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MLS ranked seventh best soccer league globally…can it break into the top five?

Apr 23, 2013, 9:04 AM EDT

AT&T MLS All Star Game - Chelsea v MLS All Stars Getty Images

Okay, so this type of accolade comes with a certain about of skepticism from soccer fans. But lets enjoy it. I’m sure MLS commish Don Garber is.

Data released this morning from Sporting Intelligence revealed that Major League Soccer has been ranked as the seventh best soccer league in the world. The study brings into account attendances, finances, goals, competitiveness, caliber of players and managers, stadiums and success in continental competitions.

Germany tops the list with a score of 60, while England is in second with 55. MLS gets a rating of 28, with Mexico just one place ahead in sixth with a score of 30.

So what does this mean for MLS? Well, not an awful lot at first. But it does once again spread positive publicity about the league on a global scale. With attendances figures on the rise, this ranking will only continue to grow over the coming years.

But has MLS reached its tipping point and can it break into the top five leagues in the world? Yes. With the careful financial model in place and cautious plans for expansion, MLS is doing things the right way. The EPL, La Liga and Serie A have all seen huge clubs falling to mismanagement and bankruptcy in recent years. There is no chance of that happening in MLS. And with soccer specific stadiums popping up in Houston, Montreal and Portland in recent seasons and plans for more being built in D.C., New England and San Jose, the infrastructure of the league will only continue to get better. But the product, i.e. the players and managers, will have to keep up with the off-field success and if anything, surpass it.

If MLS is to rise above Mexico and Brazil into the top five, attracting better players and coaches must now be the mantra. More big name DPs, younger US talent staying in the league and attracting more world-class coaches should be the aim. But how to do that without breaking the bank and damaging the strict financial structure is the biggest challenge for MLS. But it can be done.

  1. dfstell - Apr 23, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    That’s interesting. I wouldn’t normally think of MLS as being better than Holland, Portugal, Argentina and France. But, I guess our image of those leagues is probably warped because we think of them as being Ajax, Porto, Benfica, PSG, Lyon, etc. Top to bottom, MLS probably is better because the lower levels aren’t as weak.

    I’d love to see MLS find another league to do a challenge like the ACC – Big Ten Challenge in college basketball. Pick a league that could use more exposure like Holland and let all of our teams play a series of glorified friendlies #10 versue #10, #9 v. #9, etc. Half the games in the US, half in Holland. Do it all over one weekend during June. Then next year do the same thing with some other league. Who says ‘no” to that?

    As for improving MLS? That’s season: Raise the salary cap and *gradually* transition from an expansion model to a promotion/relegation model. All the empirical studies show that success mostly correlates with player salaries. No amount of management wizardry will keep MLS in the top 5 LONG TERM unless it also pays Top 5 salaries. At some point, MLS will have to decide if protecting the lower revenue clubs is worth restraining some of the clubs with money to spend. And….if you look at what is going on in NASL, there is reason to think that some of those clubs could be stronger than some MLS clubs in a few years. Once that happens, there is no reason to protect the weaker clubs anymore. Just let them drop down and bring up some of these NASL clubs who are building soccer-specific stadia. Once that model is in place, it allows owners to be entrepreneurial: Build a team that is good enough and you can get into the top league without screwing around, without votes from the MLS Board of Governors and without paying a very large fee to MLS for the right of joining the country club.

    But, mostly…..increase salaries. Adopt some sort of Financial Fair Play rules to keep clubs from behaving foolishly too.

    • soccerbrain - Apr 23, 2013 at 10:20 AM

      MLS does have a competition against another league on an annual basis, it’s the CONCACAF Champions League. MLS clubs against clubs from the rest of North and Central America and the Caribbean. And the MLS teams usually/always get beat by the Mexican teams. Very skeptical about the 7th rank.

      And the financial security of the MLS can’t be compared to European models anyway. The MLS acts as a trust/cartel that franchises out its league spots, it doesn’t really compare to the promotion/relegation model of the rest of the world. I’m not saying financial security isn’t important – especially in a fledgling league like MLS (still finishing those awkward teen years), but I do think NA sport operates in a very different environment from the rest of the world.

      I’d actually take a bit of disparity in MLS to build those legendary teams than live with the constant balance of a league of unremarkable teams. You can name those teams from Portugal, France, Holland and Argentina because they have had that chance to dominate the league and create a mythology about them like the Yankees, Dodgers, Canadiens, Packers, or Lakers.

      • dfstell - Apr 23, 2013 at 11:23 AM

        Of course we have the CCL and we’ve seen the result of our Top 4 versus the Mexican Top 4 (we come close, but lose). If MLS is about parity, I’d be curious to know if our 19th club is better than the 19th Mexican club (or the 19th Dutch club or 19th Russian club). That’s all I’m saying.

        Personally, I think parity is WAY over-rated. I know some fans really value the parity and “anyone can win” feeling, but I’d personally rather watch greatness. MLS isn’t set up to allow for greatness right now.

      • gaelic47 - Feb 6, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        Promotion/relegation in America won’t work because it’s not part of our sports culture. It’s not something we do in any other American sports league, and I don’t think the casual fan would like it.

        Also, about the CCL, knockout games are usually played in February, our offseason. Dollars to doughnuts the MLS teams would beat the Mexican clubs every year if the games were played in their offseason.

  2. creek0512 - Apr 23, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    Dodgers? Hahaha

    • handsofsweed - Apr 25, 2013 at 5:08 PM

      I know, right?

  3. chuckdzznutz - Apr 23, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Where exactly have you heard about these “plans” to build a SSS in New England? The Kraft’s own and operate the Revs as well as Gillette Stadium. They have zero intention in that kind of investment. Don’t let the front office fool you about searching for a potential site that would be suitable. That alleged search has been going on for nearly seven years.

    • dmccarthy104 - Apr 24, 2013 at 2:40 PM

      Chuck is 100% on target. The Krafts have mis-spoken for years on building a soccer specific stadium . The front office runs that scam to convince people to drive 45 minutes to their football stadium. Next time do better research.

  4. charliej11 - Apr 23, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    MLS is one of, it not the best run leagues in the world. They need to stay the course. The built in advantage of having a college system acting as your minor league will carry them along way….even further than the talent explosion that has happened recently. When the money comes, and it will, it will be crazy.

    The balancing act of having teams sign players like Donovan needs to be balanced with the competitiveness or they will lose fans and thus teams.

    They definitely need to keep ignoring the people who think we need a Barca/Man U type team here.
    They are barely soccer fans, casual soccer fans at best. Because of that, if those fans ever join the MLS ship, which is doubtful, they will jump ship very quickly.

  5. talgrath - Apr 23, 2013 at 6:34 PM

    It is worth noting the biggest reason why MLS rates so highly in this report, parity. Most of the leagues in the world don’t have a salary cap or have a very lax one; this means their top teams are very good, but their lower teams are very poor by comparison. Regulation’s intention is to make the lowest teams competitive in the face of the overwhelming firepower of huge clubs like Manchester United; the problem is that the middle teams games become more about some sort of vague pride than actual competition, there’s little chance they will be relegated but little chance that they will be league champions too, especially given the lack of a playoff system in most leagues. I find the people calling for relegation in MLS don’t understand what relegation is all about, they just hear that European leagues have it and they want it too; MLS is fine without relegation, any given year could be your year to do well thanks to a break-out star or impressive rookie.

  6. caetanosoccerstories - Apr 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    a category for sportsmanship (fair play) something FIFA soccer world governing body emphasizes should be an important factor in the ratings. That is what sport should also be about as a priority. Creating an appropriate environment for all to attend a game should be a responsibility of each club. It is done in the USA but most other countries that is not the case.

    • caetanosoccerstories - Apr 24, 2013 at 12:31 PM

      a category for sportsmanship (fair play) something FIFA soccer world governing body emphasizes should be an important factor in the ratings. That is what sport should also be about as a priority. Creating an appropriate environment for all to attend a game should be a responsibility of each club. It is done in the USA but most other countries that is not the case.

  7. ironman0570 - Apr 24, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    I think the last paragraph sums it up. There is nothing more frustrating to watch a striker go one one-on-one with a GK and completely shank it. I see this too often in the MLS. These are almost a gimme in the EPL and the German Bundesliga. That’s the difference between watching a player making $40k and $4M a year. Watching big name players will definitely fill the seats and seeing US youth talent emerge to the national squad will certainly draw more attention but it has to be consistent. Besides attracting coaches and players, the MLS should also invest in attracting better referees.

  8. jobob7777777 - Apr 24, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    The problems of MLS won’t be fixed in the next five years. However I think they could be fixed in the next 10-20 years. I think the commish is a little optimistic with his 10 year plan. I think we have everything in place and MLS 2.0 is a fantastic product that learned a lot. In 22 years the league will be 40 years old. This will mean the the second generation MLS fans (the kids who grew up after MLS was founded) will be parents. That will mean the start of third generation fans. That alone won’t guarantee sold out stadiums but it sure won’t hurt. MLS will be an established league.
    Hopefully with established stars. This year more than ever I am ecstatic about the amount of young talent in this league. Luis Gil, Jose Villareal, Jack McBean, Deshorn Brown, DeAndre Yedlin, Darren Mattocks, Omar Salgado, Dillon Powers, Carlos Alverez, Jack McInerney, Perry Kitchen, Juan Agudelo are all under the age of 21. We need to keep some of this talent and continue to improve these players. We need more American DP’s. With these players turning into stars we can have the equivalent of the Kobe vs Lebron. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Messi vs Ronaldo matchup, Bale vs VanPersie, Tevez vs Suarez. We don’t have any stars that the average American would know other than Donovan. We need more stars in their prime for both raising the level of play, and marketing. Having established national team players (Donovan) on your roster is much easier to market than an Obafemi Martins, Cladio Bieler, or Reo Coker. How many New England fans would really wants to see one of those play more Landon Donovan?
    Maybe we need an American DP slot separate from the other slots because this one would be paid entirely by the league and would hit the cap at $100k vs the 250k-300k

    • jobob7777777 - Apr 24, 2013 at 6:20 PM

      American/Canadian DP

  9. adiaz9201 - Jul 17, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    You people failed to understand what this rating is all about, overall the league is growing showing progress, it already surpassed the NHL and the NBA in attendance and threatning to over take baseball. It has a salary cap to prevent dominance by one single team, it has the parity that most leagues dont have, all franchises will have soccer specific stadiums, and yes you guys are correct MLS still needs to develop better players and maybe holland has better players and france, but their leagues arent stable, and that is what this rating is all about the stability of the league. Its more important then anyone single player.

    Americans are starting to like soccer more and more and eventually we will dominate and compete with the top teams of the world, we are on the right track. And we compete on the Concacaf champions league. Wait and see.

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