Earlier this week, Major League Soccer was galvanized by the announcement that Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard would be joining the Los Angeles Galaxy upon the expiration of his contract.
Along with fellow English midfielder Frank Lampard, the duo look to be part of a wave of European stars to cross the pond and play American soccer. However, this does beg the question of whether all the hype surrounding the growth of American soccer is warranted.
Over the course of the last calendar year, gigantic international names in European soccer, such as Spain’s David Villa and the aforementioned Englishmen have come to clubs like New York City FC and Orlando City FC, but did not appear on the field during this most recent season.
Within the global community, many are wondering whether the nascent New York team, which is owned by Manchester City, are anything more than a front for the English giants, as evidenced by the situation surrounding Frank Lampard.
The player was supposed to return to New York once his loan expired with City, but under potentially shady circumstances, Lampard still remains on Manuel Pellegrini’s roster. More to the point, though, is that some of the expectations placed upon the league are not only unrealistic, but unattainable.
For a still-fledgling league like Major League Soccer, which is not even 20 seasons into its existence, to be compared to the English League Championship or Liga MX in Mexico doesn’t do justice to any of the parties involved.
Even though the former is the second division in its country, with storied clubs like Fulham its reputation should exceed that of relatively neophyte clubs like the Galaxy or the Seattle Sounders.
Additionally, while American soccer is quickly gaining ground in terms of popularity, in as soccer-fervent of a nation as Mexico, it’ll take a long time before enough American youngsters are attracted to the game. After all, ratings for the MLS Cup final were less than 10% of the average NFL game, for reference.
Moreover, American prospects are realizing that the best place to hone their skills is overseas, not within the American system. Even though it is not entirely up to him, Deandre Yedlin must be ecstatic with the opportunity to play with a club as prestigious as Tottenham while on loan.
Looking forward, the MLS will have its fair share of talent, as its pseudo-retirement home status is boldened by the arrivals of aging players such as Gerrard or Lampard. However, Major League soccer still has a ways to go before it can be considered one of the world’s elite leagues.