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Sports Then and Now

Will The MLS Ever Catch Up With Europe?

Posted on December 02, 2018 by Amelia Rose

soccer-2018-2Every couple of years the MLS grabs worldwide attention with the signings of some major stars.

That started with David Beckham and since then, big names like Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard, David Villa and Kaka have made the journey across from Europe.

This year has welcomed two of the world’s biggest names in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, which begs the question, has the MLS re-found its mojo and can it close the gap on Europe in terms of quality?

More attention is on the league than ever before and with the season currently at the MLS Cup phase it’s grabbing headlines worldwide and being bet on more than ever before.

There are new betting offers every day at the moment with Atlanta current 1-4 favorites with bookie Betfair to earn their first, ahead of the Portland Timbers who they’ll take on who are priced at a generous 11/4.

This attention is only good for the league and will encourage more players to make the switch to the USA.

Of course, it’s not the first time there’s been a mass invasion of players from Europe playing in the USA.

The NASL was a hotbed of talent back in the late 1970s to early 80s with the likes of Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer, Pele, Johan Cruyff and George Best all plying their trade in the division.

That never materialized into a division that was sustainable, which will be key if the MLS is going to develop into a league that can match Europe or even South America.

The appeal of the league in Europe will help achieve this, with the sustainability ultimately coming down to finances. The more people watching around the world, the higher the TV revenue and the more money franchises can use on their wage bill.

In turn that will continue to attract the likes of Rooney and Ibrahimovic and inspire a new generation of player to soccer instead of NFL, basketball and baseball.

That’s most certainly the main problem. For players developing in the United States currently, there’s little desire to continue that development in their home leagues.

Timothy Weah opted to move from New York to Paris, while Germany is now almost a second stop for any US teenager who wants to become a professional footballer.

In the nation’s latest squad, five players under the age of 26 play in Germany which is taking serious quality away from the MLS.

Keeping that within the league is a must if the MLS wants to challenge. Rooney and Ibrahimovic succeeding in the league can help with that.

Rooney recently admitted the standard of football in the MLS was higher than he imagined and it will be interesting to see if any other European stars will follow him to the league in the coming year.

Mario Balotelli has recently been linked with a move to Philadelphia, and is priced at 3-1 with Ladbrokes to make the move, which would be significant as few players have moved across who aren’t approaching the end of their career, while Arjen Robben and Celtic’s Scott Brown are also tipped.

The quality of home players needs to improve though and that begins with infrastructure at youth level. There are plenty of excellent young players in the US squad currently, but the nation needs to ensure they keep that quality in the MLS. Do that and the league may well have cracked it.

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