With the start of the 2015 Major League Soccer (MLS) season and the newly signed Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are many notable things going on for soccer in the United States. Specifically, it is important to note the increasing presence of foreign soccer stars playing in the MLS. Now more than ever before, foreign players are scattered throughout the league, from Kaka’s debut with Orlando City FC and David Villa’s arrival with New York City FC, to the future introductions of Frank Lampard with New York City FC and Steven Gerrard with Los Angeles Galaxy. Aside from these players already playing or contractually scheduled to play at some point in the current MLS season, numerous other foreign players have also expressed interest the league. So what’s going on here? Why has MLS suddenly become so attractive to foreign players? And what else needs to happen in order to make MLS one of the best soccer leagues in the world?
After Kaka’s first game with Orlando City FC, in which he scored the tying goal, he stated that:
“A lot of players are looking for this league now. [In] five, ten years it will be one of the biggest in the world.”
Some of the major reasons for player attraction towards the MLS include the lifestyle (where stars are not mobbed by fans everywhere they go), the increasing level of play in the league, and the increasing amount of money available (where the top players in MLS have salaries that are comparable to other salaries from European leagues).
The league is growing in size and wealth and the presence of these foreign stars is certainly part of the reason why. The infographic below shows the steady growth of interest and viewership of MLS fans.
In an interview with MLS commissioner Don Garber, he discussed the recent influx of high profile foreign players and how the league has been strategizing for and managing its growth in size in popularity and wealth. He commented about the future steps needed to make the league one of the best in the world:
“player salaries and budgets are only one aspect of what makes the top leagues great. It’s the quality of play, and that’s not just in what players’ earn, it’s also investment in academies, and an infrastructure. You combine that with the out-of-budget investment we’re making, both on the youth side and the designated player side, and then you add terrific stadiums and passionate fans. And you connect all those dots, I believe that will make us one of the world’s best.”
It’s definitely a good sign that MLS is investing in American soccer and building the league from the ground up. Perhaps we are all currently witnessing the start of something great for American soccer and MLS.