Football is on the rise in the United States. No, not the NFL which gains popularity with each passing year, but rather, America’s other football, MLS soccer.
With 20 teams (and more on the horizon) scattered among many of North America’s most prominent cities, MLS soccer is poised to gain traction in the States as well as Europe. I know you’re skeptical, so why watch MLS? Here are five reasons.
When Sky Sports won the broadcasting rights to MLS, it immediately gave Britain that football fix that it will crave this summer.
Sure the games will be starting late at night, but who among us hasn’t extended the day or woken up at strange hours to watch a match?
In the United States, it’s not uncommon to routinely wake up in the wee hours of the morning to watch your favourite Premier League side (especially if you live on the west coast). Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and more have rounded out the sports day here in the US, and as a sports fan, it’s great. We have live sports from 6am to 11PM here and it’s fantastic. If you’re a sports junkie, surely you can get on board with late night football.
MLS has a salary cap, so rosters are built on a fairly equal basis. Each team is granted three “Designated Players” whose salaries do not count against the cap, and it is up to the individual teams to decide if they want to spend that extra cash.
David Beckham’s arrival instituted the rule and many other famous players have followed, including David Villa and Kaka, who have hit the ground running (and scoring) with their new clubs. If you select an MLS club to support (and you should), there’s a good chance you will see that team do something successful because…
Two Competitions in One!
Yep, that’s right, for one MLS season, there are two trophies to be won. Unlike all the European leagues, MLS adheres to the North American model of a playoff to determine its champion. But don’t worry, football purists, we give away a trophy called the Supporter’s Shield that is awarded to the team that has accumulated the most points throughout the season.
Here’s the kicker, the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup have only been hoisted by the same team in the same season six times in the history of the league. Plus, with 12 of the 20 teams entering the post-season, there is a great chance that the team you support will at least be playing meaningful games at the end of the season.
The Supporters, The Stadiums
MLS has a great supporters culture. Kansas City have sold out their 20,000 seat stadium 53 times in a row (and counting) and in that time have won an MLS Cup and the US Open Cup (think FA Cup). The supporters are loud and loyal. This can be seen all across the league as Seattle and Portland also have atmospheres inside their stadiums that rival those in Europe and South America. Orlando is on the rise.
When MLS first formed in 1996, the teams played in gigantic NFL stadiums and the atmosphere lacked. Since then, 15 soccer specific stadiums have been built with plans for others in the cities that still play in alternate venues. Sporting Park in Kansas City is the shining example, but BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Red Bull Arena in New York, and The Stub Hub Center in Los Angeles are all great examples of arena construction in the US.
The Quality of Play
If you like the physicality of the Premier League, you’ll like MLS. Sure, the big names aren’t there, but the style sure is. With a great mix of American and Latino players, you get toughness, flair, passion, and playmaking. The quality has improved dramatically in the last decade alone. Plus, you’ll get to see some stars of tomorrow playing right now. The national teams of Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and of course the US are all well represented in MLS.
So what do you have to lose? Pick a side (and please not just Los Angeles or New York) and see what summer soccer is all about.