Major League Soccer (MLS) is on the verge of creating something completely new in football, and it’s not entirely clear whether that’s a good thing.
The stereotype that Americans like to do things bigger and better than their European counterparts is summoned once more. As Major League Soccer prepares to on-board another five teams in the next three years, some fear the league will become far too diluted to be meaningfully competitive.
Yet the ‘moneyball’ aspect of Major League Soccer has also thrown up something quite unique. After joining the MLS only last year, Los Angeles FC just finished top of the Western Conference – 16 points ahead of their nearest rivals.
That’s made possible in part by new rules that allow MLS franchises to buy whichever players they like. Whereas before a new team would be limited to existing draftees, new franchises can now buy from anywhere, assuming league salary limits aren’t exceeded.
One of the coming season’s new teams – David Beckham’s Inter Miami – has already been linked with the likes of PSG star Edinson Cavani, and Man City’s David Silva.
European football fans might normally be intrigued by such a setup. But the MLS still faces a few obstacles on its way to breaking new ground in football.
As it stands, MLS fans are deprived of clear delineations between professional and amateur level football. Germany’s national football association contains over 6.6 million players – around 8% of the entire population.
But those players are plugged into a multi-league system which allows for real sporting competition. Los Angeles FC’s glorious second season in MLS would mean more if the team that topped the league actually won it.
The poor performance of this year’s expansion team, FC Cincinnati, shows the gulf in class between newly launched franchises. Cincinnati finished bottom of the Eastern Conference with the lowest points haul among both conference leagues.
Commissioner of the MLS, Don Garber, has openly stated his aims to see 32 teams make up the MLS. This would reflect the setup of the National Football League, and some have accused Garber of trying to fit the MLS into the NFL’s existing system.
The coming 2020 season will see the addition of both Inter Miami and Nashville SC. This will see both conference leagues feature 13 teams, and will result in an uneven fixture schedule.
Some claim this essentially kills the Supporters Shield trophy owing to the lack of parity among the teams’ fixtures.
The MLS is clearly not trying to emulate European football – it’s attempting to emulate the business model of the NFL.
The real victim here might be the average North American football player, and the U.S. men’s national team. As Major League Soccer becomes more diluted, so too will its skill level. The import of ageing stars from Europe will only serve to widen the gulf in class among the league’s rich and poor.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:41 PM UTC