A lot of American fans like to complain about Major League Soccer. And any honest appraisal would reveal plenty to complain about. You could start with the largely uninspiring collection of managers queued up for a shot at the US national team job, a bunch that might charitably be described as offering “more of the same.” You could blast the league for not having enough teams—Toronto FC will make it 13, yee-hah! Or for its endless, mostly meaningless season, which the mediocre LA Galaxy proved a sham last year by coming alive for four games and snatching the title.
But to a lot of fans, gripes about MLS boil down to its failure to equal the English Premier League, Serie A or the other top-flight European leagues. No doubt, MLS lacks quality, speed, big names and tradition. It also alienates fans with its patently manipulative player allocation system and repressive salary cap, which (in many eyes) skew the league’s whole competitive set-up.
No question, MLS has a long way to go—at least a couple of decades, I’d reckon, before it deserves consideration as even one of the best 10 leagues in the world. It will need 20 or 24 teams to become a true continent-wide league; it needs teams in the South and Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Northern California. It needs clubs capable of competing internationally. Even though talk of a “Beckham rule”—a cap exemption that would allow clubs to splurge on one pricey European—sort of makes me cringe, MLS definitely needs a shot of glamor. It doesn’t yet have the loyalty or attention of the majority of serious soccer fans in this country, let alone anyone else.
However! I would argue that MLS critics are often blind to the ugly flaws of those flashy European championships. Would anyone really want to adopt England’s competitive format, wherein the richest mysterious Russian billionaire gets to buy titles until someone richer comes along? Or the dicey Italian situation, with no less than four of the most historic clubs in the land facing banishment for match-fixing?
MLS may not be perfect (or, four matches out of five, very good), but it’s made a lot of progress in just over ten years. And sometimes, having a clean, tradition-free slate isn’t a bad thing at all.