An Argument For Watching MLS Now That The World Cup Has Ended

The World Cup is over and yes, it’s depressing. While no league in the world can truly match the amazing month-long festival of soccer that is the World Cup, America has an immediate outlet where fans can get their soccer fix: Major League Soccer. Whether you’re a brand new soccer enthusiast sucked in by the vortex of World Cup fun, or a veteran fan dealing with post-World Cup letdown, it is the perfect time for fans of soccer in America to try supporting MLS.

If you’re rolling your eyes after reading that paragraph, this article is particularly for you. I understand your reaction. I reacted similarly for a long time until I decided to give MLS a try a few years ago. MLS has to wage an ongoing battle against its stigma as an inferior league, but the tide is turning and MLS is increasingly well respected and even scouted for talent by larger clubs and leagues. When Stoke City was on their preseason tour of the U.S. last summer, manager Mark Hughes said,

“There’s definite improvement in the standards and I think everybody accepts that. MLS is a well-regarded league by everybody in Europe, I think you will see more and more teams coming over [to the U.S. for preseason tours] because we now know that the challenge and the competition here is good and we get the right level of opposition to test us. The quality of the opposition is correct and we can benefit from it.”

If you’ve never paid attention to MLS or haven’t checked in on the league in several years, you’ll be surprised. The current MLS is not the league you remember. The league’s average per game attendance now tops the NBA and NHL, with Seattle continually attracts the best crowds in the league (64,207 attended last night’s Sounders/Timbers match in Seattle). The league’s stadiums are mostly state-of-the-art, intimate, fantastic soccer-viewing venues (and most of them are less than ten-years-old). Fifteen of the nineteen MLS clubs now play in their own soccer-specific stadium, with new stadiums currently under construction or planned for D.C. United, San Jose, and Orlando. The league continues expanding with new teams coming soon to New York City, Orlando, Miami, and Atlanta. In May, the league signed a new eight-year, $720 million TV deal with ESPN, FOX, and Univision. These are boom times for MLS.

During this World Cup, I heard the same hype/conversations during every World Cup about how Americans are flocking to soccer en masse and how much the sport is growing in the U.S.  Then we move on and forget about it (in the media at least) for the next four years. The success of MLS, however, is tangible evidence that American soccer growth is authentic. On July 4th weekend against Chicago Fire, Sporting Kansas City had its 45th straight sellout – no one could have predicted anything like that for a franchise like Kansas City during World Cup 2010.

Cynics protest that attendance figures are nice and all, but MLS’ on-field product is still vastly inferior. While soccer aesthetics are less quantifiable than tickets sold, the soccer quality of MLS is much better than it used to be. The league is now bearing the fruit of its youth development mandate and the post-Beckham Designated Player effect. MLS certainly wants to mature into a destination league for players in their prime rather than at the end of their careers (i.e. Thierry Henry), but attracting players like Kaka (Orlando City) and David Villa (New York City FC) are important steps in that direction.

To the so-called “Euro Snobs,” those who ignore MLS because they prefer exclusively following the English Premier League, La Liga, or the Bundesliga, I get it. I’m a huge Premier League fan as well, but not following MLS because it’s “not as good” as certain European leagues is a poor excuse. Do Mexican fans ignore Liga MX because it’s not as good as La Liga? Do Dutch fans ignore the Eredivisie because it’s not the EPL? A lot of American soccer connoisseurs are remarkably snooty toward our top domestic league compared to fans in other countries.

MLS may never be the top league in the world, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be near the top. Staying away from MLS is a self-fulfilling prophecy – we say we don’t like it because it’s not good enough, but it’s not good enough because we stay away (and that includes watching games on TV by the way). The great thing for modern American soccer fans is that with all the coverage and viewing options available, it’s easy to follow your favorite European league alongside MLS. You can have your soccer cake and eat it too.

Why wouldn’t serious soccer supporters in America want the U.S. to have the strongest possible domestic league? For those who enjoyed following the U.S. Men’s National Team at the World Cup, but found themselves craving more, wanting to see the U.S. advance beyond the Round of 16, you should want MLS to continue thriving. Consider how many MLS players saw the field in Brazil: Dempsey, Bradley, Beckerman, Besler, Zusi, Gonzalez, Yedlin, Davis, and Wondolowski. Of course we want to see top American players getting opportunities in the top European leagues, but we still need the strongest possible MLS to develop the rest. In the long run, a strong MLS means a stronger U.S. National Team.

So come on fellow American soccer fans, I understand your skepticism, but it’s time to give MLS a try. Besides, how else are you going to pass the time before the new Premier League season starts?

36 thoughts on “An Argument For Watching MLS Now That The World Cup Has Ended”

  1. I’ve tried, just can’t do it. Not sure if it’s because of lower quality or just lack of passion for or against the teams.

  2. There is a better anecdote for dealing with the backdrop of the World Cup.

    The first leg of the Copa Libertadores Semifinal is on July 22nd and 23rd. You’re welcome.

  3. Consistent timeslots
    Consistent broadcast networks
    The MLS season is 18 matches in for most teams and the best GD is +9

  4. “The great thing for modern American soccer fans is that with all the coverage and viewing options available, it’s easy to follow your favorite European league alongside MLS. You can have your soccer cake and eat it too.”

    -Indeed! Thank you for this piece Nathan. I love MLS – unapologetically.

    That said, I doubt you’ll get much traction trying to convince people who think MLS is simply beneath them to watch it.

    1. The number of people commenting in this thread with their noses in the air about MLS just proves what I said originally: self-important snobs think MLS is beneath their refined tastes. It’s stupid to try to reason anything with such people.

      1. Because you like mls and I don’t that makes me a snob and a elitist. Okay you win I love the mls. Hope you give me a thumbs up. PLEASE!

      2. gillyrosh = typical butthurt American who doesn’t understand anything about quality soccer. Blinded by patriotism. The world laughs at you and your minor league.

  5. Mexico and Holland are football nations, that’s why they still support their respective leagues. USA is a still a country based on American Football, Baseball and Basketball. MLS is way down the pecking order. There are many reasons why Americans aren’t watching MLS (which have been mentioned on this site ad nauseum) but trying to convince bonafide footy fans to regress and watch MLS is redundant and you’ll never get them/us to do it.

  6. Main reason i dont watch mls:
    The way they try to make it align with American top leagues:

    1. Salary caps and parity mechanisms particularly keep down quality of play.

    2. No relegation, and playoffs that include over half the teams make a good portion of the regular season games meaningless and therefore i cant get into them (and the plaoffs are unwatchable, full of desperate long ball football). This stuff is USSF’s fault; of course mls will do whatever it wants because USSF is corrupt and lets it do so.

    3. The constant MLS PR BS that i cant believe anyone takes seriously.

    4. Quality of play and awful tactics. This is a product of the fact that every team is held to the same (low) quality level. If there were dominant and less dominant teams, more tactical variation would result. Instead one can inspect a pretty evenly matched slogfest every game.

    I love US Open Cup because the games mean something, you have underdogs and therefore interesting storylines, and i can look past the poor quality. However MLS just seems contrived and boring and will remain so until USSF gets some cajones (good luck) or NASL surpasses it because its less convoluted and restricted.

    So yeah; call me what you will but wake me up when we have a proper football structure. (BTW that would really help the national team)

    1. #3 is especially true.

      Throw in the fact that Americans feel the need to continually push this crap with articles and statements like, “but not following MLS because it’s “not as good” as certain European leagues is a poor excuse” (quoted from above article)…..very pathetic.

      Your league is pure garbage, yet you love it. Good for you. Stop trying to gain more fans, because educated football fans have better things to spend their time on.

  7. Basically all these articles are the same: “we know it sucks, but watch it anyway!”. It couldn’t be more obvious that you guys work for the MLS. If not, then it’s really sad, almost depressing, that you would continue to plead with people to engage with your laughable league.

    It’s gotta be some patriotic thing that drives this insecure pleading.
    Face it Americans: other countries do it better. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    1. There is nothing more annoying than a self-important, arrogant muppet signing off with “dismissed.” In capital letters no less.

      Get over yourself.

  8. I always tell my fellow soccer fan: don’t argue with the others why they should try watching soccer or stop hating soccer.

    Why can’t MLS supporters stop telling us to try MLS?

    Things will come naturally. When I started following soccer in the 80s and 90s, I had access to Serie A, English First Division (before becoming Premier League), Bundesliga, etc. Serie A was more interesting due to its quality. When Serie A became horrible, naturally I tend to watch the Premier League. Same with a lot of my friends: it was a natural progression.

    1. Wrong.
      Even the head of the USMNT wants young American talent to play overseas.

      But hey, it looks like you superfans can starting watching a 64 year-old Lampard lighting it up for some irrelevant MLS team in the near future! Yay!

  9. MLS…Mostly Lousy Soccer. Was then, is now. I started following my team in 1959. I don’t see any reason to stop. I am patriotic, but I am a club footy fan. Every four years…well since ’94, we Americans feel the need to support our national team. Great. Then we wait for throwball season. I don’t. Never did and never will. I can wait until the end of August for footy to begin. I’ll go to the beach and enjoy my grandsons until then.
    MLS is like my grandson’s rec league. Everyone gets a trophy. Sorry, not interested.

  10. I am amazed that people say they would prefer to watch nothing (or more likely “The Bachelor”) than a competitive MLS match either on tv or at an energy filled stadium. I am a huge EPL fan and I can see the quality difference but I am certainly not too good for MLS.

  11. I think there’s a huge difference between watching lower level football on television and watching it live.

    When you’re there you still get caught up an atmosphere, you care enough to be there and to have spent your hard earned on a ticket. You can enjoy the distraction of other fans around you. Watching it on the box in the corner of the room isn’t going to cut it for fans whose sporting culture is fed through watching the best of the best on TV.

    Our countries consumption of sport differs purely due to geography and history, 92 teams and all that vs the franchise system and huge distances just to watch your home team.

    I’ve got tickets for Vancouver and Seattle in a few weeks, as someone who watched their fair share of lower league football over the years it’ll be interesting to compare.

    I do think its sad though that after all the support the national team were given, that when they get back to the clubs they played for they’re dismissed as second rate despite getting further than some well established nations.

    1. Your last comment makes no sense.
      Just because a national team makes it further than “established nations”, you are then obligated to pay money or spend time watching their garbage club team?

      Blind patriotism at its finest.
      It’s the only thing MLS has going for it.

      1. Harry is an example of why those of us that don’t should be able to direct the term glory hunter to those out there with similar attitudes.

        1. LOL.

          You MLS fans are pretty funny. I guess you’d have to have a good sense of humor to throw money away on such an inferior product.

          Life is short – watch quality.

          1. The reality is that MLS is less than 20 years old and expecting them to come out, guns blazing and challenge older, more established infrastructures is fantasy. Especially when you factor in the North American market and the sport’s history within these borders.

            What’s so wrong about supporting the league we have instead of just casting our eyes towards Europe? As another poster said, we can certainly support both. The Charlton Athletic and NYRB merchandise hanging in my closet is a sign of that.

          2. Harry, I’ve got a season ticket for Premier League team. My comment about lower league football is the fact that I’ve followed them since they were in League One – the lowest division they’ve dropped to in their history.

            I’m no MLS fan, I’ve never watched a match, but while I visit North America I’ll take it in and be able to form a legitimate opinion based on my own attendance rather than the rabid put downs of others.

  12. I just did some work around the house and I am flipping through the channels.

    Cruz Azul-Pachuca is holding my attention. Very technical, slower, tactically well played game of football.

    Compare and contrast with the following: artificial turf, kick and run, horrible first touch, mindlessly physical and mind numbing game played at Seattle/Portland/New England.

    I have made my choice, I will keep watching the game from the Mexican league. Thank you for trying, MLS is still another 2 decades away from watchable.

    I’ve seen live a number of MLS teams here in pre-season. Quality is still quite poor.

  13. The rest of the world watch the NFL and NBA. Why? Because it’s the best product in it’s respective sport. There is a reason NFL Europe and the XFL went bust and there is a reason a few hundred people watch the WNBA. The level of quality was inferior, to put it kindly. Same for MLS. It’s ok to want to watch the best level of sport in the world and if that means looking to Europe, so be it.
    Now can someone write a Gus Johnson article again so we can all move on to him?

    1. And just as EPL/CL viewers in the US dislike the use of American commentators, NBA/NFL fans in the UK generally prefer to hear the US announcers on those sports.

    2. Goatslookshifty, just to add one point to what you mentioned. You scoffed at WNBA but the women’s basketball league gets better TV ratings than MLS.

  14. It’s all a matter of personal preference. You may say that the MLS is better and that it is good and you like it, etc. The fact remains that is your opinion. You call people names for not liking it because they prefer a different brand, which is ridiculous. It’s like telling someone that BBQ potato chips are good and everyone should give them a try and like them. Well not everyone likes BBQ potato chips, they like plain or salt & vinegar or whatever. It’s absurd to call people names because of it. If they don’t like it, then back the hell off. They are allowed to like whatever they want and don’t need your incessant need to shove it down our throats.

    I am in the Premier League camp. I find it much more entertaining than the MLS. I do have an MLS team that I keep tabs on though, only because it is my “local” team. I do not watch them very often for the simple fact that I do not enjoy it very much. I would much rather spend my time doing other things. When the Premier League is on, I do not want to do anything else but watch.

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