Yesterday was a very good day for MLS. The most obvious point would be the MLS All Star’s victory over English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur. Obviously it would be more impressive if it wasn’t an All Star team playing against a normal club team but all the same it was a great spectacle for fans of soccer. They got to see one of the better English teams in person and see the top talent MLS has collected over the past few years.
MLS clubs also announced two big signings yesterday. Philadelphia Union signed Tranquillo Barnetta on a free transfer from Bundisliga side Schalke FC. Barnetta might not be the biggest name but he represented Switzerland at the 2014 World Cup and has 75 caps for the national team. Then Eastern Conference rival New York Red Bulls announced the signing of Gonzalo Veron from San Lorenzo in Argentina. The 25-year old spent the last three years playing in the top division of Argentine football. Neither one of the signings is head turning or prolific but it underlines a greater theme going on in MLS this season.
Veron and Barnetta follow Didier Drogba and Shaun Wright-Phillips as MLS signings from the past week. Drogba is the biggest name there by far but the other three are all well respected players. Overall, they just add to the collection of big names and new talent infused into MLS over the last two seasons.There is still a ways to go before the league can start luring top players stateside during their prime.
However, this is easily the best collection of talent MLS has ever seen. That isn’t saying much but the level of talent in MLS exceeds previous level by a substantial amount. The success the LA Galaxy and the Red Bulls saw in the International Champions Cup highlights that fact. The MLS is starting to gain on the rest of the world in terms of being a competitive soccer league. They are nowhere near touching England, France, Italy or Spain but they might now find themselves more on par with Eredivisie in Holland or many of the South American leagues. They have certainly surpassed the Scottish Premier League and the Swiss Super League. I’m not saying that every team in MLS could beat teams from these countries but that the level of talent is higher overall.
American soccer is still in infancy by comparison to Europe or South America but these recent additions have certainly caught them up, even if it was only marginally. On top of that, these big name signings continue to bring in new fans. Even if these guys are older, the sheer name recognition is bringing fans in the door. So far this season, average attendance per game is up almost 2,000 fans per game. Over the course of a season that makes a huge difference. MLS is on pace for a record setting season when it comes to total attendance, one that will push it to almost the same average attendance as Serie A in Italy and Ligue 1 in France.
There is no ignoring that soccer has taken hold in the US anymore. MLS is well on it’s way to challenging other leagues for the country’s attention. Average attendance for MLS games have surpassed NBA and NHL games. Granted hockey and basketball are held in much smaller arenas it is still a step in the right direction. MLS is not great by any stretch but it should no longer be considered a joke as it was even five years ago.
If names like Andrea Pirlo, Stephen Ger ard and Giovanni Dos Santos continue to choose to come to MLS despite their usually older age, MLS will eventually begin to draw other talent. It takes time and the league has started the gradual process. Hopefully this means that now it is only a matter of time for the league to really grow in terms of play. With rumors that Christiano Rinaldo and Zaltan Ibrahimavic could one day make their way to MLS, there is no shortage of aging stars looking to continue playing. Hopefully some of the younger stars begin to follow.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Chris McGlynn