For years the MLS was a joke with football supporters across the world. The League was famous for bringing in players past their prime to dominate players that just aren’t at the same level. Heck, I am one of them. I still feel that the quality of soccer isn’t quite up to the par of what I find entertaining. However, it seems things are changing. A few big moves already this season means maybe owners are accepting that the league is a little more stable then it was 10 years ago. Combine that with the first generation of US Soccer players who had the international game readily available to them, the MLS looks like it is set up for some success. While most of you know I believe that the league has to cast off the shackles of the salary cap before the MLS ascends to the heavens, I do have my reasons to believe this year will be different then others.
Lets start with the obvious names that have everyone buzzing in the US at the moment. Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe’s introduction means the Eastern Division finally has big solid names that aren’t playing for New York Red Bulls. Most importantly both of these players still have the capability of playing for some of Europe’s top clubs. They elected to come to the MLS though, and while some European fans may scoff at the move, they should be concerned that MLS clubs are starting to flex their financial muscles. This trend isn’t isolated to Toronto either. The Seattle Sounders will have US mega star Clint Dempsey next year for his first full year with the club.
Rising Big Market Teams
The addition of New York City FC and Orlando City SC as well as the possible addition of a Miami team means big things for the MLS. The collaboration of Manchester City and the New York Yankees creates a formula for the possibility of having a big time club in the US. FC’s parent organizations are both known for spending exuberant amounts of money on big name players (but more on that later).
Orlando is a little less accustomed to the lime light than New York City but there are reasons to be optimistic about the club. First off, the city has been asking for a team for years, and it momentarily being the only Southeastern based team could mean capitalizing on untapped fan base. Orlando also lacks the athletic competition Tampa has since the Disney city is only home to the Magic.
An addition of a Miami team, especially if the rumors are true about it being funded by Lebron James and David Beckham, makes sense as well. The heavily Hispanic culture in South Florida could provide the fan base the team needs to expand on. While baseball and hockey haven’t quite been able to make their marks, watching the crowd during the Real Madrid vs Chelsea game leads me to believe that if Miami attracts stars, the market will respond, much like they have to the Heat.
Big Name Rumors
This is what gives me the most hope for the MLS. Up until this year David Beckham coming to play in the MLS was the biggest story the league had. That is now shifting. It is no longer the Robbie Keanes of the world that are being mentioned with a move to the MLS (I love the man but he did struggle to find a game on occasion at various European clubs). Instead we are hearing about Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Xavi, all big name, big stage players that at some point may come here to play in the states. While these players do have the curtain call stigma about them, they would still be able to contribute significantly to an MLS side. There are other players as well, who are younger who have an interest here in the states including Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri.
Americans Coming Home
While I disagree that the moves for Dempsey or Bradley are good for their careers and US Soccer, it is definitely a good move for the MLS. The return of prodigal sons may not end there either. Maurice Edu seems posed for a return back to the states as he is unable to get a game at Stoke and is clamoring around in Turkey. Jermaine Jones seems to be unhappy with his current roll at Schalke and may be able to be lured away for a large contract and guaranteed playing time ahead of the World Cup. Both may be followed by Jozy Altidore, who Sunderland would have a hard time justifying on their books if they were to be relegated. All of these moves bode well for a domestic audience that is predominately focused on its international team.
For me there are still a lot of issues the MLS has to work on. For one, I think the league is too expanded in its current state and would do well with more proximity generated rivalries. The low number for salary cap, and the grey rules that surround designated players also creates murky waters for potential investors and sponsors. However, we will have powerhouse teams this year which will generate interest both at home and abroad. Additionally, owners look like they are starting to crack open their pocket books to bring in some of these great players. It definitely isn’t there yet but the MLS tide is pulling. And its exciting.