Toady marks the start of the nineteenth season of Major League Soccer. While the league has not gained the recognition in America it has been hoping for it has made improvements to broaden the leagues appeal. While it does not have the popularity of other sports in America it does do a very good job of improving its product every year to appeal to the cult like following it does have.
The MLS has been in existence for a good amount of time now and is starting to realize what it is as a sports league in the US. It will never have the viewership of the NFL or NBA and finally it seems the league has accepted that and tried to improve itself for the fans it does have. In the past the MLS implemented rules to make the league run more like its fellow American sports league, but now it is adapting to run more like the soccer leagues of Europe and South America that are so popular worldwide.
One of the major critiques of the MLS in the past has been that while it has been able to get quality talent that talent has not come into the league until the last years of those players’ careers. For the teams this has worked out very well because big names like David Beckham and Thiery Henry help sell jerseys and tickets. For the fans however this has not been the most popular of strategies because the fans want to see these players play for their teams in the prime of their careers. This year has seen teams like Toronto FC and the Philadelphia Union try to change this by bringing in top American players Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu who are both in the midst of the prime of their careers. This is only a start in terms of bringing in top talent in their primes but it helps that they are Americans who played in Europe and have decided to come back. Keeping the top American talent in the league has been a struggle but if players see their peers doing it they will be more likely to join in.
One of the strides the MLS has taken to be more similar to world soccer is the use of youth academies. A youth Academy is a collection of teams for younger age groups that is run through the team so if the players develop into pro prospects the team can have first right of refusal to signing them. This is a great way to keep young talent in the country and develop them in front of the eyes of American fans, which makes the fan feel closer to the team. When fans see a player develop in front of their own eyes they feel a greater connection to the player and therefore a greater connection to the team.
While the MLS has not become as popular as the leagues in other parts of the world it is making improvements every year to become a better overall product on the field. It may never have the popularity of other American sports but it has done a good job of making its core fans know they are heard and appreciated.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius