Major League Soccer has grown exponentially since its debut in 1996. A league that arose out of the United States’ hosting of the 1994 World Cup, it has grown from its original 9 teams to its current 23, with 3 more teams joining in the next couple seasons.
Despite its young age (22 years old) as a league relative to some of the European leagues that have been around for over 100 years, MLS still is compared to the quality of some of the top leagues in the world, like England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, and Italy’s Serie A. Consistently, we hear all the criticisms about the league: that the quality of play is low, that it’s a retirement league, that it’s a Mickey Mouse league. In spite of all the criticisms and the belief that many soccer fans may have about MLS, the league play has improved dramatically, it has attracted much better and younger players, and attendance has skyrocketed as more money is invested into the clubs and their academies.
So, how does MLS truly compare among the first division leagues around the world? In 1991, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) created a ranking of the top domestic leagues in the world, using the performance of the top 5 teams in each league in national and international competitions to create a system of gauging which leagues truly were the best. This only counted the top flight leagues, so the English Championship, 2. Bundesliga and other quality 2nd-tier leagues are not in their rankings. Since 2010, Spain’s La Liga has reigned supreme over the rest as the top ranked league, but over the past year there has been a lot of movement among the other leagues in the poll.
In the 2016 poll, MLS was ranked 59th in the world. In 2017, they moved up to a tie with Lithuania’s A Lyga for 52nd. A Lyga sat 75th in the 2016 IFFHS rankings. In this poll, domestic leagues in South Africa (42), Slovenia (41), Tunisia (24), Israel (12!!), Cyprus (13!!), Saudi Arabia (29), Albania (45), Iran (46), Belarus (47), Azerbaijan (49), and Northern Ireland (50) are among the leagues ranked higher than MLS. There’s no doubt in the minds of a tons of fans around the world that MLS is a much better league than any of those leagues.
So, where does MLS likely fall on the scale? Are they a top 10 league at this point? That’s a stretch. Spain, Germany, England, France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Turkey, Portugal, and Ecuador are all leagues that are unequivocally better than MLS. So, could MLS be in the Top 25? That’s probably a more reasonable take. Fans can argue all day about where MLS stacks up against leagues in Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Korea, Japan, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Bolivia, or even growing leagues like China, Morocco, or Paraguay.
So, here’s the question of the week: How can Major League Soccer become a top 10 league? Are they close to the top leagues, or do you think they have a long way to go to challenge the big boys? Maybe you think MLS is already a top 10 league. In any case, hit the comments and explain what you believe MLS needs to accomplish to move up the ranks of the world’s soccer leagues, or if you think MLS has already reached the Mount Rushmore of soccer leagues.