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Yturralde: Soccer is taking America by storm

| Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Soccer, the beautiful game, is captivating more people than ever before in the United States. Professional and youth teams alike are emerging all over the country. It seems like everyday there is news about a new team joining Major League Soccer (MLS) or an American youth team having success abroad. In turn, there is clear reciprocation on behalf of players and fans, alike. American players are being given more and more opportunities to play in Europe’s top leagues, competing against the best sides in the world. Fans in America have embraced soccer culture like never before. Many MLS teams have joined and contributed to fostering inclusive communities in cities across America.

The MLS is the premiere soccer institution in America, currently consisting of 26 teams, with two additional teams scheduled to be added –– Austin FC in 2021 and Charlotte FC in 2022. The league has drastically evolved since its inception in 1996, taking many different shapes and boasting a variety of success stories.

The league is categorically different from top leagues in Europe and around the world for a number of unique reasons. The first, being that the league has adopted the traditional American draft model. In the MLS draft, eligible players submit their names for consideration and are selected by teams in a league monitored setting.

Although many Americans appreciate the uniqueness of the MLS, when compared to European sides, many agree that some of its rules are holding it back.

While the draft serves as a familiar presence to sports fans in America, it sets the MLS a step behind from the global competition. Holding a draft limits teams from operating in a truly free market and ultimately prevents the cultivation of elite squads. Similar to the inhibitions created by the draft, the MLS employs a number of other player-signing regulations. Some of these include the Homegrown Player Rule, Designated Player Rule and Allocation Ranking List.

Even with these rules, the MLS and its affiliated development teams have both produced and welcomed a number of stars to its ranks. 

Leading the way for team USA is 21-year-old Chelsea midfielder, Christian Pulisic. The Pennsylvania native garnered his first Borussia Dortmund senior team appearance at the age of 17. Proving his worth there, he soon made the move to south London’s Chelsea F.C. Since his rise to stardom, Pulisic has become the poster boy for American soccer. Young Americans across the country idolize him and his new team.

Pulisic is the player who has given American soccer fans hope for team USA. After not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Americans are eager to get back in the race. Accompanied by a distinguished number of talented youngsters, American soccer is back.

Alphonso Davies is a young star who has yet to reach his 20th birthday and is already tearing it up in the Bundesliga for Bayern Munich. Davies, a young immigrant to Canada, broke into the Vancouver Whitecaps development team at the age of 15. It was not long before the speedy left-back made his way onto the first team and into the record books. After two years with the Whitecaps first team, Davies was sold to Bayern Munich for an MLS record $22 million. Since his transfer, the young player has established himself as one of the best in the world and a testament to the MLS’ talent producing ability.

The most recent superstar to come from abroad and succeed in the MLS is former Real Sociedad winger, Carlos Vela. The Mexican national spent almost the entirety of his career in Europe, competing in La Liga, Europa League and the Champions League. After moving to the MLS, Vela immediately had an impact on the recently inaugurated Los Angeles FC. In his second year with the team, Vela became the league MVP.

Similar to Carlos Vela, many European superstars have taken the MLS by storm in the past. Among the most distinguished of these are Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While these players have made the MLS seem like childsplay at times, the value that they have added to the league is incalculable.

In addition to these stars, David Beckham is making a splash in the MLS, with the inauguration of his new team, Inter Miami CF. Bringing in a big name, in addition to funding a new team, is just the kind of energy that the MLS needs during this period of growth.

Given the global circumstances, it can be a daunting time to be a sports fan of any kind. With that, the MLS has been one of the most successful professional leagues to return to play since the COVID-19 pandemic. Playing without fans and with more substitutions, teams have made the most of the opportunities given to them. As fans, we love to see it.

This pandemic could have been a serious blow to all of the positive momentum that the MLS had going for it in recent years. Instead, the MLS and greater soccer community in America conducted themselves at the same standard as the best leagues in the world.

As soccer in America continues to grow, I encourage anybody and everybody to buckle up for a wild ride. Not only is the MLS taking steps to compete with other leagues around the world, but they are also starting to dominate a significant portion of the American market as well. Soon we will be hearing about the MLS in the same conversation as the NFL, NBA and MLB –– mark my words.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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