Although it’s easy to say Major League Soccer isn’t up to European and South American footballing standards, the MLS still matches and often outclasses many of those leagues in attendance, quality of play and, above all, the MLS provides more parity and competitiveness on a team-to-team basis. For these reasons, the MLS is on par with some of the best soccer leagues in the world, and people should treat it as such.
The MLS is often at the receiving end of all jokes by European soccer fans who claim America isn’t a soccer nation.
Sure, maybe soccer isn’t the most viewed sport in America but compared to the rest of the world’s soccer leagues, the MLS is ranked 6th in attendance per game, per Statista. It’s even above one of the best leagues in Europe, Ligue 1, France’s national first division.
The average combined MLS attendances have gone up by nearly 8,000 spectators per game since 2000. The highest team average in the MLS is held by current MLS champions the Seattle Sounders who bring in 42,000 fans per game.
These totals have been rising since the start of the 2001 season and are bound to continue increasing with new teams like Atlanta United F.C. coming into the league. Atlanta will play at the Bobby Dodd Stadium, which holds 55,000, before moving into the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium when it opens at the end of July.
A team that already fills their stands, Toronto F.C. has had a stadium expansion recently bringing their seating totals from 24,000 to 40,000. Orlando City S.C. has built a brand new 25,000 seated stadium, which opened just this season.
The Los Angeles area is also gaining a second team, which will increase attendance even further with Los Angeles Football Club, or LAFC for short, coming into the league in 2018. The Los Angeles area can easily support a second team. The area is home to a massive Spanish fan base begging for a new team ever since Chivas U.S.A. folded in 2014. Chivas U.S.A. was also based in Los Angeles.
The increase in fans is bringing in millions of dollars to their respective teams and this is allowing those teams to improve their squads with plenty of extra funds available to attract top level talent to the United States and Canada.
Although mid-level players aren’t good enough to play in the first division European leagues like Germany, England and Spain, the league keeps adding better, younger designated players. In previous years, designated players were usually players in the twilight of their careers looking for that final big payday in the bright lights of America before hanging up their boots.
Now designated players are in their primes and even rising stars choose the MLS over European glory.
Sebastian Giovinco, aka the Atomic Ant for his elite level of play, despite his tiny, 5’4 frame, won MLS MVP in his first season playing for Toronto F.C., breaking several records in the process.
Giovani dos Santos is a Mexican star who played for top European teams like FC Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and most recently Villareal C.F. before joining the L.A. Galaxy in the MLS.
One of the most recent acquisitions of a designated player was by new expansion team Atlanta United F.C. They signed 23-year-old, Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron: a highly sought-after rising star who was on European clubs’ radars before choosing the MLS over a move to Europe.
These stars have made the league more exciting and competitive than ever before.
The MLS is more exciting to watch than every other league in the world despite lacking the world-class players Europe has. The league is on another level of entertainment, especially during the playoffs, due to the parity of the teams.
Unlike many European leagues, the MLS is a league in which any team can win on any given day. There are great MLS franchises that are consistent championship contenders.
Here, you won’t find indestructible teams like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich like in Europe. These teams are unstoppable in their leagues due to their star power and are rarely defeated unless they face each other. This isn’t the case in the MLS. The worst teams in the standings are not always outclassed by the best teams.
Since 1992, there have been six different champions in England (13 by Manchester United), five champions in Spain (19 split between Barcelona and Real Madrid), and only six in Germany (15 by Bayern Munich).
Since the first year of MLS to now, there have been eleven different champions with the most championships at the hands of the L.A. Galaxy with five championships.
The numbers don’t lie, the MLS is more evenly matched.
Unlike many European and South American leagues, the MLS uses a playoff format to find their champion. The playoffs see the top six teams from the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference compete in this post-season finale. The top two teams from each division get a bye into the 2nd round.
To give you an example of how hard it is to win the playoffs, we’ll look back at last years’ postseason.
The top two teams from the Eastern Conference and the top team from the West and MLS regular season champions, FC Dallas, were all knocked out in the second round. The second best team from the West, the Colorado Rapids, were also knocked out in the following round.
The MLS is a rapidly growing league not just in popularity but in attendance and quality level. Given the growth, the MLS will remain competitive if it maintains its current format. The MLS is a top-level league. Who knows, it could be the best league in the world one day.