Whether you are new to soccer or are a lifelong fan of the beautiful game, there has never been a better time to become a fan of your local MLS team. The league, born 20 years ago, took its time to gain footing in the global soccer community, but the days of being a retirement league or home for guys who just can’t make it abroad are over. The excitement about the teams at the local level is real and the quality of play is getting better every year.
Remember when all your friends into soccer would talk about some English team or Spanish player whose games you could only watch at 7 in the morning on Sundays on some channel that cost $10/month? The days of having to rely on foreign teams for soccer excitement are OVER. Don’t get me wrong, the good teams overseas are still higher quality than the good MLS teams, and we should be enjoying and learning from the beautiful footy being played throughout the world. But with the growth and potential the MLS brings to the table, coupled with the ability to be a part of something that is ground-floor, local and actually means more to you than some random city in Europe you’ve never been to, I think it’s time we give MLS the chance it deserves.
So let’s put down the Messi jersey and pick up the Giovinco and get into 5 Reasons you should watch MLS in 2016.
1. Young and talented players are choosing the MLS
No matter what team you decide to root for, there will be at least one or two talented youngsters gracing the field who may have been inclined to choose a European career in the past. Here’s just a few of the many players to get excited about:
Michael Bradley – Toronto FC: Arguably the best player on the USMNT came over from Roma in Italy in the prime of his career
Sebastian Giovinco – Toronto FC: “The most exciting player in the MLS” came over from Italian powerhouse Juventus at the surprising age of 28. This little magician does things with the ball that sometimes don’t even make sense.
Brek Shea – Orlando City SC: At 24 he came back to the MLS after getting a contract at EPL side Stoke City. He’s a big powerful left side player with high upside.
Jozy Altidore – Toronto FC: A formidable striker for the USMNT who played at big teams Villareal and Sunderland abroad came back to the US at the prime age of 25
Shkelzen Gashi – Colorado Rapids: The golden boot winner in Sweden the previous two years, FC Basel sold him to the Rapids for an undisclosed fee and he’s already making an impact.
Jordan Morris – Seattle Sounders: The NCAA stud who won the championship with Stanford in 2015 signed for the Sounders after interest from Bundesliga (German first league) side Werder Bremen. He’s already got USMNT experience but has yet to prove himself in the MLS.
Joao Plata – Real Salt Lake: The Barcelona youth program alumni is 24 and is already making waves in the MLS. He’s quick, deadly with the ball, and fun to watch.
Giovani dos Santos – LA Galaxy: Another Barcelona youth alumni who is 26 and already has several years experience and a bunch of goals at major clubs Tottenham, Mallorca, and Villareal. The exciting forward is a mainstay for the Mexican national team.
2. The fanbase is growing fast
Did you know that the average attendance at a Seattle Sounders game was over 44,000 fans in 2015? That’s more than 29 of 30 professional baseball teams last year. That’s more than double the most popular NHL team the champion Chicago Blackhawks. That’s 5,000 more per game than the New York Yankees. While the Sounders are at the top of the MLS attendance table there are plenty of teams in big markets doing similar numbers to their major sport counterparts or are selling out their stadiums every match. There were 161 sold out games in 2015 compared to 133 last year, and then this tweet kind of sums up the growth the league has seen…
The Rapids were last in MLS attendance, averaging 15,657 per game.
That’s higher than MLS’ average attendance in 10 of their 20 years.
— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) October 28, 2015
Oh, and that 15,657 for the Colorado Rapids is basically the same as the Colorado Avalanche, the very successful NHL team nearby. You’re going to want to get involved before you’re the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on.
3. Going to games is a lot more fun than you’d expect
There’s a big reason the fan attendance keeps going up. The live matches are an absolute blast, and the fans and fan clubs are growing more into it every year. If you think you’ll be alone in your quest for local soccer love, you are definitely incorrect. Each team has a fan club of varying size and some are very organized and legit. Here’s some of what you’ll be getting involved with by going to the games.
Seattle fans love their scarves, and their MASSIVE banners
Portland Timbers are pretty amped about winning the MLS Cup in 2015
don’t worry, this is normal in Columbus and if you don’t want to be part of the action there’s plenty of spots to not get smoked
Orlando City SC is one of the fastest growing clubs and is a great atmosphere for a game
4. Any team can win on any given day
Have you ever heard the term “league parity” or someone talk about the lack of parity within the French or Spanish leagues? Parity just means that the level of quality is very even across the teams within the league. In some leagues in Europe, it’s the same few teams dominating the league year in and year out.
In the MLS, however, a team can go from zero to hero and vice versa year to year, and within the season the matches are often unpredictable. That’s because the MLS is doing it’s best to give all clubs a fighting chance at buying and grooming good players. The methods are extremely complicated and sometimes counterintuitive to overall league growth, but that’s for another post. Just know that if your local club had an off year, don’t be surprised if they are in the playoffs the year following. In fact, of the 20 clubs, only 2 have never made the playoffs and that was NYCFC and Orlando City SC who debuted as teams in 2015. 10 of the 20 clubs have won titles since the league started 20 years ago.
5. It’s more accessible than ever
It used to be difficult to find and watch MLS games, be it at home or out at a bar. But nowadays the MLS is getting regular coverage from ESPN and Fox Sports networks (FS1, FS2) and games can be found broadcast nationally every weekend on both channels. The MLS has also set up MLS Live in which you can watch every single game for a very low annual fee, but if you miss the games their highlights page has got you completely covered. In fact, the MLSsoccer.com website is a great place to track and analyze the games. They pay for an advanced stats package from Opta which breaks down almost any facet of the game you’d want to know. Here’s an example of the incredible amount of data they keep.
The MLS has also embraced a network of local venues to distinguish as partner bars. Almost every club has a page like this that you can look to see where you’ll likely find the game on. HotFooty is going to make this easier for you as we get our HotFooty Bar Reviews up on the site.
And finally, there is more and more MLS coverage by people like us who break down the games and league news for you so you can be in the know without having to do too much. Check out our podcasts for discussions on results and upcoming games.
So get out there, support your local team, make a friend or two while you’re at it, and don’t be afraid to be one of those face-painting fight-song-singing lunatic MLS fans (or just a casual one, that’s good too.)