It’s no secret that Major League Soccer is one of the least-watched leagues in professional sports. It had an extremely low attendance of about 6 million people in 2012, which stands out when compared to the next lowest in attendance, the NFL, which had about 17 million people.

However, the success of the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team at the World Cup in Brazil brought soccer to new heights in the United States. For example, the NBA, whose finals have consistently brought in high ratings over the past few years, averaged 17.9 million viewers in the Spurs’ decisive victory over the Heat in Game 5. By comparison, the World Cup match between the U.S. and Portugal, a mere group stage game, was ESPN’s highest-rated World Cup match ever, averaging 18.22 million viewers and peaking at nearly 23 million.

Stars like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley and the emergent Julian Green electrified crowds all over the United States. Every goal, completed cross and near score sent viewers into a frenzy.

It seems likely that the support of the USMNT will continue to increase and the team’s popularity will rise, but what will it mean for the MLS?

Arguably the best U.S. player, Clint Dempsey plays for the Seattle Sounders, and defensive stalwart DaMarcus Beasley plays for the Houston Dynamo.

Among other big names, midfielders Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi and Jermaine Jones play for MLS teams as well, which many see as a waste of potential international exposure and experience against better competition. While stars here are role players overseas, American players would still vastly improve their play facing the best players and teams in the world, instead of trading the prestige of European clubs — Tottenham, Schalke and Roma in Dempsey, Jones and Bradley’s cases — for the money accompanying designated MLS roster spots.

Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore play in the English Premier League, where Howard is considered one of the best goalkeepers. Altidore’s ability to dominate with physical and bruising play is something he learned from the much more physical EPL, and Howard has been a mainstay at Everton for over a decade. On the European mainland, Julian Green is rising through the ranks of dominant Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

With all the success U.S. players have enjoyed overseas and the fact that almost half of the World Cup roster plays outside of the United States, it is difficult to explain what attracts stars like Dempsey, Zusi, Beasley, Jones and Bradley to the MLS. Stadiums are smaller, games are less competitive and soccer is genuinely considered a minor sport in America — all issues that are nonexistent in England, Germany, Spain and Italy.

However, after USMNT Coach Jurgen Klinsmann begrudgingly signalled his support for Dempsey’s return, America’s leaders have found that being close to home, earning solid wages and playing in front of a growing fan base is a good alternative to the European scene.

This journey to elevate the MLS to the level of the four other major professional leagues will not be easy. However, Dempsey and others’ dedication to the MLS has brought much more attention to the American game. An addition of three franchises for an expansion to 22 is in the works, and the signings of international stars David Villa, Frank Lampard and Kaká will draw the focus of many foreign soccer fans.

Dempsey and his fellow U.S. team stars are on a mission to transform the MLS from a developmental league into a destination league. This decision to come back may waste their opportunities to improve their personal play, but if the U.S. begins to invest more money and time into soccer, we will see more televised MLS games, a higher median salary and hopefully a better, locally-grown USMNT.

These choices are about more than a game — they are about changing a culture and ultimately bringing American soccer the popularity it deserves.

Paolo Santamaria is a freshman in the College. Saxa Synergy appears every other Friday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*