Since its first season in 1996, Major League Soccer has been fighting to become both a successful league in the professional sports landscape of the United States and also rise through the ranks of world soccer. While there has definitely been progress made when it comes to on-field talent, the MLS is still an after thought in both of these departments. The first priority of the league should be growing as a world soccer league in order to win over the stateside soccer fans before claiming the average American sports fan. These are three changes the MLS can make to do just that.
1. Align Schedule
Currently, the MLS season starts in early March and runs until the end of October, with playoffs following the end of the regular season. This schedule is incredibly different from those of the big European leagues that the MLS is hoping to one day rival. The English Premier League schedule begins in mid August and concludes with the final matchday falling in late May. In a landscape where all of the leagues in the world are competing for the same players, following the template set by the world superpowers is incredibly important to achieve success. Instead, the MLS has chosen to seek domestic success first but has failed to make a dent on that front.
2. Observe the International Break
Major League Soccer is one of the only leagues in world soccer that does not halt play during the times when international teams are in session. While the MLS can almost get away with this because of the lack of international superstars currently playing in the league, teams are still losing their best players every time they play through an international break. In addition to the teams' dilemma, the players must face the possibility of upsetting their club by representing their country or vice versa. As the quality of players interested in coming to play in the United States rises, this aspect of life in the MLS could be a possible deterrent for those stars.
3. Implement a Relegation Structure
Another aspect of the MLS league structure that differs from most of the leagues in the world is the lack of tiers. In the Premier League, the bottom three teams at the end of each season get relegated to the second division of english football while the top three teams from that division are promoted to the top flight. This creates incentive for the lower teams to fight late into the season, even after hopes of a title are long gone, leading to stunning upsets and lower half matchups being played with the importance of a championship. This element is missing from the MLS and the league could be greatly improved by this implementation. A tier system could easily be established by the MLS by just absorbing the already existing semi-pro leagues in America.
In order for the MLS to reach the heights of the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, or the rest of the superpowers in world soccer, it must first conform to their format. These three changes will put Major league soccer on the right track towards becoming a top league in world soccer, and then a staple of American professional sports.