By Barney Stone, Deputy Online Sport Editor and third year History
The MLS is traditionally viewed as a place where formerly great footballers are put out to pasture. Despite bearing famous names, they are judged to be no longer up to scratch, and exchange the rigours of the major European Leagues for a more lackadaisical denouement to their careers.
Acknowledging the yearly growth of the MLS, it appears the league is beginning to shrug off this reputation. Founded in 1993, as part of the United States’ successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the league was originally comprised of 10 teams. The enterprise was initially unsuccessful, receiving minimal fan engagement and suffering from financial issues. However, the popularity of the MLS was soon catalysed by the 2002 World Cup, in which the national team enjoyed a protracted run in the tournament before falling foul with Germany. Since then, the MLS has expanded to 24 teams, with plans to have 28 teams by 2022 on track. Recent franchises to be merged include Beckham’s Inter Miami and Austin FC.
The MLS is now home to an array of talented footballers, impressive stadia that exceed the average attendances of the NBA and NHL, and is increasingly becoming a place where European players can seek truly competitive football. Prompted by Wayne Rooney’s recent hat-trick for DC United, an exploration into club rosters unveils several familiar faces. Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), David Villa (New York City) and Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto) are representative of this observation.
Average attendances are also impressive; suggestions that the American public relegate soccer to the bottom of the pile in their list of favourite sports appears unfounded. Indeed, the average national television audience for an MLS game is up 13% year over year, whilst MLS teams have received a 46% uplift via social media. Moreover, Atlanta United play their home games in front of attendances as high as 42,500, courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This trumps the maximum capacities of 13 Premier League clubs, including Chelsea. In the future, Austin FC will have the potential to exceed this further, with the Nissan Stadium providing 69,143 seats for its devotees.
According to Nielsen Sports Sponsorlink, MLS has experienced a 27% rise in interest since 2012. As in the history of the MLS, the league’s current trajectory has been aided by the success of the National teams, in both men’s and women’s soccer. The latter is the most successful women’s soccer team in history: 3 World Cups and 4 Olympic Golds. Whilst the men haven’t had quite the same impact, the quality being produced in America has commanded European recognition. For example, Christian Pulisic signed for Chelsea for a fee of £58 million, and became the youngest ever captain of the USA National Soccer team at the age if 20. Timothy Weah, the son of Ballon D’or Winner and President of Liberia George Weah, is currently on loan at Celtic from PSG, and made his international debut at the age of 18.
The US, Canada and Mexico will co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. I suspect by this stage the American national team will pose a greater threat in the tournament than most would care to admit. Both Pulisic and Weah will theoretically be enjoying the primes of their respective careers, alongside other youthful prospects such as Schalke 04’s Weston McKennie. As the US’s staggering investment potential continues to inject revenue into the sport, soccer across the pond will become a very real global contender.
Featured Image - Brent Flander/Flickr
Do you think by 2026, the US National Team could be making moves in the World Cup? Let us know!