One Way' sign at West 42nd Street, New York City, NY, USA

by Vlad Bouchouev

We’re barely halfway through the year and we can already say that 2010 was a big year for US soccer. In the past six months we have seen the construction of two more soccer-specific stadiums, the arrival of five more designated players, and the addition of yet another MLS franchise along with the announcement of a 19th MLS team. Add on the “success” of the US national team in this past World Cup, and the USSF can now give themselves a pat on the back. All US soccer needs to do now is win the 2018/2022 World Cup bid and this year will go in the books as one of the most important in their history. Oh, and a just a minor detail, a new collective bargaining agreement was signed between the owners and players of MLS. Let’s not forget, six months ago we didn’t even know if we were going to have an MLS or USL season in 2010.

So there you go Jim Rome and all you other US soccer haters/doubters: US soccer is growing, whether you like it or not.

All of this is great news, but I am beginning to wonder what the ultimate goal of the MLS really is. Obviously for the USSF the goal is to bring in another World Cup and have the USMNT win one at some point. But what can we expect from the MLS?

Right now the MLS is growing at a great pace. The league has only been around for 15 years old, yet we already have plenty of world-class players and the fact that more soccer infrastructure is going up in the States almost guarantees that the league will not fold like the NASL. But where exactly are we going with this? From what it seems, we ultimately would like to become a premier professional sports league, not just in the US, but in the entire world. The MLS constantly talks about growth and how it would eventually would hope to surpass the MLB. And it doesn’t stop there. Soccer connoisseurs in the US often preface their arguments by explaining that the “league is still young”, but what exactly to do we subconsciously mean by that? Do we really think that one day we’re going to be competing with Europe for the signatures of the world’s best players in their prime? It feels like in order to appease the American sports fan, the MLS has no choice but to at least claim that’s their goal.

But let’s first take a giant step back. Organized soccer has been played around the world for more than a century. Early on, Europe took the initiative in becoming the center for soccer. Partially because they had money, partially because the soccer was good, but mainly because soccer had its roots there. Anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a premier soccer player (with a few exceptions I suppose) understood that it was in there best interest to end up in Europe. Europe is in their own “league” (no pun), and the MLS should use the Brazilian, Argentine, and Mexican leagues as a template for what they are trying to achieve and focus on them as their biggest competition. Despite being world-class leagues, even they find it difficult to keep their players from going to Europe.

The problem is that the American sports fan puts so much pressure on the MLS that they have no choice but to go out and to at least make it seem like they are trying to compete with Europe. At this point I am going to say that realistically MLS understands that South America is their biggest competition. If only Europe bordered the US, then we could join in on the Champions League action. And I am certain if that was the case, that MLS teams would play in sold-out football stadiums.

Who knows? Maybe somewhere deep in the mind of Don Garber he believes that the MLS is capable of shifting the center of world soccer to North America and be the best in the world. It would take at least another 100 years for that to happen. But until then, we should be happy with where we’re going. And in order to follow suit on the South American leagues, the MLS should continue to build its league with the world’s biggest stars, but they should not forget that the core of the league, just like anywhere else in the world, comes from their own country. There’s more than one way to bringing quality to the league – you can bring it from abroad, or we can grow it ourselves. Just like we did with baseball, just like we did with basketball, and just like we did with football.

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