This Friday marks the start of the 22nd season for Major League Soccer, and even though this is a noteworthy milestone, it looks like the American game will never grow to a global level. One of MLS’ biggest objectives is to have a level of competition like that of Europe’s top leagues. That is a great mindset to have, but trying to Americanize the sport instead of following the traditional European footsteps of developing a league is where the problem lies.
This issue is first seen in its constant expansion, currently displayed by the league incorporating two new clubs in Atlanta and Minnesota. The first question that should be asked here is, “Can’t the MLS just work with what it already has?” Think about this for a moment; three out of the four biggest leagues in Europe have only 20 teams competing every season, and the fourth has only 18! The MLS is now going to have 22, which is especially ridiculous considering that it only reached 20 teams two years ago.
Why not follow the European model and integrate relegation and promotion? Have a certain number of bad teams descend to a second division, and have some of those teams in those leagues ascend. It would give opportunities for division II teams that have an established fan base get involved at a much bigger stage. It would not only be huge with those fan bases, but it would also help the talent in those ranks further develop, and that would benefit MLS tremendously. But having to start from scratch when we don’t already have product ready to be shown makes no sense.
Having teams divided by conferences and meet up in a postseason playoff is just another of those problems. This isn’t the NBA, the NFL or MLB. You probably shouldn’t do things a different way when Europe has established a system that’s gone on for three centuries, and trying to change it now would do a disservice to the sport. It’s not hard to simply have all the teams stack up from top to bottom, with the squad with the most points at the end of the season winning the league title. Doing things the American way by determining a winner through a playoff system is not the best of ideas.
And what is it with MLS starting in March and ending in December, when European soccer is played from late August to mid-May? Soccer isn’t special here just yet; it’s not big enough where it can just start in the spring like baseball and also hope to compete with football in the fall. It is absolutely odd to see an ongoing season in the summer while the rest of the world is caught up watching an international competition. This can probably explain why no team in MLS history has won the CONCACAF Champions League, as there can be no competitive preparation for months when the quarterfinals begin in February.
Do not tell me the MLS is growing when you see aging European players come over to finish their careers in the United States. All this does is contribute to the idea of MLS as a retirement league.
Lastly, get rid of the All-Star game. MLS appears to minimize its stature when the entire league competes against one European club, leading to the obvious conclusion that we are not superior in this sport.
It may take a while for this sport to grow in this market, but that can only happen if MLS can recognize its flawed system.