Give me the MLS & USL, or Give Me Death!

1930 US National Team

1930 US National Team

In the comments made to my last post on this site, an individual stated that they were sick of hearing about ways to grow the MLS and suggested it should be shut down, put out of its misery. Well as both a fan and commentator on the Beautiful Game (whether you call it football, futbol, soccer, calcio, etc., I really don’t care. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by another name would smell as sweet.” As for me, I just tend to go with what my federation calls the game.), it is my opinion that the presence of one or more organized, professional leagues is important, nay, necessary and crucial to the continued growth and development of the US National Team.

First things first though, let’s make one thing very, very clear. For those who think that soccer in the US is a “foreign” game or that soccer is a relatively new sport in the US, put those false assumptions aside, immediately. The true origins of the game are lost in history and obscured by myth. Lore suggests that sporting games involving kicking a ball existed in China, Italy, and North America long before some lads in England took upon themselves to draft The Laws. It only took 5 years for the Cambridge Rules version of the game, established in 1815, to secure itself in the US. The first organized soccer club in the US was the Oneidas who played on the Boston Commons in the 1860s, and while they were the first “organized” club, they had plenty of opponents to play. The Rutgers v. Princeton match that was held in New Brunswick, New Jersey on November 6, 1876, you know, the one that the NFL claims as the birth of its game, well the ball from that match is in the Soccer Hall of Fame, it’s not in Canton, Ohio. Finally, the United States Football Association became a full fledged member of FIFA in 1914. What separates the history of the game in the US from the history in England was that it was allowed to flourish in England and Europe, while here it was left to grow of its own accord, and when its popularity grew, the powers that be in baseball would play the xenophobia card in explaining why people should spend their hard earned money at baseball games instead of soccer matches. Of course, those same powers that be in baseball were more then happy to rent their ballparks out to teams in the ASL and other regional leagues during baseball’s offseason. Additionally, this is a country made up of immigrants, of the flotsam and jetsam of the rest of the world, so it makes sense that soccer has always had, and will always have, a place on the American landscape.

The problem that existed between 1820 and 1996, was that there was no truly unified and national professional soccer league in this country. That the US did as well as it did in the 1930, 1950, and even 1994 World Cups is a testament to the raw soccer talent that persists in this country despite the game’s relegation to the background of the US sporting psyche. While the NASL managed to break into the mainstream in the late 1970s and early 1980s, its cooperation with the National side makes the MLS look ultra accommodating.

In the 1980s, realizing the lack of serious professional opportunities for its players, US Soccer stepped up to the plate and signed the national team players to contracts and began paying the players. While this move enabled the team to keep the most talented players it could find, it also meant that these players were losing out on the opportunity to play on a regular club schedule with diverse teammates bring a variety of styles and backgrounds to experience, and limited to whatever friendly schedule along it could develop, in addition to the CONCACAF schedule.

The US National Team barely squeaked into Italia ‘90 and it had an automatic berth into USA ‘94. It has only been since the creation of the MLS that the US National Team has become a dominant force in CONCACAF. Additionally, despite the tension between the leagues, I do believe that the presence of the MLS has lifted the skill level and profile of the USL.

I cannot accurately predict whether the US will ever win the World Cup in my lifetime, but I do know that the team would never have a shot at winning the Cup if the MLS did not exist. There is a large, untapped reserve of soccer talent in the US. The existence of both the MLS and the USL allows for the deployment of more scouts to discover that talent and it gives kids with the talent the ability to know that they can earn a living at soccer, they don’t have to give the game up for football or baseball or basketball when they get to high school.

So maybe the skill level and aesthetics of the game in the MLS and USL are not up to the standards of the Premier League, but in the end, the MLS and USL will mean more to the growth and development of the US National Team then the EPL will mean to the growth and development of Three Lions. As for those of you who just cannot stomach the MLS and/or the USL, well, those are the leagues we have here and we will hang onto them, and nourish them as long as we can, because that will grow our National Game.

32 Responses to Give me the MLS & USL, or Give Me Death!

  1. bq says:

    Well said Brian!

  2. AVR says:

    If USL or MLS aim to be taken seriously they need to move to the world calender for football. It’s going to be obvious tomorrow when USL’s golden boys go down in Mexico that a team in their pre season cannot be taken seriously when facing a team in the middle of their season.

  3. dude says:

    Good perspective.. And always remember, I am the Lower case dude!!!

  4. Eric says:

    Great Article. Well said, I also had no idea about that princeton v. rutgers thing.

  5. LI Matt says:

    I have very little patience for people who whine that MLS does things differently from “the rest of the world” (by which they usually mean “England”). “WAAH WAAH WAAH winter schedule … WAAH WAAH WAAH single table … WAAH WAAH WAAH relegation” I’m tired of it.

    It’s going to be obvious … that a team in their pre season cannot be taken seriously when facing a team in the middle of their season.

    Go tell it to Sampdoria, Aston Villa, Valencia, Stuttgart, and Tottenham — all of whom were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in February by teams that were either in pre-season or on their winter break.

  6. Lars says:


    The Montreal Impact, in the middle of their pre-season, defeated Santos Laguna (in the middle of their season) at home 2-0. Granted they lost on the road on the return leg 5-2, but they played exciting futbol, and played hard, despite being in pre-season. Had it not been for a melt down in the last half of the second leg, they would have advanced to the CONCACAF Semis along with the Islanders, who I may remind you, are also a US based team with a summer schedule. The Islanders had no problems advancing to face Cruz Azul (who I sincerely hope they beat tonight). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Islanders found themselves in the Club World Cup this year. Of course, then we’d hear about how its silly we call the game soccer and not futbol, because everybody loves to dump on North American futbol.

  7. eplnfl says:

    Good job. Lets have some USA Soccer pride. We won’t be kicked around any longer. No pun intended.

  8. Earl says:

    Do you know that USL has a single table, as well as a financial form of promotion/relegation? Sure it’s not perfect but it’s a better model than MLS.

  9. Cavan says:

    Better model? How? MLS has its model as a means of survival. It would have already gone out of business if it had a more traditional franchise model. Single Entity was done on purpose for stability rather than boom and bust. I’d say it’s worked so far.

  10. Quakeland says:

    I think he meant a better model from a world soccer perspective. Franchises, single table, a form of relegation/promotion (ie Cleveland moves up do to finances, Richmond moves down).

    I have a problem with MLS for moving the Quakes. Anschutz was never interested in the Bay Area. Garber and AEG conspired to gut the team and then move the team.

    But the Quakes are back and Houston deserved a team, so it’s all worked out.

    I support both leagues equally and we need both to survive.

  11. Berlin says:

    Like it or not, MLS IS the face of American soccer. Without it, soccer will forever remain a game for the rest of the world. You can’t become a true fan until you have a home team to root for.

  12. Cavan says:

    Who cares about the world soccer perspective? I’ll care about their perspective when they do something other than bash our league. If they were paying money to enhance the league and keep it afloat in their “largest potential market” rather than running grab-ass exhibitions in the summer and pay-per-views during their season, it might be ok to care about what they think. As it stands, they just want to take soccer fan dollars that should go to our league and then turn around and talk about how much it sucks.

    They really don’t want the game to continue to grow and succeed in our country. That was great happy-talk when our national team was a laughing stock. Now that our national team is starting to look threatening more and more often, those foreign commentators and media and fans want to do anything they can to belittle and bring about our league’s demise.

    It’s inherently self-loathing to do anything to conform to a foreign model of our league other than adhering to the Laws of the Game. Those foreign commentators only care about selling ad time on their own networks. MLS could go out of business and the USSF could disband for all they care.

  13. Jonathan says:

    You have to sport your local home team whether MLS or USL or WPS to support American Soccer. Patriotic Americans not only support the U.S.A. team but the U.S.A. leagues. We need to support university soccer, high school and junior high soccer and our local youth soccer clubs. Soccer has been played in the country since before the American revolution. Despite those to who try to argue to the contrary – Association Football is an American sport. It’s also the World’s largest game and patriotic Americans will suppor their countries team(s).

  14. Daniel Feuerstein says:

    Bryan, great article. Let me say I’ve heard others that have said, the MLS should shut down as well so all the good Americans should automatically move to Europe. If that’s the case the good Americans won’t be going to Europe, because they need those league to show those clubs in Europe what we got, if they want to move there.

    Right now we are in survival mode still. But let me ask this question to everyone. If MLS does fall, will the USL pick up the slack? If Marcos decides no, then guess what. That model for the USL doesn’t mean didly squat. Also how many clubs in the USL pro leagues have their own stadiums? Charleston, Rochester, Portland & Minnesota.

    No matter how much you guys are happy with what the USL has set up for their pro sides, Stadiums are a must now for everyone. Stop paying rent.

  15. And again, you lot continue to say "grow the game", "so the game will grow", "grow grow grow" says:

    Don’t you lot get sick and tired of saying “so the game can grow” over and over and over again?! Ugh. Give up already.

    For those who want your league to conform to the world calendar: The paltry crowds in Salt Lake and Chicago for their HOME OPENERS should end the argument once and for all.

    Regarding the name of football: Just defend it, Gridiron doesn’t deserve the name. Football was here first and it’s a logical name for the sport, NOT for Gridiron. It is not patriotic to call football by an outdated Cockney expression. It is weak, because by doing so, that means you yield to the Gridiron supporters.

    The Islanders tonight had a man and 2 goal advantage to seal the deal against Blue Cross. And they failed. Pitiful.

    I don’t see why you lot say your domestic league enhances your national team when very few of that team play in your domestic league. So they can get noticed? They can also get noticed in any other foreign minor league as well.

    Your league will exist forever, unfortunately. I personally, promote the European game to all my American friends with rousing success. It’s not enough to finally destroy your league, but at least it’s something. I will continue to try to hook people on European football, which in turn, will make American football more and more irrelevant.

    I think today’s comparison of the United-Porto game vs the Islanders’ performance does not bode well for you lot. Haha.

  16. Aaron says:

    From Cavan: “They really don’t want the game to continue to grow and succeed in our country.” Well said, Cavan. It’s the elephant in the room that no one talks about, and it’s path also includes a stop at the highest levels of US Soccer, who does the “dirty work” for UEFA, and more specifically the FA. There’s all kinds of talent in the States that US Soccer throws under the rug for the benefit of the queen, as well as MLB, NFL.

  17. Cavan says:

    By “they” I meant the foreign press and FA’s. Our USSF most certainly works hard to grow the game in our country. They can improve but they definitely work on it.

  18. MLS: Love it or Leave America says:

    GREAT PIECE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I agree 100%. We should even feel stronger today after Puerto Rico was cheated out of an away goal and we have a stinking all mexican final again in CONCACAF.

  19. lovesmyirish says:

    great read

    glad someone else shares the same opinions as i do. especially the part about MLS is the soccer league were going to get so live with it and help support it.

  20. Here's a new drinking game... says:

    Take a shot whenever someone on this site says “grow the game”. You’ll be drunk in no time.

  21. Anti-US football says:


    Ok, Irish, no more negative comments from me (although it’s so fun sometimes).


  22. Sergio says:

    I’m a European who is living here in the colonies.I support Tthe MLS but the fact is the the game is much more interesting in Europe. Its no ones fault its just the facts. The game will continue to grow and it will conform more to the international model but will have room for Americanisms to a certain degree. I have many American friends who I turned on to the FA and now follow it regularly. There is room for both to grow here.Having said that I cant stomach the conference thing. It makes no sense at all. Single table is way more exciting and easier to follow. There will eventually be relegation and promotion maybe 50 years from now because it makes the game much more interesting

  23. Mike says:

    Huh, no league until 1996? Uh, ever heard of the North America Soccer League (NASL)?

    Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Johan Cruyff, Kyle Rote Jr, Roy Wegerle, Thomas Rongen, Giorgio Chinaglia, Guus Hiddink, Gerd Müller, Ray Hudson, Gordon Banks, Gordon Bradley, Johan Neeskens, Fernando Clavijo, and many other professional soccer players would absolutely and vehemently disagree with you.

    Also, The MLS? Do you really want to say “The Major League Soccer?”

  24. Brian Zygo says:


    At its height, the NASL, born out of strife, was an American league in name only. At its height, it was awash in European talent and only a small handful of actual Americans got serious playing time. Look at the names you listed above, NASL was not a league that catered to the talent in the country it called home. NASL did little to develop talent and might have done more to hurt the USMNT thanks to the fiasco that was Team America in the 1983 season.

    MLS = Major League Soccer


  25. Mike says:

    Who cares? It was a professional soccer league in the USA that did quite well.

    Your assertion that “the problem that existed between 1820 and 1996, was that there was no truly unified and national professional soccer league in this country” is patently and absurdly false.

  26. Brian Zygo says:


    I’m sorry you missed the point of the article, which is about developing American talent. I respect your opinion as to the NASL, but disagree since I feel it was always in shambles (some teams enjoyed steady monetary success, while others were fly-by-night), always in flux, unsure whether it should be an indoor or outdoor league at times, and did nothing substantive when it came to developing American talent. As I noted in the article, the NASL did give the beautiful game a great amount of exposure, but the US did not qualify for a World Cup during its existence and did not do so until 4 years after the NASL folded. Don’t get me wrong, I feel the MLS has lots of improvement left to do when it comes to working with the national team, but it is light years beyond the NASL in this area.


  27. Mike says:

    It’s not “the MLS.”

    It’s hard to take you seriously when you keep writing it that way.

    MLS. No definite article.

    And I still think you’re wrong. MLS has helped with American talent, but it’s nowhere near as critical to the US team as Serie A is to Italy, Bundesliga is to Germany, La Liga is to Spain, Ligue 1 is to France, Primera Division is to Mexico, EPL is to England, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love Major League Soccer, and have been buying tickets since the league started. But it is what it is, which is more or less mediocre, at least in terms of international level talent.

    Brian McBride would not have become world class if he hadn’t gone to England.

  28. Brian Zygo says:

    its good to see that you are starting to get my point in that the mls has helped with american talent but it isnt all that it can be and thats the problem since i want it to be as critical as those other leagues except for the epl which is not an english league but like the nasl is a league controlled by foreign talent

    thanks for taking the time to read and comment and i hope you take the time to listen to this coming weeks podcast which will be the only place you can find audio from both the dynamo and fcdallas locker rooms at estadio robertson in houston

  29. MLS rocks says:

    I actually enjoy the mls watching it reading about it the way it is now. Dont get me wrong I hope the team sallery cap hits 10mill and still allows 2 designated players in the next few years. However I have to say it is still entertaining to watch. I find that in the spanish and english leauges its just a few tallented teams with money and the rest is boaring there is no level playing feild. I also enjoy watching “dutch” soccer!

  30. MLS in Canada says:

    I think the mls should also let montreal and ottawa have there mls teams to grow the game in Canada. This will be benifitial to the USA as well since those teams will make tons of money similar to the NHL and will help carry the american players looking for a job

  31. At least ten attempts at a closed franchise model national soccer league, at least nine failures, and MLS employing such a monolithic, top down model that it feels like Oldsmobile v. Buick on the field.

    We need promotion and relegation now – don’t wait for the NFL refugees at MLS to decide.

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