THE BIG LEAGUES WELCOME AMERICA

In 1993 the United States were gearing up for hosting the World Cup in the coming summer. The nation that had never really been seen as a “Football nation” was about to host the World’s biggest sporting event. All this despite it never even had a professional football (soccer) league. The US has invested in the product since “USA 94” and the MLS is now watched by millions around the world.

When FIFA elected the USA to host its most prestigious tournament one of the stipulations was that the country must establish a professional league. From the perspective of foreign leagues the MLS could not possibly reach a global audience. The feeling was that the league bosses were trying to “Americanize” the sport in the United States. An example of this was playing a penalty shootout to determine a victor in every match, instead of ending the game in a draw. Another criticism of the league was the fact that most of the teams played in the massive American Football stadiums. Some sides would average around 14,000 fans per home game, yet play in a 70,000 capacity stadium.

As the years progressed the sport in America slowly went under the radar and tried to establish itself. The performance of the US Ladies team at major tournaments helped galvanize interest on a global level and in 2002 the Men’s team made it to the Quarter Finals of the World Cup in Japan/South Korea. The league continued to expand over the next few years.

From a personal viewing, I have been going to the United States since I was 7 years old. Initially when I went there was hardly any mention of Soccer and I was forced to try my hand at sports like Baseball and American Football, with the latter becoming a massive hit in the United Kingdom a few years down the line. It wasn’t until I visited New York last year that I really noticed a significant change in the way the sport has changed.

The landscape of American Soccer changed forever in 2007 when David Beckham, the most famous of all, opted to sign for Los Angeles Galaxy with the intention of seeing out his playing days in the US. Money talks in football and Beckham was given a record – breaking $32 million contract. After Beckham, more global stars opted to play out their final days in America. Years before Beckham and the MLS, footballing greats like Pele and George Best attempted to boost the sport in America and a cult following began.

The United States has heavily invested in its football and more expansion teams are being created. Beckham is leading a Miami based franchise into the MLS next season and at the beginning of the 2018 season there will be three more teams added, taking the number to 24 teams spread over two conferences. In the NFL, MLB and NBA teams are restricted on the amount they can spend on players and their wages. The MLS implements the same salary cap policy and it is designed so teams can work on developing their own talent, as well as attracting a big name. This season is the leagues 20th and more European players have crossed the Atlantic to help the league grow. The arrival of big names like Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard has massively contributed to the global success and television companies have jumped on the bandwagon. In the UK, Sky Sports now own the television rights to MLS games and showcase the American game each week.

Although there is a huge gulf in class between these legends and the young talent emerging from the developmental teams, these experienced pro’s will hopefully be guiding the next generation towards greatness. The world is watching to see how the United States does, but the feeling around football is that America will host another World Cup and more players will continue to flock to the US.

Matthew Findlay

Twiiter - @Matt_Findlay19