Major League Soccer as an overall competition has been improving year on year, and it’s now attracting some huge talent to North America. But how does it stack up against, say, the A League in Australia or the Mexican League? Can we count it as one of the top leagues in the world now?
Everyone knows that the best soccer competitions are in Europe with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga, and La Liga in Spain, but stars from these leagues have found their way to America in recent years. David Beckham arguably started it all off, and now we see top talent such as Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Hernandez performing weekly for Inter Miami and LA Galaxy respectively.
Neither of those sides look like they’re going to win the MLS Cup this season as teams such as Seattle and Orlando look too strong on paper. There are plenty of top-rated sportsbooks that operate top markets around the world where you can find the latest odds for the favorites to win the MLS Cup this year. Unibet for example – a licensed operator in New Jersey that enjoys great reputation among players, is also one of the top listed sportsbooks in Australia by experts on aussiebet.com and it has great coverage of the MLS.
There are some big differences between MLS and soccer in Europe and Australia. For example, while MLS gets underway in March and ends in November, the top European leagues typically begin in August and run through to May.
Furthermore, while MLS has the CONCACAF Champions League that’s not too popular, their European counterparts have the Champions League and Europa League competitions, both of which attract commercial interest from all over the world.
But the two major differences that stick out above the others is the how players are signed and the fact there’s no relegation in MLS.
MLS focuses a lot on bringing in lower league talent. High schools and colleges tend to be in charge of youth development, and while a youngster is still learning with college soccer, another player of the same age might already be playing first team football in Europe. But this is something David Beckham has been trying to improve since creating his club Inter Miami.
“To see the true passion for soccer in Miami Dade County, you just have to visit any of the neighborhoods in our community. When you watch young people, boys and girls of all ages, playing soccer in our parks,” said Beckham during his MLS in Miami announcement a few years ago.
He also stressed the importance of bringing in the best players too.
“We will want to bring some of the best players in football to Miami. I’ve seen what it means when you bring great players into a team. I’m talking about the Heat. That’s the fortunate thing about my career, the teams I played for and with. Players are already interested in Miami.”
He’s achieved this by bringing in star players Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi, who both joined from Juventus in 2023. They also have former England international Kieran Gibbs on their books. There were also rumours that Lionel Messi was tempted by the bright pink of Inter Miami before his move to PSG. What a coup that would have been.
In an interview with Miami mayor Francis Suarez that was posted to the mayor’s official YouTube channel in January, the former Manchester United great outlined his wish to turn Inter Miami into a global side and not just a club for Americans to support.
“The one thing we want in our club is to install a DNA,” Beckham told Suarez. “A DNA that runs through the academy system, the staff, the people that work for the club, the fans, the players and us as owners. We want to install a DNA that it’s about hard work, it’s about bringing great players into the club, but it’s about nurturing the young talent that we have that runs through this city. There’s so much young talent that runs through this city that we feel we can bring into our club and give them a chance to really be successful in the world’s biggest sport.”
“For us to do that in Miami there has to be the right DNA. There has to be a work ethic that I believe in, Jorge [Mas] believes, you believe in, this city believes in. Yes, we want to bring in great young talented players and great players into our club but more importantly we want to produce great human beings and people that want to be at our club.”
MLS used to be a place for players to go at the end of their careers, but that’s not the case for everyone anymore. Gonzalo Higuain admitted as much back in June during an interview with Christian Vieri.
“I thought I would come here and play with a cigarette in my mouth and, instead, it is difficult. It is a tough league. I learned that it is similar to Italian football. In Spain and England it is easier to do well, while in Italy, if you do not know the league, you suffer.”
Relegation is a big thing in MLS too. There isn’t any. But in Europe it’s arguably what makes the end of each season exciting. The way it operates in the Premier League for example is a way to guarantee competitiveness throughout the season with all teams.
It’s possibly something MLS needs to look at. With no relegation, the worst team simply gets the first pick in the draft. There’s no real consequence for being the worst team in the country.
But when you compare Major League Soccer to the A League in Australia for example, it’s clear that North America prevails. The Aussies can’t draw much global appeal or an international crowd, and not even bringing the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and Robbie Fowler could attract much further interest.
You’d argue that MLS is on par now with Liga MX as the North American sides can now cut it in the CONCACAF Champions League when arguably they couldn’t in years gone by.
But will we ever see MLS become a powerhouse in world football? It’s continually growing and better players are making the move over, but some things need to change for the league to compete with the big competitions in Europe. Improve the youth setup, improve the salaries, and add promotion and relegation. These three changes could work wonders. But until then, there’s always a worry that many players will still always see it as a place to go to enjoy the last year or two of their playing careers.