Here Are 5 Reasons You Better Start Paying Attention to Major League Soccer

  • DeAndre Yedlin
    It is a breeding ground for young American talent.

    One thing that a lot of MLS franchises have learned from the European game is that in order to field a strong senior team, you need a structured organization to develop young talent. This idea has spawned the Homegrown Player Rule in MLS, which allows teams to develop and sign local players directly to their senior roster without going through the normal MLS allocation processes. While it’s taken a while for this program to take hold, players like New England’s Diego Fagundez and DC United’s Bill Hamid have proven that the system is going to start paying serious dividends in the near future.

    Additionally, if you look at the makeup of the United States national team, you’ll quickly see that a number of players both already on the roster and expected to challenge for spots over the next four years began their careers in MLS. Whether you’re talking about a current star like Clint Dempsey, a breakout player like DeAndre Yedlin, or a future star like Gyasi Zardes, the common thread is that each began his career right here in the United States.

    Image via USA Today Sports Images

    1 of 5
  • The quality of play is as good as any second-tier professional league.

    Will MLS ever approach the overall skill level of the English Premier League, La Liga in Spain, or German Bundesliga? Probably not, at least not in the foreseeable future. But why should that mean that fans can’t take in a game, appreciate the talent many of the players have, and actively support the league? In any other country, it would be ludicrous to suggest you couldn’t support both your own domestic league as well as the top-tier professional leagues abroad. Why should it be any different here?

    With the influx of foreign talent as well as the rising quality of the American players, the overall talent level in MLS has never been higher. Indeed, watching an MLS game is often equally as exciting and competitive as leagues in the Netherlands and Mexico (for example), and the quality of the facilities and overall experience for the players has become a huge draw for non-American players to join the league. Guys like Frank Lampard and David Villa wouldn’t sign with the league unless they know that there’s an opportunity for them to play at a high level.

    Image via USA Today Sports Images

    2 of 5
  • Timbers
    The fan culture surrounding teams like Seattle and Portland is as good as any other American pro league.

    If there’s anything that this past summer’s World Cup taught us, it’s that there is a huge percentage of America that is excited about soccer and is ready to support their team with an unprecedented level of passion. We saw it in the big cities as fans congregated to watch games together, sing, and chant, and unite in mutual admiration for their team.

    In MLS cities like Portland and Seattle, this is happening too. For the Sounders-Timbers matchup in August of 2013, Seattle’s CenturyLink Field was completely sold out, with 67,385 people in attendance. This, for a regular-season MLS game. While that kind of attendance is not necessarily the norm, the fact that 15 of the 19 teams play in soccer-specific stadiums built exclusively for them is an undeniable indicator of the game’s growth.

    Image via USA Today Sports Images

    3 of 5
  • David Villa
    Star players from overseas legitimately want to play here.

    Before David Beckham, the majority of players who came to MLS from abroad were past their primes and just looking for one last paycheck before they rode off into the sunset. While they certainly were still good players, in no way did they resemble the guys they were while playing overseas. And although that kind of player does still occasionally make his way into MLS from time to time, the majority of foreign-born footballers coming to America are still ready and able to make meaningful contributions on the field.

    David Villa was still scoring goals at a prolific rate for Atletico Madrid last year, and Frank Lampard has been fantastic so far this season for Manchester City; the two will be teammates in New York next year. Thierry Henry has continued to dominate up top, Robbie Keane has continued to show his world-class goal scoring ability, and Julio Cesar featured prominently at the World Cup for Brazil this past summer. While some of these players may no longer feature for their national teams, it’s more for lack of desire than lack of skill.

    As the money invested in MLS grows and the overall quality of the league continues to rise, more of this foreign talent will want to be here and will do what is necessary to make it happen. In the end the fans are the biggest winners, as we get to see some of the world’s best players on our own turf.

    Image via USA Today Sports Images

    4 of 5
  • stadium
    With state-of-the-art stadiums and passionate fans, it is arguably the best sport to watch live.

    The experience at the soccer-specific stadiums throughout MLS is second to none, as their relatively modest seating capacity means that you’re right on top of the action and thrown together with fellow passionate fans. It’s a communal experience whose beautiful simplicity has been systematically purged from the other major American sports, where suites and outrageous prices have turned attending games into a luxury available only to a select few.

    There’s also a purely logistical component too. A soccer game is 45 minutes, a 15-minute halftime, and then another 45 minutes. There’s no variation; it’s easy and predictable. If you’re someone who doesn’t like committing an indefinite amount of time to attend a live sporting event, this is a major perk. When combined with the intimate setting and relative affordability of going, it’s not a surprise that in recent years that MLS has passed the NHL and NBA in average per-game attendance, and that some MLS teams are even outdrawing Major League Baseball teams as well.

    Image via USA Today Sports Images

    5 of 5
  • DeAndre Yedlin
  • Timbers
  • David Villa
  • stadium

Since the league launched in 1996, criticizing MLS has been the “cool” thing to do. To be fair, for a lot of years the league provided plenty of ammunition: ridiculous uniforms, silly team names, and a substandard level of play all made MLS the deserving butt of many of the soccer-watching world’s jokes.

However, the only thing worse than a name like the Kansas City Wiz is the idea that the league could not evolve and improve. Just as the United States National Team has risen to global respectability–did you watch the World Cup this summer?–so too has the level of competition in MLS. No longer is the league purely a home for misfits and washed up players looking to cash one final paycheck; it has become a legitimate destination for international stars like David Beckham and Frank Lampard, and has begun developing significant homegrown American talent as well.

Right now, the players are better than ever and just this past season we saw a number of them take the leap to superstar status. If you aren’t watching the very best that Major League Soccer has to offer, you’re missing out. Big time.

The on-field product has evolved into something that many around the world would admit is top quality, and the United States’ continued success on the international level has only helped to buoy the league’s reputation around the globe. Even if you were one of those people who made fun of it before, it’s not too late to join in on the fun.

Here Are 5 Reasons You Better Start Paying Attention to Major League Soccer.

Follow Doug on Twitter at @dcsibor

image via @billhamid