Top Stories

SBI Question of the Day: How much can MLS grow within the next decade?

Photo by Mike Dinovo/USA Today Sports

There’s little debate that MLS has made significant progress over the last several years. New teams have been added, with several more on the way. Big name players have joined the league in their prime, adding to a number of aging stars. The introduction of TAM has seen a rise in quality as younger, more talented players have been brought in to help fill out rosters.

While that debate is all but settled, there’s still a debate as to what’s next and just how far the league can go within its current model.

Bastian Schweinsteiger stated his belief on Tuesday, revealing that he can see an MLS as good as some of the top European leagues within the next decade. Schweinsteiger isn’t the first Euro-born MLS player to make the proclamation, and he won’t be the last. At the end of the day, players understand the fact that speaking highly of MLS will only better their legacy and partially quiet the naysayers that still bemoan any top player’s move stateside

That’s not to say Schweinsteiger doesn’t see actually believe what he’s saying. He’s a player that has truly seen it all, and his stamp of approval on MLS play is certainly a good thing. It’s also a good thing that he does remain somewhat critical, as his recent comments to ESPN also included the caveat that MLS does need to make changes to ever compete among the world’s elite.

In the here and now, MLS has a ways to go when it comes to jumping up the totem pole. There’s no doubt that the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 are leaps and bounds above the rest. Even the second division teams in those respective countries would give many teams all over the world issues.

Leagues like the Eredivisie, Primeira Liga, Super Lig and Russian League are ahead as well. The Scandinavian leagues are also in the mix while leagues in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland could also be considered ahead of MLS in some ways.

It’s not just limited to Europe, though. Liga MX has routinely battered MLS clubs in CONCACAF Champions League play and, regardless of the circumstances, it’s hard to argue with those results. The Argentinian and Brazilian leagues remain top developers of talent while a Colombian club, Atlético Nacional, is current Copa Libertadores champions. There’s also the Chinese Super League pushing on from Asia, competing with MLS for several of the world’s best players with astronomical salary offers.

With that in mind, where do you see MLS in 10 years? Which leagues do you see MLS catching and eventually surpassing?

Vote in Tuesday’s poll and reveal what you think MLS needs to do to get there in the comment section below.

[polldaddy poll=9800483]


  1. I judge a league’s status on economics. When MLS has the revenue to support salary cap of 100-150M per year per team, they can have deeper rosters and more top-end players from around the world. At this point, they could compete with most teams not owned by Russian oligarchs or Middle East oil money.

  2. “Leagues in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland could also be considered ahead of MLS in some ways.”

    What does that even mean?…That Celtic is a really famous club? Celtic is literally the only Scottish club that is clearly better than the MLS. Aberdeen and Rangers would be really good MLS teams, but the rest of the Scottish Premiership would be below MLS average.

    As for the question at hand, in 10 years I expect MLS to be right around the #10 league globally. However, I already rank MLS pretty close to the top 10. In my view the only leagues that are clearly better than MLS are the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Liga MX, Argentinian Primera and the Brazilian Serie A. There are a handful of other European leagues that have really good teams at the top of the table, but the average teams aren’t significantly better than the top MLS teams.

    In theory MLS could decisively pass Mexico and some of Europe’s 2nd tier leagues in the next 10 years. However, I doubt MLS’s quality on the field will improve significantly in 10 years, not with MLS’s talent getting split amongst 6 new expansion squads. It would take an absolutely enormous tv deal (MLS currently makes around $100 Million annually from from FOX/Uni) in order to get close to the EPL or La Liga in terms of talent.

  3. Who cares, dumb argument when you start comparing leagues. The Trolls care. Where is Rob?

    Is MLS going to have a Real Madrid? No. Never.
    It is a parity league, the idea that the top teams are ever going to be comparable is pretty slim to none. Let’s compare the most successful team in MLS. The Galaxy are 6-10 this year.

    If you want to see Barca with a GD of 79, do it, not hard to do, very available these days.
    Not hard for Barca to get +79 either, they will again next year. Their team will have VERY good quality. Better than MLS. IF that is what you want more power to you. Go watch BM win the Bundesliga.

    Otherwise watch MLS, it will be very competitive and very good quality…now. In the future, even more so. In my opinion, I don’t care which league is better by some random fans opinion of quality, MLS is the better league, it is a real league, it is worth watching, it is hard to win.

    • Who cares, dumb argument when you start comparing leagues.

      Completely agree. The league system, philosophy and general ethos do hamper it within the global finanicial/transfer structure by specifically focusing on aiding balance within its own league.

      The Trolls care.

      Well, Don Garber cares. After all, we’ll never forget his infamous quip of being a “top league by 2022.” Of course, he’s now backed off that statement and refrained from repeating it, which, tells me even he doesn’t agree with Schweinsteiger. Frankly, I don’t know anyone that watches soccer with any regularity that would agree with Schweinsteiger either.

    • Dude, Absolutely!

      By the time MLS boasts the same popularity and revenue as one of the Top 5, I will no longer be a fan. I’m a lunchpail guy; and I want a solidly respectable (not exceptional) lunchpail league, where tickets are reasonably priced, and players aren’t too douche-y.

      It’s exactly why I don’t follow MLB/NFL/NBA, and even to an extent the NHL (though I’m a life-long hockey fan).

      If I ever change my mind, and decide to subscribe to a bunch of over-priced divas, I can always resume watching La Liga, the Premiership or the Bundesliga again.

  4. Agreed. Top leagues are feeding and acquiring top players from each other on the regular. MLS is a long long way out from this. I think when honest people say this, they recognize the athleticism and massive population opportunity.. and money ever so slowly entering the league.

    But until we hear DIV1 schools complaining of a lack of point guards, RBs and CBs because they are playing soccer.. MLS will always top out as a nice league but not elite.

    • Agree with your first paragraph, but disagree with the premise of your second paragraph.

      There is no evidence that soccer in America is suffering because football and basketball are syphoning soccer prospects. Just because a few stars in those sports can juggle a ball (ie., Kobe) doesn’t mean there is untapped soccer talent just waiting to be found in the Big 3 American sports. The focus needs to be on developing the talent that has already been identified. I’m not saying that our academies can’t do a better job of identifying new talent, but your statement makes it sound likes it’s a zero-sum game between soccer and the other American sports.

      • My point is that in the US, 9 out 10 kids that turn into an elite athlete choose a different sport. Its not an academy, identification or development statement. Its a cultural shift question toward soccer that happens with parents with knowledge/passion for the sport exposing them early. Pulisic born to another dad probably is a starting PG for a Div 1 school right now.. How many other elite 5’10” hoops players top out in NCAA sports, that if they played soccer as a 4 year old would have the body size to be a Center Mid.,

  5. MLS will not meaningfully close the on-field quality gap with top leagues unless it gets a substantially better TV deal, which is the only thing that will loosen the financial restrictions enough to allow the kind of spending required to move the quality needle. I’m skeptical that will happen for a number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean MLS can’t close the gap in terms of facilities or fan experience.

    • By 2027, I could see MLS being the most popular soccer/football league outside of the EPL, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga, or fifth overall. I’m fairly confident MLS will pass the NHL in popularity and there’s an outside chance they could pass MLB, which is kind of be on a technicality, since most MLB fans only watch their local team (and maybe the playoffs) and not the league in general.

    • The last contract was for 7 years and I think that is good for another 5 years or so. So, in about 4 to 4 and a half years negotiations should begin and I think you will see a great jump in revenue from the new contract. I’m predicting at least 5 times, maybe more. Then, there are the overseas rights. As they get more stars from abroad, then their overseas contracts should pick up considerably, too. Having followed US soccer since 1990, I have noticed a noticeable pickup in interest in just the last year or two. I think it has hit a tipping point and is close to taking off to equal or pass baseball in popularity

      • I hope that’s right, and LAFC, Atlanta and Miami will help round out their offering. But the era of increasongly huge TV contracts may be over as people flee cable. As for popularity, I think soccer is incredibly popular in the US, as the huge crowds at the meaningless ICC games prove. But MLS is not nearly as popular as soccer is generally, and still has a long ways to go. I see steady progress over ten years as MLS matures, but I don’t see the massive revenue increase we’d need to get to European level status by then (PSG could practically buy a number of MLS clubs for the price they are paying for Neymar). Someday I think its inevitable.

  6. All the best leagues in the world have one thing in common: they produce lots of quality players… and by quality I don’t mean Zardes or Acosta. Until this happens talk of being a top league is preposterous

    • “Until this happens…” Uh, yeah, that will probably be happening in 10 years, if not sooner, which is why the question is intriguing. Acosta, Trapp, Zardes, Hamid, Fagundez, Gil, etc. were the first homegrowns, but there is another more talented group behind them with Davies, Carleton, Pomykal, Ferreira, Adams, etc. plus guys like McKennie and Wright who went oversees. The next generation (kids who are 12-16 right now should be even better. The group that comes after that one (kids who are 8-12 right now) will be even further ahead. Your statement that “until this happens…” lacks the foresight required to answer the original question with any sort of intelligence.

      • I went to an Atlanta United game this weekend. They were still squatting at Bobby Dodd while Mercedes-Benz was being finished. They still had close to 50K and the atmosphere was frenetic. Cannot even imagine what the new digs will be like.

        At halftime Arthur Blank brought out his shiny new U16’s. I knew a couple of them; they were regional guys we’ve seen around. Now they’ve got one of the richest men in America paying for their professional development.

        The quality of the game was good, but you could tell both sides really only had 8-9 good players and limited options off the bench. It was the only real problem I had. Both teams went to the bench and couldn’t find anybody to make difference late on.

        It is not difficult to see Atlanta United competing with ANYBODY in the world in 10 years. Anybody who’s seen what they’ve already done in less than one year of existence would hardly bet against them. And there’s 4-5 ownership groups at this level in MLS. At the least.

    • What world class player has the EPL produced?
      How many of th top clubs actually develop their top players? I’d guess very few.

  7. I think MLS is equal to or better than Scotland, Russia and the Scandanavian leagues. I think MLS is getting close to the Dutch league. About 2 or 3 years ago I predicted that MLS would equal the Dutch league in a decade and catch Liga MX in 3 to 5 years. With Mexico, I should have said 5 to 6 years since it looks like MLS is still several years behind Liga MX, but I think my evaluation of MLS vs. the Dutch league was about right. I think It will take longer than 10 years to catch the top 5 European leagues. I think an achievable goal would be for MLS to be the 3rd best league outside of Europe, behind Argentina and Brazil.

    • Viewing this through the lens of “which leagues can’t MLS pass by 2027?” I’d rank it like this:

      La Liga

      MLS won’t pass them unless something crazy happens, like the USMNT wins a World Cup, makes a WC final, or makes the quarterfinals each WC with at least one semifinal (essentially three “deep runs” past the round of 16).

      Serie A
      Ligue 1

      MLS probably won’t pass these leagues, but could have a change if the US somehow get to a semifinal or a couple quarterfinals in 2018, 2022 or 2026.

      Argentine Primera

      MLS likely won’t pass these league if they continue to crash out of the group stage or only make the round of 16.

      Liga MX
      Every other Euro league

      All of these leagues are in play for being passed by MLS. If you were to assign statistical probabilities to the choices, I don’t think the votes are too far off. I’d say:

      Top 5 league: 1%
      Top 10 league: 60%
      Top 15 league: 33%
      Outside Top 15: 6%


Leave a Comment