MLS needs to make vital changes before it is forgotten

David Beckham knew that his career was plummeting downhill. His age was catching up to him and the amount of injuries that he had picked up over his career was slowing him down. So, like many other players, he decided that a change of scenery was necessary and moved to play in the Major League Soccer (MLS).

In its 16 seasons, the MLS has had problems getting rid of the common perception that it is a retirement league in which players can end their careers living a luxurious life in the United States. Due to this reputation, fans often choose to watch the British, Spanish or German Leagues instead of the MLS. In order to achieve the standard of these high-quality European leagues, the MLS must make critical changes to the way its league works.

Without world-class talent in the United States or Canada, the MLS has to play more international games to improve the quality of their league and gain fans worldwide.

To gain recognition from soccer fans, the MLS needs to play more international games against high quality teams from Europe and South America. By playing matches with other teams, the league would be able to increase their fan base and also expand their presence worldwide. Currently, the league only participates in two international events: the league’s all-star game against a European team and The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Champions League. However, neither of these events significantly aid the MLS’ popularity.

Getting investors to provide funding isn’t easy, but proposing well-defined ideas that will ensure more success in the league is a place to start. 

The all-star game has been a lose-lose situation for the MLS, as it puts the MLS’s best players from the season against a European team, who often plays their stars for a small portion of the game. If the MLS all-stars lose, the league will be condemned for losing to a team consisting of mostly backups and bench players.

On the other hand, if the MLS all-stars win, fans will disregard the fact that they beat a European team because they did not put a full-strength team on the pitch.

Furthermore, the Champions League causes another conundrum for the MLS. The Champions League takes the best teams from North and Central America to form a super league. Five teams from the MLS compete in this championship, yet no American or Canadian teams have qualified for the semi-finals in its eight year history. Given that the CONCACAF Champions league doesn’t receive publicity from soccer fans or analysts, the fact that the MLS cannot even reach the top four is terrible for the league.

Without world-class talent in the United States or Canada, the MLS has to play more international games to improve the quality of their league and gain fans worldwide.

MLS teams usually do not have an abundance of wealth to spend on players, coaching staff and the many materials required to run a team; the average player only earns $110,000 per year, which seems small compared to the $3.25 million a top flight player in England may earn in that same year. New York City F.C. and Manchester City F.C. have formed a partnership and while it is still in its early stages, the relationship appears beneficial to both teams. Partnerships like the ones Manchester City and New York City have built would allow for MLS players to earn more money. Additionally, New York City has gained much needed publicity for the team and the league in general. Over in England, Manchester City also benefits from this partnership.

The MLS is clearly underappreciated and overlooked, but the league has the unique opportunity to promote their exciting and fast-paced game.

New York provides a place to send young talent who aren’t quite ready for the pace and strength of the Barclays Premier League. The players can develop their skills in the United States and when they are physically mature enough to play in England, Manchester City can sign them back.

Furthermore, the MLS faces a problem with the absence of soccer-specific stadium. A stadium is more than just a place to play for the team; it is a place for the fans to escape from their daily lives and a second home for every player and coach. Yet, six teams still do not have a place to call home because the stadiums they use are often shared with professional football or baseball teams. During the few weeks where the MLS mix with football and baseball seasons, football takes priority of the field. The result is a confusing soccer game to follow with teams playing on a football-lined field with painted end zones and hash marks. The unmaintained artificial AstroTurf on the football fields makes the ball skid all over the field rather than smoothly sliding across a grass pitch. Building a stadium is not cheap, but it is well worth the cost. Its importance in European soccer has been immense, where teams regularly fill up the stadium  to 80,000 passionate soccer fans. Soccer-specific stadiums would show Americans that the MLS is striving to make soccer a fan-favorite sport, and would also improve the quality of play in the MLS.

Due to the lack of money, many of these changes cannot be made immediately. The MLS does not have as many investors to help them pay for reform and cannot increase prices of tickets or else fans will not show up.

To make more money, the league should try to attract big investors to show their interest in the league. Paris Saint Germain, the top team in France, is funded by the Qatari Investment Authority. The French club now has no problem buying players or hiring new coaching staff. Getting investors to provide funding is not easy, but proposing well-defined ideas that will ensure more success in the league is a place to start.

Players and coaches will resort to the MLS as a place to settle down before retiring or as a league where they can revive a failed career if the leagues refuses to change.

The MLS is clearly an underappreciated and overlooked organization, but the league has the unique opportunity to promote their exciting and fast-paced game not only in the U.S. and Canada, but also internationally. Soccer fans will no longer have to wake up at 4 a.m. to watch high quality soccer, but instead, can watch it by turning on the television at prime time or going to see a game live. However, if changes are not made in the next few years, the league will deteriorate while American and Canadian fans will continue to favor the currently superior European leagues over the teams from  their own country.

Players and coaches will resort to the MLS as a place to settle down before retiring or as a league where they can revive a failed career if the leagues refuses to change. It is your choice, MLS.