Major League Soccer (MLS) isn’t the world’s most accomplished soccer league, but some of the world’s most famous players have made stops in the United State’s top league. Ibrahimovic is only the latest example of a long number of European stars heading to the MLS, a tradition including luminaries of the sport such as David Beckham and Andrea Pirlo. Beckham became the first marquee name to make the move across the Atlantic and he eventually helped the Galaxy to two MLS Cup titles.
The MLS has been growing as a top league destination year after year. It is getting more competitive as better players are being attracted to the league and the attendances are also vastly increasing, with the coming of such big names to the MLS, fans have been eagerly following the MLS Schedule week in, week out.
It has also become a popular destination for aging players over the years, who wish to experience a change in scenery and move away from the glare of the European media. When David Beckham moved to LA Galaxy in 2007 it was a major coup for MLS and it helped in raising the profile of the league. His arrival was greeted with the kind of fanfare one would expect for a global superstar with 5,000 fans gathered at the Home Depot Center and over a quarter of a million, Beckham branded jerseys sold.
The European players bring a vast array of positives to the MLS. They contribute on the pitch and also off the pitch through commercial opportunities, while raising their club’s profiles.
Average attendances across all stadiums last season hit an all-time high of 24294. It’s a boom time for the MLS and the influx of international superstars only adds to its growing popularity.
It was easy to see that Gerrard’s arrival had a very complex effect on the team. The team hadn’t performed well on the pitch and hadn’t increased revenue but its value has skyrocketed. Such a high value is good for the owner and the team as a whole as it increases resale value and awareness of the sport and the club. Additionally, the MLS as a league has much to gain from Gerrard’s arrival as it increases the value and prestige of their league as a whole.
On British soil, the appetite for the MLS was nonexistent ten years ago, and now Sky Sports has taken over from BT as the home of the MLS for the next four years. Two games a week will be shown and the entire close season and MLS Cup final will also feature. It may only be a small number of games but represents a pivotal development in the positive perception of the league in the UK.
In recent years, MLS has shifted from a league of American internationals and aging stars to an incubator for young foreign and American talent. America’s young players are getting better and better, and are hungry to develop themselves and the MLS is acting as a stepping stone for these youngsters. It wasn’t so long ago that Major League Soccer started pushing its clubs to develop youth academies. They were seen as a way for MLS to breed the next generation of American stars at home. The experience of the European stars and their constant advice helps in developing these youngsters.
These young talents are mastering their crafts stateside before heading to the top leagues as players like Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Jack Harrison, and Tyler Adams are on their move to Europe. At just the age of 18, Alphonso Davies is arguably the most talented of the bunch and has the potential to reach world-class status before he turns 20. Cyle Larin is another Canadian youngster who broke through the MLS. He made an immediate impact with Orlando City as he racked up an impressive 44 goals in 89 games. He moved to Besiktas last January and enjoyed a positive start to life in Turkey by scoring 7 goals in 17 appearances.
Another talented youngster is Deandre Yedlin. The American right back stormed into the scene with the Seattle Sounders. He later earned himself a move to Tottenham Hotspur due to his pace and energy in attack. The young speedster found it difficult to break into Tottenham’s first team, which included Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier on the right flank. The result was a loan move to Sunderland and later a permanent transfer to Newcastle. After helping the Toons earn a promotion, Yedlin cemented his place as a first choice Premier League right-back. At just 25, Yedlin is still developing and has shown signs of elite ability.
The MLS and football’s best aging talent has developed an everlasting, symbiotic relationship. Many would agree that soccer’s popularity in America has increased slowly over the last decade due to the influx of aging overseas players seeking to broaden the sports brand in the globe’s largest sports market. With the migration of European stars to the States showing little sign of slowing down, Major League Soccer looks set to continue its growth.