This year is the 45th
anniversary of the North American Soccer League (NASL), the first
widely-recognised association football league in North America and the
precursor of todays MLS. Back in the late 1960s, the NASL couldnt even hold
onto a midweek daytime broadcast contract with CBS due to poor viewing figures,
and even well-known teams were forced to play in run-down arenas unfit for
their peers in baseball and American football. Fast forward to the present day
however and soccer in the United States is almost unrecognisable.
Since the MLS was formed 17 years ago, the bosses
have repeated some of the same old tricks but avoided the mistakes of the past.
For example, legends Pele and Beckenbauer brought notoriety to the NASLs New
York Cosmos back in the mid-70s. For a second it seemed that this flash of
interest might last, but by the 80s interest had dried up and the NASL folded.
30 years later David Beckham and story about Thierry Henry Biography Henry signed big contracts to play out
their careers in the states, but they also helped to encourage home-grown
talent and raise the leagues profile abroad. Beckham may now have moved to
France but his legacy and ties to MLS remain strong.
One clear result of this is the standard of
playing, which has dramatically improved. They no longer have to rely on
imported European legends in the twilight of their careers, with established
names like Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard enjoying great careers in the English
premier league while Landon Donovans star shines at home for LA Galaxy.
Although MLS is unlikely to ever reach the heights of La Liga or Serie A, the
fact is that soccer has been hugely popular with under-18s for many years now.
Rather than watching these young players switch to a higher-paid sport or move
abroad for better prospects there is now a career path on their own doorstep.
Choosing soccer is still not a good choice
for young sportsmen who want to make millions. Beckham and Henry aside, most
MLS teams cant compete with the salaries offered by European clubs. However,
with so much competition overseas and the delicate economic situation at home
we will no doubt see young, talented athletes choosing soccer, happy to have a
job at all. Also there has been a surge in the number of teams; there are now
19 in the league with a <a website
expected soon. If this carries on, they may have to introduce the division
system with promotion and relegation, which will already be familiar to soccer
fans outside the US.
The big coup is the fan reaction, and in
terms of spectators MLS is making serious waves. Amazingly, it has <a website
the NHL in terms of average crowd per game with 18,733 to 17,455 for the
2012 season. TV ratings arent quite what they should be, with a slight
reduction over the 2011 season, but the broadcast deals are still in place and
being renewed for seven-figure sums. Its even evident from the sports betting
sites that have seen a steady increase in MLS betting over the past 5 years.
Prop betting in particular has enjoyed a
boost. To <a website
what prop betting is, consider any other element in a game of soccer on
which you could place a bet, apart from the final score or the handicap; who
will score first, how much a particular player will score, assists, shots on
goal, or even how many minutes of extra time are awarded. This type of gambling
works well with soccer and has long had been a mainstay in Europe, but until
recently has held niche appeal for bettors in the US.
Soccer has carved out an identity in a
country where not many people believed it ever would. It started as a joke
sport for girls, but has matured into something the Americans can take
seriously; in turn, their league is finally starting to be taken seriously in
the footballing motherlands. If the MLS can hold onto its loyal following and
keep numbers steady still the 25th anniversary then we might start
to get used to it as the fifth pillar of American sports. If they keep rising,
and the right people start to get involved, then we might even see a US
national team in a World Cup final during our lifetime. The flying pigs might
even sing The Star-Spangled Banner.