Sacramento residents might have something to be really excited about when it comes to their sports world. Their current club, Sacramento Republic FC, is looking to become one of two teams chosen to join the MLS.
Sacramento is in the war against three other clubs from Cincinnati, Detroit and Nashville. Winning bids are expected to be announced as early as a couple weeks. So, while this may be an exciting moment for Sacramento and the possibly the MLS, how does this all compare to the professional leagues in Europe?
It should first be noted that this shouldn’t affect the way Sacramento fans should embrace this news. This is something that’s really exciting for the city since the popularity of soccer is on the rise, but for as long as soccer has been around, the “Big Five” leagues in Europe -- England (Premier League), Spain (La Liga), Germany (Bundesliga), Italy (Serie A) and France (Ligue 1) all command the world’s media attention.
The seasons are different
When it comes to all the professional soccer leagues in Europe, their seasons mostly run from mid-August until the end of May. Here in the states, Major League Soccer will start in March and conclude their season in either November or December. For European teams, their goal doesn’t stop at being champion of their league.
They can also go even further and attend major, Europe-wide cups or tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League. MLS teams can go on to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, but this doesn’t compare to the amount of popularity European tournaments get.
Probably the most major difference between the MLS and European leagues is the fact that the MLS doesn’t relegate teams. Soccer teams in Europe that perform badly during the season are sent down, or relegated to a lower division. While the top teams from a lower division are promoted to a higher league. The MLS doesn’t follow that structure. Instead, teams that perform poorly are rewarded higher picks in the league's player draft.
Money talks in European leagues
Like every sport, if you want to be the best, you have to be willing to pay to get the best players. One of the biggest differences between the MLS and leagues overseas is that MLS teams operate as franchises, which means they are mostly investing in the league itself.
All the teams are working together to help grow the league itself and ultimately share the profits. This doesn’t exist in European Leagues due to their promotion-relegation model. As a result, there are greater motives to build stronger teams, which then leads to more money and more money makes for a stronger league. This is also because these European leagues all compete against one another in tournaments such as the Champions League.
Then there are the salaries for players. In 2016, the average MLS salary was just over $327,000, putting it well below any other league in the country. Easier way to put it, the next closest league was the NFL at $2.7 million. Looking at leagues over in Europe, the average can range from $1.2M to $3.4M. It’s also worth noting that the MLS does have a salary cap, which helps put a financial safeguard around the teams to avoid financial catastrophes.
Though each team in the MLS does get the chance to designate three players who exceed the salary cap, who are called “Designated Players.” This was made to help attract more international stars to the league.
It’s how your raise your players
When it comes to the European leagues, finding quality players as early as possible is a major key. For the MLS, it’s not even close to the European model of recruiting.
The MLS, again, operates like most American sports leagues. Once an MLS team is no longer in the running for a playoff spot, it could be within their best interest to finish as low in the standings as they can. That’s because the league has what is called a SuperDraft, which is when teams can pick players from certain colleges or other leagues. This is because it helps create the league to be more competitive and prevents the better teams from improving faster.
For the European Leagues, talent is found way earlier in which clubs will sign multiple players from a very young age to teach them skills in their youth academies. Unlike most sports here in the states where high schools and colleges are responsible for player development, clubs in Europe will take the responsibility of developing their own players for the future.
So, while players in the States who are around the age of 18 are now just starting to join college teams, players in Europe are already playing on the first team or reserve teams. By the time American players reach 21, they are well behind the skill level of players who have already been playing major competitive soccer for a few years.
The future is bright for Soccer
At the end of the day, the MLS is still growing at an impressive rate. The league has only been around for 22 years and continues to see attendance and TV ratings rise. The league is also making major leaps forward into signing popular foreign players such as Kaká (Orlando City SC), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC) and David Villa (New York City FC).
Also, the sport is becoming more popular among Americans for several reasons. One being is that it’s a sport that's safe for both boys and girls to play, compared to sports like hockey and American football.
Another reason is the US women’s national soccer team is also ranked as the best soccer team in the world. As of September, they are No. 1 in the world in FIFA rankings. They also have won 3 FIFA Women’s World Cups, which is the premier soccer competition in the world. Their dominance and skill have inspired many young girls and boys to pursue their dreams of making it big in the world of soccer.
Finally, it’s becoming one of the most popular sports for kids to play. According to US Youth Soccer, there are over three million children between the ages of 5-19 playing the sport. It’s also now the largest youth sports organization in the country. Also, the MLS is now considered more popular than Major League Baseball for kids 12-17.
Ultimately, soccer and the MLS are doing well for something that is still relatively young compared to European soccer leagues that have been around well over 100 years. So, continue to be excited about soccer and what may come to Sacramento because it might become an even bigger phenomenon.