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American soccer gaining global prominence

By Sonny Sachdeva, May 28 2015 —

When you think of soccer’s powerhouse teams, a few names come to mind.

Manchester United. Real Madrid. Barcelona F.C.

Europe has ruled the sport for much of its history. Brazil and Argentina are the only non-European nations to boast some of soccer’s best players.

One country that certainly doesn’t command the same respect on the international soccer stage is the United States — but that may be about to change.

America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) has only existed so far as a goofy younger brother to the European titans — the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and Germany’s Bundesliga.

However, the MLS made great strides in the last few years and looks set to take a significant step forward next season. While the overall talent level in the league pales in comparison to those of their rivals in Europe and South America, it has gained international respect due to the arrival of some of the game’s brightest stars.

English legend David Beckham kicked off the revival when he made the controversial decision to leave Real Madrid and sign with the MLS’ Los Angeles Galaxy back in 2007. Since then, other superstars have joined the American league after turning 30, opting to finish their careers in America rather than with the historic European clubs.

Thierry Henry was undoubtedly one of MLS’ biggest signings so far. The French striker rose to international acclaim during his career with Arsenal F.C. and France’s national team. But in 2010, Henry left Europe for the MLS and began a four-year stint with the New York Red Bulls.

The American league has also seen the arrival of famed Irish striker Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy), Brazilian legend Kaká (Orlando City S.C.) and English star Jermaine Defoe (Toronto F.C.).

The trend looks set to continue this season, with three high-end talents signed on to join MLS clubs in 2015.

England’s Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who have both been among England’s top players for over a decade, have agreed to join the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York City F.C., respectively. Spanish star David Villa also recently began his MLS career, serving as New York City F.C.’s first-ever captain.

While it may not be what the MLS’ founders envisioned when they created the league back in 1993, the organization has carved out a nice niche for themselves. They can attract the sport’s top talent to America — albeit in the waning years of their careers.

The talent level could ramp up significantly in the coming seasons, as Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo – widely regarded as the greatest player in the sport today – has suggested he’ll join the MLS after his contract expires in 2018.

Regardless of his age, having Ronaldo in the MLS would be a major coup for the league, and would significantly raise its international profile.

Though nearly all of their high-profile signings thus far have involved players nearing the end of their careers, the arrival of these respected stars has made the MLS more appealing for younger players as well.

Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore both serve as evidence of this shift. The two American-born stars (27- and 25-years-old, respectively) both returned to the MLS this year to play for Toronto F.C., leaving successful stints in the Premier League and La Liga.

While it will be years before the MLS warrants the same respect as the world’s top leagues, they are undoubtedly on the rise. With the talent level growing and the league adding four new teams in the next five years, their ascent looks set to continue.


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