The USA’s top football league known as the MLS over recent years has undoubtedly grown in popularity. In fact, football, or ‘soccer’ as it is known in the US, has become a major thing in the country, even if not to the level of the NFL or MLB. This is thanks in part to the hugely positive performances in recent World Cups from the national team with them only just missing out on a quarter final spot to a strong Belgium team.
A lot of high profile names have made the move to the US in recent years; David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and most recently Kaka. However, all of these players have moved during the tail end of their careers when they’ve already made a name for themselves in world football. Will this change though? There are plenty of attractive options for players nearing the end of their career away from Europe’s top leagues, with China bringing in many players on extortionate salaries being an example of this. Didier Drogba during his time in China was reportedly earning $310,000 per week, so with offers like that going to players well into their thirties, why should they go to the MLS?
The recent acquisition of MLS franchises by both David Beckham and City Football Group (also made up of Manchester City and Melbourne City FC) will bring not only some high profile players, but also media interest from across the globe. David Beckham is known worldwide and has become almost synonymous with English football, and the sport in general. The media focus on his Miami based franchise, particularly in the Uk will be huge. He is one of the people in world football who would be able to attract the big names, and I think that all it will take for the popularity of the MLS to really sky-rocket would be one or two of these big names to turn down moves to the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid and opt for a move to the MLS instead. In practice however this will be a lot more difficult. The lure of Champions League football offered by Europe’s leading clubs has been attracting the biggest names in football away from teams competing at a lower level, and the lack of this in the MLS would undoubtedly deter a number of potential new signings. As I said before though money talks, and if enough stars make the move to the USA, who knows how big the league and sport will become over there.
There are a lot of ‘ifs’ regarding the potential success of the MLS. If a few wealthy investors turn up offering ridiculous salaries to players at the peak of their careers, few would turn the move down. Just look at Colombian striker Radamel Falcao who completed a move to AS Monaco for figures reported as anything between £300,000 and £450,000 per week when they were still competing in Ligue 2, the second tier of French football. Money talks (or shouts very loudly in the case of Falcao) and if an offer comes through to some of world footballs up and coming stars that includes a huge salary and the option to live in a place like New York or Los Angeles, we could well see the pool of talent in the MLS increase dramatically, and with it the popularity of the sport in the USA. American sports in recent years have been an exciting proposition for broadcasters in the UK such as Sky Sports and ESPN, and there is no sign of that slowing down. If the public interest is there, then there is no reason why the MLS can’t and won’t become as popular as Europe’s top leagues.