America is used to dominating in sport, it has always seemed like a matter of time before the US would dominate soccer. Considered to be a European and South American sport for many years, America has shifted gears in recent times. Soccer has never been bigger in the US, coinciding nicely with the legalisation of sports betting across the country – something European football fans know a lot about.
The Beckham Effect
The L.A Galaxy were the first US soccer team to really put themselves on the map, signing David Beckham from Real Madrid – in a game that would forever change the landscape of the MLS. The announcement made global headlines and elevated the league’s profile to previously unimaginable levels. Capitalising on the new interest in the sport built up over the past decade from a high profile athlete in Beckham bringing new eyes to the sport, coupled with the growing numbers of states leaglising online betting, fans are now taking full advantage of offers from the big operators with the likes of a WynnBet NY promo code to back their favourite teams.
Due to salary caps, the MLS introduced a rule now known as ‘the Beckham Rule’ which allows teams to sign players as designated players and pay them a higher salary, a move which has largely been responsible for the changes in the MLS that we still feel today.
Thierry ‘Va-va-voom’ Henry
The next superstar to cross the Atlantic was one of the greatest players of all time, Thierry Henry. Henry joined from Barcelona in 2010, he was brought in to be the star attraction for the New York Red Bulls and to help fill seats in their newly built stadium.
Unlike Beckham, there was no drama that followed Henry. He took to the field in the MLS just as he had done in England and Spain, he played with passion and his commitment to his club was never brought into question.
Henry brought a new level of class and professionalism to the MLS. A player with a fantastic attitude that also got crowds on their feet, he ended his career in the US with 52 club goals. Which leaves him third in today’s list of the NY Red Bulls top scorers of all-time.
There were more ageing European stars that made the trip over to play in the MLS over the years, including Robbie Keane, who went on to become an LA Galaxy legend. There was Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Andrea Pirlo, and many more over the years. In recent times though, there’s been a new trend.
The MLS has started exporting players to the top European leagues, such is the standard and quality of play in the MLS now. We’ve seen this happen with some South American stars, such as Almiron, who signed for Atlanta on an $8 million dollar transfer and left for Newcastle for $27 million.
Alphonso Davies came through the ranks at the Vancouver Whitecaps, going on to sign for German giants Bayern Munich for a fee of up to $22 million at 17-years-old. All of these factors, along with a talented young group coming through for the USA national team, have led to a massive increase of interest in the MLS.
A Shift in Direction
The MLS is no longer a place great players go to finish their careers; this was highlighted during the summer when Euro 2020 winner and Italy legend Lorenzo Insigne signed for Toronto FC despite having several offers from European clubs on the table. At 31, he should dominate the MLS for years to come. All these factors lead us to believe that there is no reason the MLS can’t become a major player in the years to come.
The MLS has spent more than 25 years trying to change the sentiment toward soccer in the US, competing with more fast-paced, high-scoring sports such as the NFL and the NBA – the accusation always being that soccer ‘is boring.’ But now, it seems it is finally moving on.