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MLS - Major League Soccer’s Place in the world and it’s recent growth

MLS an acronym for Major League Soccer, which is the highest level for men’s professional soccer in the United States. If you know a thing or two about footy you’ve probably known or seen the banter directed towards the league. Since its inception in 1996 after being announced in 1993 due to America’s successful bid to host the 1994 World Cup, with one of the requirements to hosting a World Cup being the hosting nation must have a domestic league, it was time for America to set up league that was there to stay. The majority of teams when the league began were based in various metropolitan regions across the states. When the league began the founding teams had a lot of struggles regarding finances and playing in almost empty NFL or NCAA football stadium. Eventually the league expanded with teams now based in Canada, similar to Ligue 1 with Monaco and the A-League with Wellington Phoenix making MLS unique for being one of the few leagues with cross border play worldwide. Despite the establishment of the league it took several years until it was really up and running to becoming profitable by mid the 2000s. Major league soccer despite being fairly new and fresh has managed to become the world’s fastest growing league and in the top 10 in average attendance and even in my personal also on the pitch in terms of the league’s quality.

The league was furthered legitimized by adding a DP (Designated Player Rule) making teams able to sign and attract more star-like players. With that rule added it saw David Beckham sign for LA Galaxy which some believe was the turning point for the league calling the next era “MLS 2.0” with additions of new clubs and teams moving to soccer specific stadiums made particularly for those MLS clubs who were in stadiums that didn’t match clubs current position. Despite the league growing at such a fast rate, it still finds itself in the shadows of major European leagues and not taken seriously from some footballing fans. The league has been ridiculed for following a more North American adaptation to how a team will obtain a league championship by having the MLS Cup determined by a playoff format. The league has also taken some hits of criticism for having a history of signing former European superstars towards the end of their career. Also with the level of quality and other factors the MLS hasn’t been able to control people's perception of the league but has made gradual steps forward to continue it’s strong desire to grow and becoming one of the world’s best.

Specifically in recent years I couldn’t help but notice MLS is developing talent much differently. With the likes of Alphonso Davies from Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Tyler Adams from New York Redbulls both being sold to top Bundesliga sides (Davies to Bayern, Adams to Leipzig). Both former MLS players were both products of their Academy’s and made it eventually to the first team and shined through. Adams who’s 20 and started his professional career at 16 and Davies who’s only 18 years of age now begun his at 15. These are just some examples of what the MLS can produce, those are just academy players but what about players who came to the MLS as a no name and left with a great deal of eyes on them. Miguel Almiron, miggy was apart of the historical Atlanta United team that won the MLS Cup last year. After a strong two years he became the new MLS record highest fee for an MLS player when he signed for Newcastle United after spending two seasons with Atlanta where he was instrumental in their success. Again those are examples of players who only developed in the MLS now what about the recent increase of quality players in their prime coming to make a difference. Since Giovinco came to Toronto and decided the best thing for his career was to go play in MLS and excel across the pond he was another piece to the puzzle of why the MLS is where it is. Sebastien Giovinco came and won almost everything you could possibly win and revamping the Toronto FC team and making them a force to be reckoned with in the stands and on the pitch. After Giovinco, who also brought character and definite style to the league since his departure we’ve been able to see more and more gradual numbers of players coming to MLS and making a name for themselves here. Since Giovinco players such as Josef Martinez and Carlos Vela have come and taken the league by storm giving the teams they play for an indefinite identity and merely just memorable moments that will live with the teams for the rest of their lifespan. Josef Martinez since joining Atlanta United has won the MLS Cup, Season MVP, Campeones Cup and US Open Cup and breaking multiple scoring records. With all these honours that are now and currently being held by Atlanta and Martinez, he’s sparked interest from different major European clubs again proving the MLS has talent but ultimately Martinez ended up choosing his current home over any of those European Clubs as he signed a contract extension that will keep one of the league’s most exciting players in history in the MLS for a few more seasons. Now Josef Martinez is an example of a player who wasn’t a huge name in the game who became someone in the MLS, another case to look into is Carlos Vela. Vela formerly playing up front with Antoine Griezmann at LaLiga side Real Sociedad who play in the North Basque Country region in Spain. Even before his spell with blue and white striped club he was playing under Arsène Wenger who was praised by Wenger but ultimately never left a major mark with the club despite showing promising signs when he was loaned to different clubs in Spain. After signing with basque club fully after his initial loan period he continued to show promise and have moments but ultimately Sociedad and MLS made a deal to bring him over to LAFC which would be one of the best choices of his career. Since joining LAFC they’ve managed to clinch a playoff berth early in the club's history, he scored the first goal in club history against crosstown rivals and also he captained the club to their first trophy and is their all time goal leader and is currently one goal away from breaking the single season record made by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez. Other mentions who’ve been in their prime in the MLS and have created strong careers are guys like Diego Valeri, Jozy Altidore, Micheal Bradley and Luciano Acosta just to name a few.

Examples of young players and players in their prime helping make the league’s quality better is becoming more and more apparent than ever before. One thing the league has always been criticized for its constant acquiring of players who may be looked to be in the decline of their careers or the ending stages of it. Despite that myth that circulates the league and the partial truths that are aligned with that myth, to me the addition of the recent wave of former superstars from major European clubs has been the first time where it looks like it’s meant to be. As opposed to with certain times in the past, teams have acquired superstars in the decline of their careers and it looked and felt off and example of this was Jermaine Defoe who wasn’t necessarily in a decline but definitely wasn’t where he was some years ago. With the likes of Zlatan, Wayne Rooney and Nani as just some examples is an indication of something is brewing. With these players actually needing to compete for their clubs as the level of the league’s parity shows its not a piece of cake to win the MLS Cupl. It’s not that the MLS is trying to just find big star players to improve its public image but actually acquiring these players for the sake of improving the team they play for. You look at DC United a team that now is looking the most complete they have in years with the finishing of their brand new stadium and the signing of Rooney who has clearly improved multiple individuals in that team and making them competitive. Rooney is an interesting case because to critics he’s definitely looking towards the end of his career but with DC United he’s been able to give memorable performances and help make DC a legitimate league contender.

Atlanta United, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC are examples of MLS franchise expansion working in their favour and making the right decisions to further grow the league. With teams moving into new state of the art stadiums, new young players emerging and making names for themselves. I truly think the MLS has found the right stride and methods to continue to secure growth and not trifle the growth they’ve already shown. After a little over twenty years the league has finally found a place in the global game, the question now is can they be noticed and become one of the world’s best football products.

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