The MLS will be adding a 19th team, the Montreal Impact, in the 2012 season with a second New York team to be added by 2013. The sport is finally starting to gain popularity after two memorable World Cups in the past two summers. This is a great sign for soccer fans, right? Not entirely.
Obviously, the sport of soccer in America is growing, but is it growing too quickly? By adding more to teams to America’s top professional league more fans can attach to a hometown team. New fans will start following the league and or sport more closely and that will lead to an increase in soccer’s popularity. But, will all new fans tuning in to watch their team play be watching the top quality of soccer that the United States (or Canada) can offer? Not a chance. By next season, the MLS will have added five teams in the last four years. That is a lot of players added to the pool. That is 55 new starters in the MLS. Fifty-five players that would not have seen the field before the expansions. In other words, the team’s are diluting the talented, top tier players with less talented players. It is sort of like adding too much water to the Gatorade mix. The end result is not good.
The new fans brought on by the expansion will have their first impression of the MLS be full of foreign stars past their prime, young Division 1 prospects, and second-tier quality players. That is not an enticing lineup. It will look like a feeding system to the premier leagues overseas. Hopefully, however, the MLS has learned the error of its ways. Because this has happened to the MLS before. The league was started in 1996 with ten teams and expanded to twelve in 1998. After the US had great success in the 2002 World Cup the MLS thought that they would continue to expand. They were wrong. Many of the foreign players in the MLS were either retiring or moving to better clubs in other countries. The lack of talent and decline in attendance forced the league to contract two teams.
There is a reason why all of America’s best soccer players play in foreign countires–our best league cannot compete with theirs, or even their second division. If the United States ever wishes to compete with the Spains and Englands of the world we cannot do too much too quickly. Expansion should definitely be the goal of Major League Soccer, but they have to mix the Gatorade just right so they can continue to perform at high levels.