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Soccer: The skyrocketing evolution of MLS

The skyrocketing growth of soccer in North America is making MLS the most promising tournament on the continent.

Colorado Rapid Stadium

A large number of world-class stars have passed through the MLS, a league that for many was still considered for retirement. Photo: Wikimedia - DenverLawGuy

LatinAmerican Post | Theoscar Mogollón González

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Leer en español: La evolución de la MLS

In life and in soccer, evolution is always a matter of time. What looks like a small business today, tomorrow can become a giant corporation capable of generating billions of dollars in profits. Soccer is not far behind if it is put into the same equation, because those who are indoors and are oblivious to what takes place inside a field, work day and night so that the product little by little gains greater value. For this, there is no better example than Major League Soccer (MLS), a tournament that already attracts the attention of locals and strangers in the United States.

Talking about sports in a nation like North America always resulted in three disciplines par excellence: baseball, basketball, and American football. To this we can add others such as hockey, golf, and anyone related to the Olympic Games, always highlighting that soccer was not one of the most-watched. What should a country so passionate about entertainment do so that the most practiced sport in the world was part of its culture?

It was the year 1975 in the United States when astute businessmen launched an attractive strategy that attracted the spotlight of the world of soccer since they signed the greatest icon of that moment: Pelé. That first blow on the table in the market was given by the New York Cosmos, which became the new home of the Brazilian star along with some four and a half million tax-free dollars, in addition to serving in a great way to boost the nascent NASL (National American Soccer League).

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Pelé not only conquered two league titles in three seasons but also left a legacy in later generations. Over time, other soccerfigures headed north: Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Johan Cruyff, and Giorgio Chinaglia. The mission, beyond titles in their respective clubs, was to teach American players and that the sport began to grow and gain popularity among fans. Those solid bases that they wanted to build had to wait a little longer since the objective was not being met with the desired speed.

The correct road

Having organized the World Cup in 1994, the United States knew it was on the right track for soccer to gain its space. Since then, a large number of world-class stars have passed through the MLS, a league that for many was still considered for retirement. Names like Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Kaká, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger, among others, arrived in North America to give their last touches of talent and further enhance the quality of the tournament.

In fact, other figures like David Beckham and David Villa went beyond the simple game and decided to become investors. While the Briton founded Inter Miami in 2018, the Spaniard is co-owner of Queensboro FC that will compete from 2022 in the USL Championship (Second Division).

The results, more than positive, began to arrive and that attracted the attention of fans and businessmen, who saw in the MLS an unstoppable promotion competition. It is enough to mention that for 2006 there were 12 teams participating, in 2021 there are already 27 (Austin FC debuts), and it is estimated that within three years it will expand to 30 teams.

What is the secret?

If you wonder the reason for the growth and success, one of the answers is because of the owners of NFL teams. Being a discipline with thousands of followers, that motivated several entrepreneurs to see soccer as a great marketing strategy. To name one example is Robert Kraft, who heads the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution. Even outsiders like Joe Mansueto, founder of the expert investment firm Morningstar, Inc., were attracted to the idea and bought the Chicago Fire franchise.

Likewise, another of the muscles that MLS has are the commercial agreements with brands such as Adidas, which since 2004 has dressed all the franchises thanks to an investment of approximately 15 million dollars a year. This type of project has been maintained over time and year after year they become more relevant, showing that each of the fundamental aspects makes it very profitable. The financial strength that supports the championship has not diminished its strength, despite the difficult reality that currently exists. The medium-term goal is to sustain that level to compete at a striking pace.

Soccer in America is no longer about the ultimate adventure for retired players. No way. The dedication and work that the MLS clubs give him are beginning to pay off and that is being seen in Europe. Talent and youth have been mixed so that names like Christian Pulisic (Chelsea FC), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Sergiño Dest (FC Barcelona), or Weston McKennie (Juventus), are the clear example of that North America is working to be the most promising league on the continent.