Now that we have reviewed the history of soccer in America and the dust has settled on the “carousel of leagues” we can dive into part two, examining the current outlook on the United States’ domestic soccer leagues. 


MLS

Recognizing the ever changing world of sports, MLS has had to continue to grow and adapt to fit the soccer climate in America. Right now Major League Soccer is comprised of 22 teams, with at least one more, LAFC, joining in 2018. The league has expanded over the last few years and is planning to add four more teams, bringing the total number up to 26, by 2020. The commissioner, Don Garber has even stated that the league is hoping to bring the tally to at least 28 teams at some point in the future. Obviously, expansion, with the proper precautions, is a positive. Teams need to have backing with prominent, set ownership groups. Expansion bids need to have enticing, promising local markets to help grow soccer and MLS in America. With some current MLS clubs struggling with attendance issues and others stuck in American football stadiums, potential bids also need to have plans for a soccer-specific stadium.

Mostly untouched by professional soccer, markets like San Diego and Miami are both seeking to get into MLS over the next few years. San Diego’s bid, headlined by US legend Landon Donovan, and Miami’s bid, headlined by David Beckham, would both add major markets to the league, vastly improve revenue, and likely raise the attendance average across the league. Other markets, such as Phoenix, Cincinnati, San Antonio, and Sacramento are also looking like they would be very valuable additions to the growing MLS. All four of these cities’ current United Soccer League franchises are already drawing big crowds.

In addition to expansion, MLS is continuing to market it’s product. Major League Soccer has partnership deals with ESPN, FOX, and Univision, broadcasting many MLS games across the United States and Canada.

While expansion and marketing are both fantastic tools, the most important issue facing MLS is not a lack of teams or a lack of market influence. The real issue is domestic perception. Some Americans completely dismiss soccer as a viable sport and therefore MLS as a viable league. As a result, Major League Soccer has the stigma of being a below-average league. The only way to change this, in addition to quality marketing and expansion, is to elevate the quality of play. Better players translate to a more entertaining product, which translates to more viewers, which eventually translates to a better perception.

Will MLS ever gain enough popularity to become a top-tier sports league? Between expansion, marketing, and elevated quality of play, Major League Soccer certainly has the potential to become on par with other prominent nations top soccer leagues.

USL and NASL

While MLS continues to operate as the top-flight league in the country, the United Soccer League and North American Soccer League currently operate as co-second division leagues. The USL began (again) in 2011 and now has 30 total teams. Several American and Canadian MLS teams use the USL as a feeder league, placing affiliate teams in its ranks. Many other teams in the USL are in totally independent markets; some seeking to eventually become part of MLS, while others are simply seeking to grow the popularity and success of soccer in their own markets.

The NASL also began play (again) in 2011, and is home to eight total teams across the North American continent: six American based teams, one from Canada, and one from Puerto Rico. While the NASL and USL currently operate as co-second division leagues in the “United States Soccer Pyramid”, the leagues have no technical affiliation.

Between MLS, USL, and NASL, the number of professional soccer teams in US-based leagues has grown from 33 to 60 (a 181% increase) from 2005 to 2017.

NPSL and PDL

With 168 teams (and counting) between these two leagues, the NPSL and PDL both currently operate as the top amateur soccer leagues in the country. These leagues divide teams into regionally based conferences in order to make the travel cost feasible for its clubs. Both the NPSL and PDL are constantly looking to add more teams to their ranks, growing the game, the leagues, and their clubs. The highlight of the amateur soccer season is undoubtedly the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, where division winners and playoff teams qualify for the tournament. Teams from across all three levels of competition play in the Cup, providing great experience and exposure for lower league sides.


Between the expanding MLS, the more established USL and NASL, and the developing NPSL and PDL, the league soccer scene is slowing become more solidified and valued in America.


Keep an eye out for part three of this series, covering the USA’s youth and national team development.

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Published by Joseph Lowery