Soccer is one of the most played sports in the United States. Yet, Major League Soccer (MLS), is not recognized with the same enthusiasm, advertising or stardom as other sports organizations.
Soccer is the most universal and accessible sport in the world. Even still, the U.S. doesn’t appreciate it as much as baseball and football.
In 2017, about 7 percent of Americans said soccer was their favorite sport to watch. This percentage is close to even with baseball, which has declined drastically over the past couple of years, according to a poll conducted by Gallup. Conversely, over 15.86 million people played some sort of competitive soccer in the United States in the spring of 2017, according to Statista.
If soccer is such a prominently played sport in the U.S., then why isn’t anyone watching?
The MLS was officially formed in 1995 and started in 1996 with 10 teams from cities around the country. As years progressed, MLS did not grow in popularity like the organization had planned.
In fact, only recently did viewership of games dramatically increase. Last season, there was a gross total of 23.6 million views, an increase of 41 percent from the 2014 season, according to Sports Business Daily.
The rapid increase in people watching is primarily due to the contracts made with ESPN, FOX and Univision, which all had significant impact on spreading the popularity. In addition, new teams added to the Eastern and Western conferences has brought big name city teams into the running, with them a large following. More and more people are starting to watch MLS, which is attracting more professionals to play in the U.S.
In 2001, there were only ten teams in the league and now there are a total of 23, with the plan of settling at 28 within the next couple of years. The MLS is introducing new teams every year including David Beckham’s new Miami FC. This allows him to bring in big name players that are linked to him from his personal success as an athlete.
Will this be the move that breaks out the MLS? With a big name like Beckham running a team in the MLS, maybe more players will choose the U.S. as their athletic destination instead of European countries.
So why should you tune into MLS this season?
Well, there are a few reasons.
MLS is beginning to attract younger, prospective players with the opportunities to move on to more popular leagues in Europe. For example, Tyler Adams, a 19-year old midfielder (and occasional right back) from New York, is currently a starter for the Red Bulls and has two appearances with the U.S. men’s national team.
Adams started 22 of his 24 games played in the regular season and played a total of 1,994 minutes, according to mlssoccer.com. He immediately started to attract interest from European leagues, but chose to compete in the MLS for the 2018 season.
“I think that I can play a big role going forward,” Adams said during an interview with MLSsoccer.com. “A lot of other young guys probably have their eyes set on that as well. Now it’s getting on the field, getting experience, and moving forward.”
In addition, Andre Blake has been in the running for best goalkeeper in the MLS for the past two seasons. The 27-year-old Jamaican international player is the starting goalie for the Philadelphia Union.
Blake broke records last year, recording a season save percentage of 70 percent and an impressive 1.31 goals against allowed (GAA).
“Right now my main focus is Philadelphia,” Blake said during a conference call with MLS reporters according to MLSSoccer.com. “I’m not worried about the future. I’m gonna live in the now and continue to work hard and make my performance speak for itself.”
Like Adams, Blake had the opportunities to go play in Europe but chose to stay and play in the MLS.
Major League Soccer has also attracted big named players like Beckham, most known for playing with Manchester United and Real Madrid, former Barcelona and Atletico Madrid player David Villa, former U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey and so many more. These names have brought a higher class of playing style to the pitch as well as fans from all over the world to tune into these players’ MLS matches.
Originally, the MLS was considered a “retirement league” where players came to wind down their career. Now, it is becoming one of the most popular and competitive leagues in the world.
Didier Drogba, former Chelsea star and recently retired from soccer after playing for the Montreal Impact and Phoenix Rising, compared the difficulty of the MLS to the English Premier League.
“It’s a different challenge [in the U.S.]. People think it’s easy to play there,” Drogba told Reuters in an interview. “Believe me, it’s more difficult than playing in the Premier League because of the travel. It’s a growing league and I think it’s going to be one of the most important and decisive leagues in the world in a few years.”
MLS has grown exponentially in the past few years in viewership, talent, and competition. It is a league that should be highly recognized across the country. Soccer is a world-renowned sport that needs more attention in the U.S.
The season officially started Saturday March 3rd and will continue until the regular season ends in mid-October. You can catch games on ESPN, FOX, Univision, and local sports channels.
Every team and player dedicates a lot of time and effort into playing an entertaining and competitive 90 minutes of soccer. Support a local team or find one that is interesting from across the country.
I really enjoy the MLS because I have the opportunity to go to my favorite team’s matches and watch them play in person.
Unless I traveled abroad, I would not be able to watch my favorite teams in the European leagues play live. The MLS allows me to bond with a community who shares a love of my team by going to matches and enjoying the atmosphere of a professional soccer team.