By Rohan Ahluwalia
Arriving on campus for the first time as a freshman, I was taken aback when I found out that my Community Advisor (CA) was a supporter of the soccer team West Ham United. He told me about how soccer actually has a decent following on campus, and as someone just coming from a high school where soccer was seldom followed, I was astonished and equally excited. I would finally be able to talk about the sport I loved with other people my own age. Before I could only do so with people around my fathers age.
Over the course of my first semester, I met many different soccer supporters. From those who supported Chelsea to Bayern Munich, I had the opportunity to talk to each and every one of them about the sport. The discussions made me jubilant — that was, until I mentioned Major League Soccer, the local soccer league here in the United States. Not many people on campus who follow European soccer follow the MLS. Why was that? Sure, the quality of soccer is not as good in the U.S. as it is in Europe, but following the local league should be done if we want to really see soccer grow in this country.
According to John Tobias, a freshman and an ardent Bayern Munich fan, what turns him off to the MLS is “that the league is just not as good as the ones in Europe.”
“The quality is just better over there,” he said.
That is true — the quality of soccer available in Major League Soccer is not as good as the soccer you can find in Europe, but what separates the European leagues from MLS is that the MLS features some of the best American talent. You get to also see some new American players get their start in MLS, like Juan Agudelo or Geoff Cameron, while witnessing the fastest growing sports league in the world.
Fine, the MLS does not have the best players in the world like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Eden Hazard, but the league has its own players that can still entertain any crowd. Players like Diego Valeri and United States captain, Michael Bradley, add their own flair to the league while world-class players, such as Sebastien Giovinco, are slowly making their way to the league.
At the same time, with the new collective bargaining agreement going into effect this season, the quality of the league will only improve as the teams will be able to spend more money on better players.
The MLS will also soon expand to 22 teams, with new teams in Los Angeles and Atlanta entering by 2017. These new teams will only help further improve MLS, as they will have rich owners who will not mind spending big money on players and youth development, and there’s more where that came from with cities like Minnesota, Sacramento and Miami heavily interested in acquiring an MLS team.
In the long-term, these things will help improve the MLS to eventually be on the level of the top European leagues. But before that can happen, it needs fans. The league is doing very well in terms of attendance and drawing average on TV. But compared to the top European leagues and Big 4 American sports, it’s not even close.
I feel that European soccer fans in the country, especially soccer fans at the College, should help contribute to the growth of MLS. The quality is not there, but the potential for growth is massive. One day, when the league gets to the level of Europe, you can say that you were a follower when the league was still growing.