Earlier this year, sports intelligence agency Twenty-First Group ranked MLS as the 29th most competitive soccer league in the world. Since then, a lot has changed in Major League Soccer and other leagues around the world including the Saudi Pro League. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is that MLS is still ranked number 29 in the world. This time, it’s according to brand-new research led by Opta, the industry leader in soccer data worldwide.

US-owned sports analytics company Opta has released new rankings for the strongest leagues in the world. For reference, the Premier League topped the list, and the Brazilian Serie A was the only non-European league in the top 10. It sat tenth on that list.

However, for American audiences, much of the focus has been on the battle between Major League Soccer and the Saudi Pro League. While MLS signed Lionel Messi, Saudi Arabia brought in key stars from across Europe. Karim Benzema, N’golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and most recently Neymar are players to make the jump over to the Middle East. Also, Cristiano Ronaldo was already over there after joining Al-Nassr at the beginning of the year.

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However, despite those changes to both leagues and the other competitions across the world, MLS sitting at 29th is not necessarily new. While Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets certainly make Inter Miami stronger, their impact on the league is minimal. Popularity may be growing, but these rankings are based on a combination of form, personnel and recent success.

The league rankings are based on the averages of the teams in the league. This may hurt MLS due to its sheer size. There are, ironically, 29 teams in the American top flight. Even though the Philadelphia Union, LAFC, New England, Cincinnati and Nashville are all in the top 250 clubs, other clubs weigh the league down. For example, Toronto FC ranks No. 1135. That is right behind Douanes from the Senegal Premier League and just ahead of Atlético Baleares from the Spanish third tier.

Opta compares MLS and Saudi Pro League in strongest league rankings

The Messi debate against Ronaldo now extends into leagues. While MLS may take some international flak with a reputation as a retirement league, it does rank slightly higher than the Saudi Pro League. MLS’s place of 29th is seven spots higher than the Saudi Pro League, which is at No. 36. This comes down to balance across MLS, while the Saudi Pro League is more spread out in its current power rankings.

The highest-ranked team in MLS is the Philadelphia Union at No. 155. By comparison, there are three Saudi Pro League clubs before the next MLS team. Al Ittihad ranks first for the Saudis, followed by Al Hilal and Al Nassr in third. Each of these clubs made major moves this summer to bring in more highlight names.

However, despite the top-heavy Saudi Pro League, the bottom of the league severely brings it down. Thirteen of the bottom 14 teams in the power rankings between the two leagues come from the Saudi Pro League. Only Toronto FC ranks in that bottom pack in terms of clubs from MLS.

Top 25 strongest leagues in the world

  1. Premier League
  2. Bundesliga
  3. LaLiga
  4. Serie A
  5. Ligue 1
  6. Belgian Pro League
  7. Swiss Super League
  8. Primeira Liga
  9. Eredivisie
  10. Brazilian Serie A

Source: Opta Rankings.