup final on Sunday. All neutrals will want a Bradford win.

          Foolish, romantic, but possible. Most of us know we won’t win the league, it was ever thus … But we dream and that – for most is enough.

          • Charles says:

            Cool.

            But to say that pro/rel is wasteful especially for a league more than a little short on money needed to keep the players I want to see home is 100% correct.

            Glad it works for England and where ever, I hope they enjoy it, a lot. I for obvious reasons only care about the US league and it doesn’t work for US Soccer’s biggest fan…me.

        • The original Tom says:

          Do you know Newcastle’s attendance drop? I couldn’t find it. A lot of those clubs do well after dropping, the fans enjoy the new teams and winning a lot.

          • Charles says:

            I don’t know the numbers, I just eyeballed the numbers on ESPN. Click on results, you can do it by team/year.

            They appear to be upper- mid 40s most games while not banished. When barred from the top league, upper 30s to lower 40s. Seemed more variance too, just eyeballing it.

        • K says:

          you don’t know what you’re talking about. Go watch the NFL or something.

          pro/rel and meritocracy is how the game is played around the globe. It’s probably the #1 reason soccer has become so popular throughout the globe.

          Just look at Swansea City, a club that was in the Conference just this decade. Now they are in the Premier league and they’ve just won the League Cup.

  2. gbewing says:

    As for MSL I agree first goal lets be the best in North America and CONCAAF. Job 2 lets help the US national team get better-take the slow build for everything else

  3. MrTuktoyaktuk says:

    So is Eredivisie. No shame in that game. Sepp Blatter’s comments regardless, MLS and its fans needs to spend less time worrying about being world class and more time, as commenter above states, worried more about getting to being best in CONCACAF.

    • Charles says:

      Just because they are happy in one country doesn’t mean we will be happy here. Look at England, they are happy with the same team winning almost every year. I would bet most in the US if told what they watch would think they are idiots.

      It isn’t worrying about being world class, whatever that is, as much as it is being able to watch the players we want to watch. Do I want to see George John dissappear after watching him in college and MLS. No.

  4. David says:

    I think the US is not the best at zillions of things. Many countries around the world do some things better than us. And we also depend alot on other countries from around the world to provide the goods so that we can look good. As far as football (soccer) we in the US are not the best at it and the MLS is still at a college level. Nonetheless, our football is growing as we start to understand the game a little more. I think that how we train our players is a reflexion of how well we understand the game so I believe our training will be affected by our understanding of the game. I think our focus in develpment has to be more centered on CONCACAF because we are still not quite as good as other leagues in the CONCACAF. However, speaking of CONCACAF, MLS teams actually do pretty well in competitions such as the CONCACAF Champions League so that’s something to be happy about. Also, the US Men’s National Team does well in competitions such as the Gold Cup.

    You mentioned the America’s continent’s best leagues and to that I must say that the best in the American Continent are in South America. I think the Argentine and Brazilian leagues are amongst the best in America. But for us in the US, we got to start with our own region; the CONCACAF.

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