There was no real surprise when the popularity of soccer in the US spiked during the USMNT’s run into the knockout stages of this year’s World Cup. The team’s ability to advance out of the alleged ‘group of death’ rallied a great deal of support stateside. By the thousands, fans attended viewing parties at bars, parks, squares, and even other professional sports’ stadiums. It really was a sight to see for soccer fans in the US.
After years of being seen as a second-tier sport, it now seemed as if the MLS was set to join the NFL, MLB, and NBA as the most popular sports leagues in the US. There is only one problem that was recently pointed out to me by none other than my dad.
Each of the other ‘big three’ leagues is undoubtedly the best league in the world for their respective sport. Professional athletes from other countries who dream of playing professional football, baseball, or basketball at the highest level picture the NFL, MLB, or NBA, respectively. The same cannot be said for soccer and the MLS. A soccer fan would be hard-pressed to say that the MLS is even in the top 5 leagues in the world (especially after the recent drubbing of the MLS sides by the visiting English Premier League teams).
If the MLS wants to eventually become one of the biggest and most popular leagues in the US, it must first tackle the challenge of becoming one of the best leagues in the sport. Current MLS Commissioner Don Garber has laid out a plan to help make the MLS one of the best leagues in the world by 2022. Realistically, the MLS will never reach a level of the EPL, Bundesliga or La Liga. The history of the sport that is engrained, not only in the league, but in the country itself, will prove to be too much for the MLS to compete with. This means that the MLS can look to become, in a very optimistic outlook, the fourth best league in the world.
Since the announcement of Garber’s long-term plan for 2022, the MLS has continued to add more teams across the country. Within the past year, four new teams have been granted permission to enter the league. These teams are from New York City, Orlando, Atlanta, and Miami are all set to begin play in the MLS over the next few years.
This continued expansion is all part of the grand plan for the MLS, but one important factor is still yet to be seen.
In order for the MLS to become a top league, the ‘soccer-craze’ that hit the US during the World Cup must continue. If support wanes, soccer will be pushed to the back-burner until the next big international tournament for the USMNT comes around. One year until the CONCACAF Gold Cup may not seem like a lot of time, but that one year can do wonders for the MLS. Years from now, the country may look back on the 2014 World Cup as a turning point for Major League Soccer and the USMNT.