Without a doubt, the last few years has seen MLS grow by leaps and bounds. The enthusiasm for the league is palpable. The new teams added over the last few years – Philadelphia, Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, and Portland – have completely changed the dynamics of the league.
The league is on a major uptick in attendance. Television ratings have yet to catch on, but the sport is getting more headlines on national sports news programming networks.
Sports fans have appeared to be on the cusp of embracing pro soccer and giving MLS another look on their sports spectatorship menu.
News from the commissioner’s office, though, may bring MLS back a few steps and into oblivion, again. Indications are Queens, New York, will get the next new franchise, the league’s 20th team, likely starting in 2016. Thus, MLS will not be busy adding any new teams for the next three seasons.
With no new teams on the horizon for at least three seasons, what reaction should be anticipated from the sports world? During MLS’ inactivity in new markets during the next three seasons, how should expectations for growth and the mainstreaming of the sport be discussed?
Two major issues seem to be working against MLS. There is a lack of promotion for pro soccer in the U.S. from a geographical perspective and player personnel in the league is not developing quickly enough from year to year.
Geographically, MLS does not have a team anywhere in the Southeastern U.S., and there are pockets throughout the country of big metro areas without a team.
Then, there is an obvious lack of new talent being brought into the league. There isn’t a very big pool of new players coming soon to MLS, who bring excitement and spontaneity along with a healthy dose of charisma.
Players in MLS are just not evolving very quickly. David Beckham and Thierry Henry will garner most of the headlines for the rest of this season and next. But, their star power is getting stale. More recognizable players are needed to continue to get the public’s attention.
New stars have emerged recently in Graham Zusi of Sporting KC and Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes, but plenty of other players are taking a pass on MLS, like Didier Drogba, Kaká, and Clint Dempsey.
This newest team coming in Queens will be the second team for New York in MLS. In Los Angeles, two teams haven’t worked out that well. Chivas USA has struggled to win over fans and games, while the Galaxy has done an excellent job in becoming the Lakers to Chivas’ Clippers.
The New York Red Bulls have done all right with their new stadium, but rarely is it seen overflowing with fan interaction. Another New York team may not make sense when there are many other areas of the U.S. starving for pro soccer action, including the entire Southeast.
Will Chivas USA leave Los Angeles and pursue another area? Finding a new home for this second fiddle could be one of the ways for MLS to make waves during these lean years with no new franchises and no new great players on the horizons.
There is a solid chance this new New York team entering the league in 2016 will be nicknamed the Cosmos. The New York Red Bulls play in Harrison, New Jersey, so, should the Red Bulls change over to the New Jersey Red Bulls to get more Jersey headlines?
The NBA New Jersey Nets left to become the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe the Red Bulls can get more support with another state’s branding, even though it is a short ride and bridge over to New York.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com