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MLS: ’28th Strongest’ Soccer League in World

August 13th, 2017 · No Comments · English Premier League, Fifa, Football, soccer, Spain

Not exactly a rousing endorsement of Major League Soccer.

The data guys at the FiveThirtyEight website have come up with a batch of calculations they believe indicate the “relative strength” of soccer leagues in Europe, North America and South America.

(See the rankings, about a third of the way down the page.)

In simplest terms, it attaches numbers to each league based on a perceived value of its constituent clubs, as well as how well they collectively perform against clubs from other leagues.

It is no surprise that Spain’s La Liga, led by Real Madrid and Barcelona, ranks No. 1. Followed by Germany’s Bundesliga.

Third is England’s Premier League money machine, which ranks first in “market value” but behind Spain and Germany in “overall value” because English clubs have struggled in European competition in recent years.

Italy is fourth, of course, but fifth is a bit of a surprise. Instead of France, Brazil’s domestic league sneaks in there.

Mexico’s Liga MX is the class of North America, at No. 11 in the world.

And where is Major League Soccer?

No. 28. Just behind Denmark’s top league and ahead of Croatia’s.

Which is not at all flattering to MLS.

MLS is hurting in both categories: It has a poor record in international matches against other Concacaf clubs and its clubs and players are not particularly valuable.

Which seems a little counter-intuitive when we consider that the MLS ranks No. 8 in the world, among soccer leagues, in average attendance.

The league, which has been around barely two decades, does a good job of selling tickets.

But there is a disconnect between fannies in seats and the value of MLS franchises and players — as well as international success.

We may not understand the FiveThirtyEight ratings system (go back and read it; good luck), but people who watch the top leagues in Europe, especially, and compare those to MLS … the gap in talent is still significant and can be seen. Much of it is a factor of salaries — MLS teams just do not pay as well as most of the world’s top leagues.

More than a few American soccer fans have zero interest in the nearby MLS clubs, preferring to get out of bed early on weekends to watch broadcasts of live Premier League matches. To them, MLS at No. 28 sounds about right, and they are not interested.

Eventually, the comparative lack of expensive/elite players in MLS — compared to the top leagues — might stunt player development. Something Jurgen Klinsmann, for example, thought was already the case.

But U.S. competence in the Fifa World Cup, even with most of the side playing in MLS, has been demonstrated repeatedly.

At this moment, most of the key U.S. veterans are back playing in MLS: Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones, etc. Which hardly matters, given that those guys are what they are. Staying healthy and a short-ish plane ride to national-team duties are what matters.

Meanwhile, several of the young USMNT guys play in Europe, notably Christian Pulisic, Bobby Woods, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, and presumably keep a bit sharper edge than the MLS guys, so no harm done.

In a perfect world, U.S. players would be able to stay in the U.S., most of them (like English players staying in England), in part because MLS’s notorious salary cap will have gone away and MLS clubs can and will spend more on players.


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