MLS gaining popularity

Jose Coronado

For a long time, Major League Soccer (“MLS”) has been ignored by most of the soccer fans around the world. Some people think MLS is where old stars from Europe go to retire and make money. But over the last five years, MLS has grown in both quality and popularity.

MLS has attracted young talent in its prime, mostly from Europe’s elite leagues. Players like Sebastian Giovinco, Giovani Dos Santos, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Pedro Morales, Diego Valeri, and Manuel Martinez could easily find a spot on any respectable European team. But for various reasons, each of them has chosen MLS.

The major league has several advantages over other professional leagues that make it especially attractive to athletes. The most significant of those is the American lifestyle. In an interview, Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri, of Argentina, talked about the fact that the quality of life in the US was one of the biggest factors in his decision to play in MLS. While kidnappings and robberies may be commonplace in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia or Mexico, they are rare in the US. Just some weeks ago, Alexis Viera, who played goalkeeper for a Colombian soccer team, was shot in an armed robbery.

Soccer players in the United States tend to live more peaceful lives than players in most Latin American countries. When Mexican international Rafael Marquez played for the New York Red Bulls, he noted that in the United States he could walk on the streets without being bothered. “In the street or walking in the city, I don’t have any problem. I like that because never in my career have I had something like this. In Mexico, to go out like this I would need five bodyguards,” Marquez told a reporter from the New York Times.

Also appealing to soccer players is that not one of the MLS teams are bankrupt. Teams with financial problems are common in Europe and Latin America. Last summer, Parma, a club in Italy, had to sell its trophies after declaring bankruptcy. The team was also relegated to the third division of the Italian soccer league. In Spain, the situation is even worse. Real Madrid and Barcelona are a duopoly that is harmful to the league. Madrid and Barcelona get 80 percent of the money from television networks and the remaining 20 percent is divided between the other 18 teams in the first division.  Most of those 18 teams are almost bankrupt and struggling to avoid relegation to the second division.

In America, there no monopolies or big teams that take such a disproportionate amount of television network revenue. Players are also paid relatively similar salaries on a consistent basis, and players’ positions are secure – players do not have to fear being sold to other clubs because of financial deficit within teams.

MLS might not be the best soccer league in the world, but it is the fairest league. The increasing popularity of soccer in the United States will soon attract more young talent and improve the league’s reputation. Who knows? Major League Soccer could be one of the top leagues in the world in ten years. So far it is the one with the brightest future.