The MLS over the next decade 1

Alex Timperley discusses the present and future of the MLS and US soccer…

The last decade has seen a huge change in the popularity of soccer in the USA. Interest in foreign leagues is at an all time high and their domestic league, the MLS, has gone from strength to strength. Attendances are up across the board, the quality of soccer is higher than ever and the tickets are affordable. Both internationally and domestically, American soccer is only going to get bigger and better in the future, there are several major things I believe will happen over the next decade which will transform the sport.

Money Will Flood In

Most importantly, the Big Money will arrive. The potential is clear; foreigners such as Manchester City’s owners, with New York City FC, and David Beckham, with his mooted Miami franchise, have already recognised the scale of the MLS and are acting accordingly. Regardless of your personal feelings for them, these are serious businessmen and would not be investing if there was a chance of losing money. Inversely, American sports magnates are investing in soccer around the world: Shahid Khan, the Jacksonville Jaguars owner, investing in Fulham FC; Erick Thohir, the DC United owner, investing in Inter Milan. Both show the interest in the money soccer provides, but as of yet the opportunities in the USA are not comparable. This will not be the case forever.

As money begins to be exert a greater influence on the MLS, so changes will be forced. The most obvious effect of this will be the removal of the salary cap. Americans are often a strange and unknowable people, but they have the same desire to win as we all do. Their national team is nothing to be laughed at and success breeds interest. As the USMNT becomes more successful, interest in their league will increase and foreign players, especially South Americans and Europeans, will see it more and more as a legitimate place to play in the prime of their careers rather than just as a pay day towards the end. If the MLS wants to grow, this will require the removal of the salary cap. The first steps towards change have been taken with the creation of ‘Designated Players,’ which allow each teams to pay higher salaries to ‘star’ players. Since the rules were redefined in 2007, there have already been extensions and expansions, for instance reducing the impact younger players have on the overall wage bill. The whole thing is up for review in 2014 and changes will be made.

The League Schedule Will Change

As a further offshoot of the MLS becoming larger due to the influx of money, I would expect a conversation to begin regarding moving the league to fit in with other leagues around the world. As suggested above, international success will create interest and the more people become interested the more success they will demand. It will be impossible for them to keep up with modern soccer and attract the best players if they play at a completely different time of year.

The current season runs from March to October which creates obvious problems with international transfer windows and international tournaments. The big problem is that the MLS would be competing with the NFL if the season League were to move to an August start. However, if the League continues to grow, who says they can’t compete? The Premier League is the only league in the world that the NFL can currently look at with envy; who’s to say that the MLS couldn’t become a domestic rival if the money poured in?

The USA Will Produce a Truly World Class Player

Finally, as a consequence of the inevitable growth of the MLS is that the USA will finally produce its first truly world class player. They have a handful of very good players plying their trade in the game today, but no truly world class ones (except, of course, in the women’s game in which they have produced some startling players.) The seeds are already being sown with American youngsters being scouted from further away than ever before. Take the cases of Joshua Pynadath and John Kenneth Hilton, who have been snapped up by Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively.

If these sort of clubs are taking American soccer seriously then so should we all. The MLS is the next big emergent league in world football and within the next decade it will be a force to be reckoned with.

Follow Alex Timperley on Twitter here.

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