MLS has Flopped
Major League Soccer team Orlando City celebrating. Photo by Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel.

In the spirit of the MLS is Back tournament coming to a close today, I figured I would talk about the problems with Major League Soccer. So while the Portland Timbers and Orlando City battle it out for a $1.1 million prize pool, let’s talk about how MLS has flopped.

MLS had the goal of starting back up in a similar timeline as the other sports. This at first seemed like a good idea- making sure they didn’t fall behind. However, this has seemed to be a downfall for MLS. Since it came back the same time as Hockey and Basketball, their view numbers didn’t expand the way they expected to.

They also didn’t seem to take into account that most of the soccer fans were already watching the European Leagues. Meaning they wouldn’t be investing as much into watching MLS.

There is also the downfall of them only showing their games on ESPN and Fox Sports. If ESPN decides to feature a different sport, soccer gets kicked out pretty quickly.

So although their return timeline didn’t work out that well, and they have limited viewing options for their fans, MLS still has bigger problems. These are problems that people like Taylor Twellman, Daniel Workman and Chris Kessell talk about regularly. They directly attribute to why MLS has flopped.

No Promotion/ Relegation

One of MLS’s biggest problems is the lack of promotion or relegation. The lack of relegation between leagues has continued to hinder the growth of the sport in the U.S. Not having this type of system has had a few effects on the sport here in America.

One of the biggest consequences would be the lack of a fan base. There is no feeling of competition within the league. There is no fight for trying to win the upper-division or not to go to the lower division. This has resulted in a lack of initiative or interest in MLS.

This lack of competition has also perpetuated the idea that MLS is the retirement league. And as of right now, this still rings to be true.

This has also taken away the opportunity to play away from the youth.

Lack of Youth Programs

It’s well known that in the U.S. if you want your kid to get good soccer education you almost always have to go through an academy. But these are paid for by the parents. So, this weeds out many kids that could be great players.

The enormous lack of money flow has hindered the growth of the sport in the U.S.

MLS reported that they are losing out on $1 billion in revenue this year due to COVID. This indicates that the money is there. The only thing stopping money going into youth programs are the people up top that want all of the money.

One of the bigger clubs like LAFC can offer fully covered youth programs. But even with Orlando City’s youth program, it can cost up to $2500 a year to put your kid into their program.  The money from the clubs isn’t being used to fund youth programs than can help the overall development of soccer in America, but rather into the owners pocket.

No Localization

Lastly, one of the biggest hits about soccer is the lack of localization. There are huge chunks of the U.S. that aren’t even touched by MLS or USL. If there is no local team for the community to root for, why would they watch?

For my particular area, we have a USL team (Reno 11868 FC). However, we don’t have an MLS team. The people in our area don’t have someone to root for in MLS. Most of the time you have to go with who is closest. So for this area, it could be the San Jose Earthquakes. But many of us don’t feel connected to the team because the team is not here.

Conclusion

If MLS can focus on fixing these aspects of their league, then they’ll see the growth start to happen. By adding promotion and relegation between the USL and MLS, that’ll create an incentive for people to watch. This will also make more players want to play in the MLS. If the clubs can start with free youth programs, then the community in that area for soccer will continue to grow. Then with localization, you’re going to get more passionate fans from around the U.S. All of these combined will help with the growth of the sport overall. If this happens that it will also start fighting against the stigma that MLS is just the retirement league.

By doing these things that the Federation can also live up to its growth mission statement.

“To make soccer, in all its forms, a preeminent sport in the United States and to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels,” MLS said.

MLS has the potential to be a better world league. However, they just need to implement some changes then the MLS can stop flopping.