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MLS: The expanding league with growing potential

by Nathan Barker
Tue, Feb 27th 2018 10:00 pm
David Beckham (above) discusses the future of Miami FC at a press conference in the team's headquarters.
David Beckham (above) discusses the future of Miami FC at a press conference in the team's headquarters.

Major League Soccer, or MLS, the most invested soccer league in The United States and Canada, has come a long way since the days of mere dismemberment. Starting as a 10-league team in 1996, MLS has successfully grown into a league playing with 23 teams that collectively offer an entertaining soccer product. Not only has the league expanded in size, but the quality of soccer is improving. The rate of this improvement is a great sign for the growth of the sport overall. We are developing a passionate soccer culture in the states. With the MLS season kicking off on March 3, let’s review some of the most exciting developments happening within the league.

The newest expansion team, the Los Angeles Football Club, (LAFC) will be hosting games in the new soccer specific “Banc of California Stadium,” starting mid-April. Until construction is completed, they will be playing their first six competitions on the road. Led by former U.S. National Team head coach Bob Bradley, LAFC are fielding a competitive team coming into their inaugural season. With Mexican striker Carlos Vela in the arsenal of offensive weapons, LAFC are sure to be an attacking threat in the league.

Speaking of attacking powerhouses, I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta United lead the league in goals this season. Attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron, when paired with versatile midfielder Darlington Nagbe, is sure to create chances for United’s young and explosive forwards. I expect United to be the most entertaining team this season. They ended their 2017 campaign having the highest average attendance in the league, attracting around 48,200 fans each week. United also broke the single match attendance record in MLS during the same season on October 22 when 71,874 people came out to celebrate the opening of the new and elegantly constructed “Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”

Both New York teams continue to grow and prosper despite claims of a saturated sports market in the city. The New York Red Bulls continue signing and fielding young home-grown players that developed through their impressive academy system. The Red Bulls also recently signed Argentinian winger Alejandro Romero Gamarra to a $6.3 million dollar deal, and I have a feeling they’ll be selling him for an exponentially steeper price depending on how he impacts the team. 

New York City Football Club (NYCFC), will look to build off of a relatively successful season. Head coach Partick Vieira, an arsenal legend, continues to push the team in a new direction by establishing a unique and attractive style of play that thrives on defensive pressure.    

Most clubs in MLS are starting to create their own identities on the field as well. Different styles of play are evident between clubs, which is a good indication of an established league.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber will make the league more competitive in the world of soccer by continuing to create expansion teams throughout North America. After four years of hard work, David Beckham finally gave rise to a team in Miami. Now the southeast will have 3 teams with Atlanta United, Orlando Soccer Club and Fútbol Miami.

Another important factor that contributes to the growth of the league is the success of the second tier United Soccer League, or USL. USL teams in Cincinnati and Sacramento have passionate fanbases, and unexploited Nashville will also get a soccer team with the establishment of Nashville Soccer Club. 

USL ultimately functions as a player farm for the MLS, but also serves to bring an entertaining soccer venue to cities without top tier teams, such as Rochester. The Rochester Rhinos annually compete in the historic U.S. Open Cup, a tournament that involves clubs from both leagues. This allows Rochester to be a part of the national soccer conversation; they last won the tournament in 1999, and are able to make respectable runs in the tournament every year.

Overall, I think this season is going to turn a lot of heads. What’s developing in the MLS will eventually become too big and impactful for soccer fans to discredit. There is, however, massive room for improvement, especially regarding broadcasting time and player salary. Keep in mind that the MLS has only existed for 22 years; given time, North American soccer clubs will eventually mature into global soccer behemoths.