We all know that Steven Gerrard will be playing for the LA Galaxy after this summer. We are also fairly certain that Frank Lampard will be turning out for New York City. Although, if he carries on performing like he is, Manchester City may try and persuade him otherwise. Throw in David Villa and you have three massive names in the world of soccer going to the USA.
Combine these three stalwarts of the game with the increased popularity of soccer following USA’s successful 2014 World Cup showing and it is a massive year ahead for the MLS.
Soccer in the States has been knocking on the door now for some time, but it is yet to truly open. This year soccer needs to smash that door down and truly establish itself as a viable sport in America. It is not going to be easy, but there are numerous steps to bolster soccer’s standing.
Last season was a step in the right direction for the MLS, with attendance figures reaching a record 6.18 million. However, if you take out the Seattle Sounders, who, thanks to their fantastic following, average more than 40,000 fans a game, it is a much different picture. Besides the Sounders, attendances are nothing spectacular. Even English second-tier outfit Derby County, who are one 4/7 in the Championship promotion betting with Bet365, attract bigger gates than every American side. This is also the case with another five sides from England’s second division.
It may be a little unfair to compare the two leagues, as soccer in England has always been immensely popular, but at the same time it does show just how far the MLS has to go. The overall 19,151 average attendance is good but it needs to be better. Hopefully competitive pricing, new clubs joining the league and new star attractions will spike attendance figures.
Higher attendance figures equal greater public exposure. This is something that would profusely benefit the MLS.
CONCACAF Champions League Victory
Considering the talent of American sides, their performances in the CONCACAF Champions League have been remarkably poor.
Right now there are just two North American sides left in the tournament. DC United take on Costa Rican side Alajuelense and Montreal Impact play host to Pachuca of Mexico in the quarter-finals in late February.
It is looking rather good for DC United. Their four victories in Group 4 saw them advance as the top seed and therefore you would seriously fancy them beating bottom seed Alajuelense. A semi-final berth would see them face the winner of the Montreal game, so, in a perfect world, there is a very good chance that there will be an MLS side in the final. DC United are 7/1 with some bookmakers to win the competition while Montreal are 10/1.
Winning the CONCACAF Champions League not only gives the MLS greater legitimacy, but it also gives the victor the chance to take part in the Club World Cup, in which they would face off against the champions of Europe and South America. This can only increase the exposure of the game and in turn attract new faces to the sport.
Once Americans truly appreciate the worldwide nature of soccer they will start getting behind their local side all the more because of the global appeal of soccer.
As good as American Football and baseball are, there is little room for competition outside of North America.
Keeping hold of the talent
It is always hard for teams in a relatively minor league to stop their talent from being signed by clubs that play in the far larger European leagues. DeAndre Yedlin is the most recent example of this. The former Seattle right-back had a good World Cup with the States and was ultimately bought by Tottenham Hotspur.
Now, that’s great for the individual but extremely damaging for the league. If you can’t persuade your young talent to remain in the league then it can never truly get better. Signing well-known veterans may do wonders for a side’s publicity but it doesn’t do much for the long-term future of the sport. MLS sides need to do their upmost to keep these new talents.
Featured image via John Powell/Getty