I never was a Chivas USA fan, but it pained me when I realized that the club had played its final game in 2014. It was tough for me to deal with the fact that one of Major League Soccer’s most peculiar experiments actually ended the way I always expected, but never hoped, it would end.
In spite of the fact that Chivas USA became the latest MLS team to be contracted, following in the footsteps of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion F.C., the state of soccer in the United States is in a way better place than it was a decade ago.
The days of the terrible club names inspired by the eccentricity of the ’90s and American sports leagues are long gone. The Kansas City Wiz eventually became Sporting Kansas City, and the Dallas Burn became FC Dallas. Today, a large portion of the league’s clubs no longer plays in stadiums that were originally meant to be used for football. Instead, several teams have followed Columbus Crew SC’s precedent and are now playing in soccer-specific stadiums. Along with that, the quality of soccer being played in MLS has significantly improved. European powerhouses, such as Bayern Munich, have come to realize this the hard way by tasting defeat against a squad of the league’s best players in the annual MLS All-Star Game.
MLS has certainly come a long way since its inaugural season in 1996, and 2015 has been a testament to how much the league has evolved in its nearly two decades. This year has, without a doubt, been a groundbreaking one for the league, and is likely the most significant since 2007, when David Beckham joined the Los Angeles Galaxy and motivated me to purchase my first MLS jersey with my own money.
Much of the league’s growth and success can be attributed to the former England national team captain’s decision to continue his career stateside. His move to the Galaxy helped MLS gain exposure among international audiences and significantly influenced international stars to consider honing their crafts in the United States. Beckham’s presence in the league likely proved to be decisive in motivating Thierry Henry, the French superstar, and Mexico’s Rafael Marquez to make the switch to MLS, where they both joined the New York Red Bulls. When I watched heated Galaxy vs. Red Bulls fixtures, I was often left enthralled by the world-class passes and fancy footwork of the former La Liga stars.
Earlier this summer, Andrea Pirlo and Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos signed with New York City F.C. and the Galaxy, respectively. Just like Beckham, the duo will help raise viewership and, just as importantly, improve the quality of soccer being played on the pitch, where the two will have the opportunity to play against Brazil’s Ricardo Kaka and former Juventus F.C. standout Sebastian Giovinco, who kicked off their first MLS seasons this year with Orlando City SC and Toronto FC, respectively. Although I don’t have enough time these days to watch every MLS game, I at least make sure to schedule some in-between-class breaks to watch Kaka’s, Pirlo’s and Giovinco’s latest works of art on the field.
MLS’s ever-improving game quality and latest marquee acquisitions will be crucial in attracting a larger viewership and inspiring this country’s youth to take up soccer in the same manner that children who grow up watching basketball, baseball or football end up playing those sports. By giving the next wave of prospective athletes a love for soccer and a desire to play it professionally, MLS will have the opportunity to produce the next Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey. This may sound like a stretch, considering that the United States isn’t exactly Italy or Brazil, but this may help the league produce its own Pele, Zinedine Zidane, Iker Casillas, Fabio Cannavaro or Johan Cruyff.
If this ever happens, I will be glad to know that I was the oddball among my soccer group of friends, the one who believed in the potential of this league to create world-class players and attract quality players in the primes of their careers.