The MLS is back: One of the world’s fastest growing leagues?

The MLS is back: One of the world’s fastest growing leagues?
Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews
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The MLS has existed for 30 years, but for the new season, the format has changed. The popularity is soaring. In partnership with Media City Qatar.

Just seven weeks have passed since the start of the 2023/24 Major League Soccer season in the United States, but with a new TV deal and a World Cup on the horizon, there's a great sense of excitement.


The MLS league is barely 30 years old and is enjoying a purple patch in terms of popularity. Football fans in Europe often associate it with somewhere that once-great footballers go to get that final big paycheck before they retire. But now, the quality is improving season after season, and people are sitting up and noticing the league.

America is well known for having a passion for Baseball, Basketball and American Football. Still, there is a place in the heart of Americans for 'soccer', too. In 2022 an MLS side won the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time. The competition is equivalent to the famous European Cup for North and Central America, so it is a big deal. Last May, the Seattle Sounders lifted the trophy and were rewarded for being the USA's first ever representatives at the Club World Cup in Morocco that year. That sent a big message to the world that the sport is growing rapidly in the country.

Ted S. Warren/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
Seattle Sounders won the CONCACAF Champions League last yearTed S. Warren/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

With the demand for more MLS games higher than ever, the league has listened. This season the league's playoff format will look different to previous years by allowing for more post-season games than ever before ahead of the Grand Final in December. It will give fans more games that matter and give the teams an even bigger challenge if they want to win the MLS Cup.

Seattle will likely be in the mix to win the cup, as will last year's winner, LAFC. It was Gareth Bale who scored a dramatic 120th-minute winner at the end of extra-time to win LA their first MLS Cup. It was also Bale's last ever game at club level. The former Welsh international retired in January 2023.

Since 2017, the MLS has been slowly adding more teams to the league to create more fixtures and cover more of the country. Nine new teams have been added in the last seven years, taking the original 20 team tally up to 29. Expansion team St Louis SC is the latest club to join, and they have enjoyed a really successful start to life in the league and are making a big splash early on this season. After seven games, they've won five and sit 2nd in the Western Conference.

"The team's addition to the league was delayed a year because of COVID, which really worked in their favour," explained St Louis Dispatch writer Tom Timmerman.

"It allowed the owners to complete building the stadium in plenty of time and also sign the players they wanted almost a year in advance. Usually, expansion teams sign players in January ahead of the league starting in February, but these players have been together since last June."

Joe Puetz/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
St Louis SC have started the season 5-2 from seven gamesJoe Puetz/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Along with the new teams, a new playoff format and a new TV deal in place that will make the league more accessible to casual viewers than ever. Apple recently launched their 'MLS Pass' that allows fans to watch every single game of the season for a one-time fee of $99. Existing Apple TV+ subscribers have an even better deal and will pay just $79. So far, the platform and its pay structure as gone down well with fans.

"The reaction from the fans has been really good," revealed MLS touchline reporter Keith Costigan.

"It allows fans who are attending the early game to get home and watch the rest of the games later in the day. The feedback on the standard of coverage has been really good. Fans are happy with it."

So, football or soccer, as they call it, in the United States is truly on the up. The country is in line to host the FIFA 2026 World Cup tournament in just over three years' time. That might be a long time away, but it will soon begin approaching. Many of the USA's first-choice national team players also play in the MLS league. The hope is that this will give the national squad a competitive edge and ensure they perform well when the World Cup does come around.

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