A while ago, I posed a question to the fans within a supporters group of Major League Soccer. It was a really simple question, with plenty of varied answers. What needs to be improved within Major League Soccer? The majority of these answers were valid points, and points that would help those in charge of MLS to make it more viable for those within the United States and around the world. Some teams have gone through six games, which is plenty of time for fans to grasp what needs to improve in order to make Major League Soccer prominent within the soccer community. Some of these are suggestions made by the fans, others through observations made throughout the start of the season. Let’s have a look:
Change the transfer window
LA Galaxy signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a fantastic thing to witness, but it wasn’t a transfer. Manchester United let Ibrahimovic go from his contract, and LA signed the striker immediately. Free agency is always going to be around, but MLS is shooting itself in the foot by not aligning their own transfer windows with that of Europe.
The main transfer window for MLS clubs goes from February through the start of May. The secondary window is from mid-July to mid-August. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for clubs to officially do business with their European counterparts.
Take away the salary cap
To be fair, MLS isn’t the only league in the world who has this issue. In fact, Australia’s A-League has a salary cap, and the fans wonder why teams can not get big name players in the peak of their form. The salary cap definitely hinders when certain players can be targeted, if not who.
Granted, the likes of Ibrahimovic, Steven Gerard and Didier Drogba have all come over to play in the USA, but at the tail end of their career. There have been rumors of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres wanting to finish their career in MLS, but that’s because it’s seen as the retirement league. It was the same when Alessandro Del Piero went to the A-League.
Removing the salary cap would change that, as teams would be able to pay players what they are worth so they can keep the youth coming through the systems here and develop them into household names. It would allow the MLS to promote the American players coming through, instead of relying on older names in the twilight of their career.
Build the youth academies
Currently, the best players that are eligible for the US national team are playing overseas. That isn’t an issue, because the goal for every soccer player is to play in the best leagues in the world and to make as much money as possible in what they love doing. The issue is that these players had to leave and go overseas to build their skill set because the youth system here isn’t allowing that.
There are the odd youth academies within MLS clubs that produce talent, but it isn’t set up to succeed. Collegiate soccer is inundated with athletes who want to go pro, but can’t because it seems that the only way to do that is to go via the draft. Why do you think DeAndre Yedlin and Christian Pulisic are playing in the top leagues in the world right now? It’s because they left. If you want Major League Soccer to grow, the investment at the youth level is going to help that.
More mainstream coverage
It is difficult to have a first division league if the only mainstream coverage you get is on the Sportscenter NOT top 10. ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision all are a part of the TV deal agreed to in 2015, but that only covers a third of the games held in the regular season. In addition, you won’t see every game of the regular season on national television, and that’s an issue.
“El traffico” got some pretty big coverage when Zlatan debuted, but that was it. In fact, fabs had to know where to look in order to find any coverage about the rest of the league’s games.
Teams seem to only be exposed to their local television areas, and that’s hurting the exposure of every team in the league. It is hurting the fan experience, because no one is traveling around the country and the world to see their favorite MLS team. ESPN3.com isn’t something that viewers will just go out of their way to find and watch soccer on. The next deal needs to have a focus on expanding the fan base and its viewership. The more exposure, the better.
Major League Soccer has some loyal fans, that much is obvious. The atmosphere at the derby games is incredible. The quality of play is slowing improving, although, the defense can definitely use some work. Slowly but surely, there will be more attention given to soccer in America. Those leading the way within Major League Soccer should take note. These are not short-term fixes, but they will be beneficial to the league in the long run.
Image – LA Galaxy